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Federal Consent Decree Seems Almost Certain for LA County Jails – UPDATED

October 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Failure to implement sufficient changes in the running of LA County’s huge and troubled jail system
means that federal oversight, in the form of a federal consent decree, is all but certain, reports Cindy Chang of the LA Times late Thursday evening.

Here’s a clip that provides a few of the details.

The June 4 letter described “dimly lit, vermin-infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded” living conditions that exacerbated inmates’ mental distress. After suicides more than doubled, from four in 2012 to 10 the following year, jail officials did little to address the situation, the letter said, calling many of the suicides preventable.

In an interview Thursday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas accused the Sheriff’s Department and the county mental health department of not taking the problems in the jails seriously. A federal consent decree would be a black mark on the county, amounting to “dereliction of duty” and “absconding of responsibility,” he said.

“The federal government is saying that they’re throwing … their hands up,” Ridley-Thomas said. “In other words, they’ve given you every chance to improve up, and you’ve failed to do so.”

UPDATE: FYI, here is the November 25 letter from the DOJ to Rodrigo Castro-Silva, the assistant county counsel who appears to be representing the sheriff’s department in negotiations.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A FEDERAL CONSENT DECREE? BRING IT ON

Yes, it will cost LA County taxpayers millions of dollars, but after decades of callous disregard by those with the power to do something about the urgent problems in our jails—problems flagged by the Department of Justice, the FBI, the ACLU, a very long list of advocacy organizations, and by media outlets like this one—it appears that the feds are finally saying enough.

Somebody has to be the grown-up around here.

Ridley-Thomas is right about this news pointing to a dereliction of duty by the Sheriff’s Department and the County Mental Health Department, both of which, as recently as this past May, had the gall to use the spectre of a consent decree to bully the requisite three members of the board of supervisors into rushing to a vote on the $2 billion jail building plan, rather than, say, focusing first on a diversion program for the non-violent mentally ill to get them out of the jails. (Antonovich, Molina & Knabe, voted for it. Ridley-Thomas did not vote for the jail package, but abstained; Yaroslavsky voted no.)

The LASD and County Mental Health folks sternly told the board that galloping breathlessly forward with the pricey jail project was the one and only thing thing that would placate the feds and fend off a federal consent decree—a statement that was, of course, utter horse pucky.

But, why trouble one’s self with facts?

So, for that, and a plethora of other reasons—heck, yeah. Bring it on.

Posted in jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 43 Comments »

Prison Financial Service Fees Punish Families, Police Brutality Lawsuits, Fixing Eyewitness Testimony Flaws, and Homeboy Crowdfunds Tattoo Removal

October 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE PRISON MONEY TRANSFER SYSTEM: CASH COW FOR PRIVATE VENDOR JPAY, BURDEN ON FAMILIES

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has an excellent two-part series examining how private financial institutions are making huge profits by charging inmates’ families outrageous fees to transfer money to their loved ones behind bars.

According to Wagner, in some states, the private company JPay—which provides money transfers to nearly 70% of inmates in US prisons—charges families nearly 45% of what they are sending.

While the fees are nowhere near that high in California, it costs $6.95 to send $50 (over 10%) and $9.95 to send $120 to an inmate through JPay.

These fees overburden families, often forcing them to visit their loved ones less often in order to be able to send money for necessities like toothbrushes and toilet paper.

Here are some clips from Wagner’s story:

JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation.

Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.

By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.

JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate’s account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors.

Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system.

[SNIP]

Funding prisons out of the pockets of families and inmates has non-financial costs too, says Brian Nelson, who spent 28 years in an Illinois state prison for murder. Nelson says he has “become an asset to society” since he was released four years ago because he stayed in touch with family and priests even when he was in solitary confinement. When inmates can’t afford to maintain contact with the outside world, he says, they are less equipped to transition smoothly to civilian life.

The effect on poor families is especially harsh, Nelson says: “It’s a wife that has three children at home, and her husband is in jail, so now she has a choice: Do I send money to him so he can afford to stay in touch with the kids, or do I feed the kids?”

Part two of Wagner’s series explores the lucrative no-bid contracts that .. have with the US Treasury to provide debit cards for just-released prisoners that charge unusually high fees for use. It’s a complex story—read the whole thing here.

And the Center for Public Integrity’s Amirah Al Idrus has a companion story about how JPay also gouges inmates upon their release. Many prisons give released inmates the money they’ve made working jobs on the inside, as well as any balance of money sent to them by relatives on a JPay debit card. The card incurs fees for each transaction, fees for checking the balance, making withdrawals, and even for not using the card within 60 days. Here’s how it opens:

When Clarence Justin Aldred was released from Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, Michigan, in July 2013, he left with the balance of his inmate account, which consisted of his prison wages and any leftover money sent by family.

Aldred received no cash. The money was accessible via a debit card issued by JPay Inc., a Miami-based company that provides financial services to inmates. After 29 years inside, the card was Aldred’s only way to make most purchases. After using it a few times, Aldred, 57, noticed that $15 was missing.

“They kept charging me every time I used it. Nobody told me that,” he said.

Michigan is one of at least 15 states where prisoners are given their inmate account balance on a prepaid card when they are released. The cards usually carry a variety of fees that eat away at the small amount of money most former inmates are left with to restart their lives. Inmate release cards have drawn criticism from consumer lawyers and faced litigation in at least two states.

One county in Arkansas agreed to pay $71,609.58 to settle charges that the fees illegally deprived people of access to their own money. A federal judge refused to approve the proposed settlement and invited the parties to submit a modified agreement.

JPay provides the cards in at least 11 states. In most cases, the fees exceed what consumers would pay for similar services.

In Michigan, for example, JPay charges users 50 cents to check the card’s balance at an ATM, $2 to withdraw cash, 70 cents to make a purchase and 50 cents a month for a maintenance fee. Even not using the card costs money. Doing nothing draws a $2.99 fee after 60 days. To cancel the card, it costs $9.95.


WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE MILLIONS IN TAXPAYER $$ SPENT ON EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE LAWSUITS

When people wronged by police officers win settlements and lawsuits against police departments, cities, and thus taxpayers, get the bill.

Big cities have big bills, too—Los Angeles paid $54 million last year, Chicago $85 million, and so on. Having taxpayers foot the bill is supposed to create better accountability and police work.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this may not be the case, in part, because cops are personally protected by “qualified immunity,” people alleging police brutality don’t often win, and either way, the officers themselves are not financially responsible. Balko says that one way around this may be making officers pay a portion of the damages over time. Here are some clips:

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the city has payed out nearly half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade, and spent $84.6 million in fees, settlements, and awards last year. The Chicago Police Department is about three times the size of the Baltimore PD. Chicago the city has about four times as many people as Baltimore. Crunch those numbers as you wish. Bloomberg News reported that in 2011, Los Angeles paid out $54 million, while New York paid out a whopping $735 million, although those figures include negligence and other claims unrelated to police abuse. Oakland Police Beat reported in April that the city had paid out $74 million to settle 417 lawsuits since 1990. That’s a little more than $3 million per year. The Denver Post reported in August that the Mile High City paid $13 million over 10 years. The Dallas Morning News reported in May that the city has forked over $6 million since 2011. And last month, Minneapolis Public Radio put that city’s payout at $21 million since 2003.

[SNIP]

Cops themselves are protected by the doctrine qualified immunity, which makes it difficult for a plaintiff to even get into court. But even if you do, and you win (also far from a given), in the vast majority of cases, the cop himself won’t have to pay any damages. (It happens, but it’s rare.) Some critics have called for police to be required to pay these damages themselves, as a deterrent. That might well work. The problem is that an officer did significant damage to someone, they’re unlikely have the money to make that person whole. Perhaps the best option is to take money from the cops at fault over a long period of time, then supplement that with public money. I’ve also seen suggestions that settlements be paid from police pension funds. I can see the appeal there, but it doesn’t seem wise to penalize all cops for the bad ones.


HOW TO CHANGE PROBLEMATIC EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY PRACTICES THAT LEAD TO WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Experts say that eyewitness’ mistaken identifications account for the majority of wrongful convictions (the Innocence Project says a whopping 72%).

A welcome new report from the National Research Council lays out recommendations for how to overhaul the flawed use of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

Recommendations for police forces include creating double blind line-ups, videotaping the process of identification, and special training for law enforcement officers.

The Crime Report has more on the report’s recommendations. Here’s a clip:

Research during the last few decades has made it increasingly clear that eyewitness testimony in criminal cases can be prone to inaccuracy or error, according to the report, which dozens of academics and law enforcement experts contributed to.

The report notes that human visual perception and memory is limited and law enforcement often gives unintentional cues that can compromise eyewitness identifications.

Conditions such as dim lighting, stress, or the presence of a “visually distracting element such as a gun or knife,” can compromise perception, according to the report.


HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES NEEDS HELP FUNDING TATTOO REMOVAL PROGRAM

Homeboy Industries has launched an Indiegogo campaign to bolster their tattoo removal program for former gang members. Homeboy’s current ability to remove gang-related tattoos relies on one bad-tempered machine to serve more than 3,000 men and women a year hoping to better their lives.

Here’s a clip from the campaign page:

Many of the thousands of former gang members and previously incarcerated men and women who come to Homeboy Industries each year come through the tattoo removal program. Gang-related tattoos on their faces, neck, hands and wrists are some of their first of many hurdles to employment and how the world views them.

Homeboy’s tattoo removal program is a gateway to a better life. We know that those who come here for ink removal generally end up staying and taking advantage of our other services such as life skills, anger management and parenting classes; legal referral program; job training and placement; support groups and education.

“Our clients are done with the hate and bad decisions,” said Homeboy’s Medical Director, Dr. Paula Pearlman. “These brave people endure a long wait for an appointment and the terrible pain of the removal process over and over again.”

Here’s what donations are providing:

Two new lasers – current technology improves efficiency of the machines, we can remove more ink with fewer treatments

Two skin cooling machines – decreases the pain of the removal process; with the new lasers leads us into the 21st c. with a state-of-the-art program

New desktop computers for treatment rooms to increase efficiency of the documentation process

Machine maintenance, supplies, skin numbing cream, sunblock and staff support.

Additional funds raised will support greater growth of the tattoo removal program, helping even more people reclaim the truth of who they are and become contributing members of the community.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Innocence, law enforcement, prison policy | No Comments »

$20 Million to Mental Illness Diversion, Gov. Brown’s Veto of Prosecutorial Misconduct Bill, Too Few LASD Patrol Cars In Unincorporated LA, and Rikers’ Ban On Solitary for Kids

October 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPES SET ASIDE $20 TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL AND IN TREATMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $20 million for keeping the mentally ill out of lock-up, and steering them into treatment and other tailored services, instead. The money is being earmarked for diversion programs pending LA DA Jackie Lacey’s upcoming recommendations for how to best divert mentally ill offenders.

The Supes made this decision earlier than expected, having previously said they would wait to vote on this issue until Lacey presented her report later in the fall. (Backstory on the issue—here.)

Supe. Ridley-Thomas has more about the board’s important decision on his website. Here’s a clip:

“Unnecessarily jailing people with mental illness is not only expensive, because they can be treated for a fraction of the cost using community-based programs, but it is also harsh and insensitive, and dare I say, inhumane,” [Ridley-Thomas] said. “Having an untreated mental illness should not be a crime.”

The County of Los Angeles has been under a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2002 and could face a consent decree because the jails were not designed to accommodate or deliver treatment to inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Today, the Board of Supervisors joined with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County mental and public health departments and the Sheriff’s Department as a financial partner committed to diversion. In 2015, the board will vote on whether to build a $2 billion jail. By setting aside $20 million in a separate fund pending receipt of the District Attorney’s report, the Board has expressed a commitment to righting this wrong.


RADLEY BALKO ON GOV. BROWN’S VETO OF IMPORTANT BILL AGAINST PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

Yesterday, we linked to a number of good and important bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week, but the governor did also veto a significant criminal justice reform bill aimed at curbing prosecutorial misconduct, and thus, wrongful convictions.

AB 885 would have given judges the ability to tell juries when prosecutors intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. (While it is “arguably illegal,” as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko says, there is not much in the way of accountability to keep prosecutors from withholding evidence.) Some prosecutors had even supported the bill.

Balko has the rundown on why Brown’s veto was troubling. Here’s a clip:

This year, the state legislature again passed a bill aimed at reining in wrongful convictions, this time by allowing judges to inform juries when prosecutors have been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal. It was modest reform that even some state prosecutors supported. Yet Gov. Brown vetoed it. The watchdog site The Open File, picks apart Brown’s justification.

Brown based his veto on two claims: first, that “Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light at trial”, and, second, that the bill “would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed.”

The first claim ignores the very problem that the bill was designed to remedy by suggesting that the present regime of prosecutorial accountability is perfectly sufficient, when the evidence, not only in California, but across the country continues to mount that too many prosecutors have for too long violated their constitutional and ethical duties as public officials.

The second claim is, if possible, even stranger. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking Brown’s office hadn’t read the bill. To say that an amendment to the penal code which vests discretion in judges is a “sharp departure” from the practice of allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed,” is, frankly, bizarre. But not arbitrary. It bespeaks a broader truth at work here: when unchecked authority detects even the hint that its prerogatives are being questioned, its reaction is frequently hysterical. It goes “ballistic” as Assemblyman Ammiano suggested. And when impunity is threatened, reason goes out the window. Minor reforms are seen as existential threats.

Which, of course, carries through into something broader still. A national, racialized hysteria over crime that has for decades now fogged the public mind to the enormous human cost of over prosecution and over sentencing.

Jerry Brown had an opportunity to take one baby step toward slowing the rate of this damage. Alas, the Democratic Governor of perhaps the most reliably Democratic state in the union couldn’t summon the courage. His party’s capitulation to the law-and-order agenda is apparently too deeply woven into his political identity. And so he has left it to others to start burning off some of that fog.

It isn’t as if prosecutor misconduct is nonexistent in California. A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found 707 instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California courts between 1997 and 2009. And those were merely cases where misconduct had been found by appellate courts. The study also found that over that same period, just 10 state prosecutors were disciplined by the California State Bar. A follow-up study the following year documented 102 cases of misconduct found by California judges in 2010 alone, including 31 in Los Angeles County. In a ruling last December, Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — which includes California — decried an “epidemic” of Brady violations in America. (“Brady” is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence.)

Balko goes on to give quite a few specific instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California, so do go read the rest.


LASD DOESN’T SEND ENOUGH PATROL CARS OUT TO UNINCORPORATED AREAS, SAYS SUPE. MOLINA

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office found that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. has been failing to send out the agreed upon number of patrol cars to unincorporated areas like East Los Angeles. The shortages were especially predominant on weekends, when there are generally more calls from people needing help. Molina’s office also found that the department sometimes increased the number of patrol cars during the week to offset the weekend deficit.

In light of the findings, the Supes have decided to hold $12 million in funding for new hires (to lower response times in unincorporated areas) until the department solves it’s scheduling problem.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I just wanted to get what I was paying for,” Molina said in an interview. “You see the high crime rates in these areas, and the patrol cars weren’t there.”

At the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, a contrite Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans acknowledged that there was a problem with weekend staffing, which he said he had only learned about recently. But he said the department had taken measures to alter a scheduling practice that had put more deputies on patrol during quieter weekdays — a situation that he said stemmed in part from a freeze on overtime, which was lifted in July.

In an effort to improve response times, supervisors agreed to set aside $12.4 million to increase the number of deputies patrolling unincorporated areas. But they decided to hold the money until sheriff’s officials verify that they have fixed scheduling practices that have led to more deputies being deployed during weekdays than on busy weekend nights.

The additional funding would add 67 deputies to the unincorporated areas, as a move toward restoring staffing to pre-recession levels. An additional 56 positions could be added next year.

A study of sheriff’s response times around the county found that those for both routine and emergency calls had grown worse in some unincorporated areas from 2010 to 2013. In East Los Angeles, the average time to respond to emergency calls remained 4.3 minutes — one of the best in the county’s unincorporated areas — but response time for routine calls had increased from 58.4 to 68.4 minutes. In unincorporated areas around Malibu, emergency response times increased from 9.8 to 10.8 minutes and routine calls from 34.5 minutes to 42.2 minutes.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTION’S BAN ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR 16 AND 17-YEAR-OLDS

In August, a federal investigation found that teenagers at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York were subjected to excessive and unchecked use of force by guards, violence from other inmates, and overuse of solitary confinement as punishment.

This week, the New York City Dept. of Correction has announced it will eliminate the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers by the end of 2014.

The Center for Investigative Reporting Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan explain the importance of this reform and what it might mean for other jurisdictions that are still putting kids in isolation. Here are some clips:

We know little about how many young inmates get placed in solitary, why and for how long.

This is what Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, called “a chaos of information.” Juvenile solitary confinement is torture, he said, and no one knows how common it is.

Because most U.S. facilities are not required to track or report their use of isolation for juveniles, the practice has flourished in the shadows. And because no federal laws prohibit isolating teenagers indefinitely for 23 hours a day, young inmates can spend months alone in their cells without anyone outside their facilities noticing.

[SNIP]

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored a recently passed bill requiring corrections officials to report detailed data about who is held in solitary, why and for how long, after officials refused to provide him with data he requested. His legislation could be a model for other jurisdictions seeking the access and information required to understand what is happening to teenagers in local facilities.

CIR made dozens of requests to visit the isolation units in facilities that hold juveniles across the country, but only one, in Santa Cruz, California, opened its doors and talked openly about efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Officials at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall have kept isolation data for years, tracking a decline in the practice so drastic that officials from jurisdictions all over the country travel to California to see how they did it.

[SNIP]

Now that Rikers Island, the nation’s second-largest jail, is saying it will ban juvenile solitary confinement, it’s possible that other jurisdictions will follow suit.
A growing chorus of mental health experts claims that isolating teenagers makes them more violent, and more relationship-based and trauma-informed approaches to managing teens will lead to safer facilities and safer streets.

Although Rikers Island officials have been privy to such perspectives for years, it took months of media scrutiny and a federal investigation for them to acknowledge the damage their practices have caused and commit to changing them. The question now is whether others will voluntarily work to find new ways to manage troubled teens, like officials did in Santa Cruz, or whether they will wait for government probes and media attention.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Prosecutors, solitary | 2 Comments »

Jury Says No to Sexual Harassment in LASD Walton/Fennell Trial – UPDATED

October 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the 10-day sexual harassment trial regarding the case brought by Lt. Angela Walton
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department against Cmdr. Joseph Fennell, also of the LASD, after a comparatively short deliberation, on Tuesday morning the jury found—in a vote of 9-3—that there had been no sexual harassment. (Unlike in a criminal trial, the jury does not have to reach a unanimous verdict.)

In an interview following the trial, the three female jurors who voted that Walton had been sexually harassed said that the nine who voted against the harassment charge spoke mostly about certain allegations by the plaintiff’s attorney along with witnesses brought by plaintiff Fennell, having to do with some of Walton’s behavior that the jurors felt was not rejecting of Fennell, and also the accusation that Walton had dressed provocatively at work.

Nohemi Gutierrez Ferguson, Fennell’s attorney, put a strong focus on what she contended was Walton’s style of dressing during her tenure in the LASD’s personnel unit when she was working on a recruitment team and represented the department at events and in photos on billboards, that she had worn tight skirts and form-fitted tops. (Walton and another witness from personnel disputed this claim and said she dressed “professionally.”)

“She dressed to impress,” said Ferguson in closing arguments.

Ferguson also criticized Walton’s more conservative style of dress in the courtroom. (Think Michelle Obama in cardigan sweaters and JCrew skirts.) “Has she ever worn her hair down [during the trial]?” the attorney asked. “She’s manipulating you.”

(Ferguson was also the attorney representing the County of Los Angeles, which was a co-defendant in the trial.)


A MENTOR WITH A DOWNSIDE?

Lt. Walton, her witnesses, and her attorney told a very different story.

According to Jamon Hicks, Walton’s attorney, soon after she met Cmdr. Fennell, he told Walton that she needed a mentor on the department and said he’d like to fill that role.

In certain ways Fennell seemed to do just that, inviting her into various social situations where she could network and, in the Spring of 2008, requesting that Walton work under him at the department’s Personnel Administration Bureau (PAB), which was considered to be a plum assignment. Walton went to work in personnel and ended up being one of the faces used on recruiting posters. (The other face above belongs to former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s wife.)

However, according to Walton’s attorney, Fennell—who was and still is married— also repeatedly expressed an intense interest in Walton sexually, allegedly sending her raunchy texts and emails (“You got something I seriously want”), while also making suggestive remarks ranging from “You know what I want,” and “You seriously owe me,” to the most colorful of the bunch… “I would f*** the dog sh** out of you.”

(Fennell admitted in court to sending one of the raunchy messages, but denied sending or saying any of the rest.)


LAS VEGAS AND THE BONAVENTURE

In 2006, according to Walton, Fennell’s attentions ramped up at a party during a multi-day law enforcement event held yearly in Las Vegas when Fennell allegedly leaned over in a public setting and licked Walton’s stomach, which she says she found humiliating.

A female LAPD detective who is a friend of Walton’s and who had been her companion on the night in question, testified that she’d seen the incident and that Walton was very upset about it.

On Fennell’s side of the witness equation, LASD Chief Roberta Abner and LASD Chief Buddy Goldman testified and said they too had been at the party and never saw any such stomach licking.

Walton’s boyfriend at the time of the alleged Vegas incident, said that she’d confided to him about her distress, but that she asked him not to interfere, suggesting it would make things worse.

Days later, according to Walton’s official complaint, Fennell apologized for his actions.

Two years later still, according to Walton, when she went to work for PAB, it was a mixed blessing. She enjoyed the work but, Walton contends, Fennell continued to make overtures toward her. She described multiple situations in which Fennell would arrange a meeting outside of work time to discuss recruitment plans, and then at some point would turn the conversation in a sexual direction.

According to both Walton and Fennell, the most dramatic encounter took place at the Bonaventure Hotel where they were to have had dinner and discuss a recruiting report that was upcoming. When she arrived, however, Fennell was not at the rooftop restaurant but in a hotel room and allegedly told her to come up.

Unwisely she did. Walton said that Fennell assaulted her in the room. Fennell said that, to the contrary, in the room it was she who behaved in a highly sexually provocative way toward him. He admitted to a certain amount of body kissing and/or fondling.

Both sides agreed that the two did not have sex that night or any other night.

Walton said that she never encouraged Fennell’s advances in any way, and that, while he had been helpful to her, she was afraid of him.


WHO CHASED WHOM?

Fennell’s attorney, Nohemi Ferguson, contends that although Fennell considered having an “adulterous” affair with Walton, it was she who chased him and pushed for a sexual relationship and, according to Fennell, engaged in phone sex with him on more than one occasion.

(Walton, for her part, brought in several witnesses who said she had a policy of never dating married men, and had no romantic interest in Fennell whatsoever.)

Both sides talked about why Walton didn’t file a complaint with the department back in 2006 or 2008.

Jamon Hicks, Walton’s attorney, said Walton felt sure that a complaint against Fennell would be career suicide, so she just kept trying to deal with the situation the best she could.

Walton also said that Fennell frequently bragged about his political power within the department, that he was “politically dialed in” with then Sheriff Baca (whose driver he had been) and with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. She said Fennell talked about how he got back at people who crossed him, which she took as a warning.

According to Walton, matters came to a head after she repeatedly declined Fennell’s advances over time and, in November 2011, according to Walton, he saw to it that she was transferred 70-plus miles away from her home to the Pitchess Detention Center jail complex in Castaic, at a time that her father was dying of cancer, and she pleaded with Fennell to help get her closer to home. He gave me “Freeway therapy,” she said.

Fennell said that he had nothing at all to do with her transfer, that it was only when Walton pressed him to leave his wife to become a “department power couple” with her, and he refused, that she retaliated by filing the lawsuit.

Ferguson, Fennell’s attorney, said that the power that Walton claimed Fennell had to help or harm people’s careers was completely fictional, that the sheriff’s department is governed by the rules of civil service, that Fennell couldn’t have superseded those hard and fast rules even if he’d wanted to.

Instead, said Ferguson, Walton filed suit against Fennell for the cash. “She has expensive taste and does what she has to do to get the money.”


JURORS: THE TWO CAMPS

According to the three jurors who voted that Fennell had sexually harassed Walton, the nine opposing jurors who did not believe Walton had been sexually harassed by Fennell, were reportedly very influenced by the fact that Walton had gone to Fennell’s hotel room in the Bonaventure, and thought it indicated that she was looking for a sexual relationship and lying about the harassment.

The three who believed Walton’s account over Fennell’s said they instead saw a woman trying to juggle the need to placate her powerful boss while also discouraging his advances.

The three also described how the nine who voted that Walton had not been harassed were particularly swayed by the testimony of high ranking department members like Abner and Goldman and Paul Tanaka who testified for the defense.

The majority felt there could be no logical reason that such highly-placed department members would lie for Fennell, said the three, so concluded early on that it was Walton who must be lying instead.

Posted in LASD, Sexual harassment | 71 Comments »

Gov. Brown Signs a Mountain of Bills, SFPD’s Problem of Lethal Use of Force Against Mentally Ill, Americans Ignoring Conditions in Prisons, and Paul Tanaka’s Campaign

October 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. JERRY BROWN SIGNS “GUN VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER” BILL AND MANY OTHER SIGNIFICANT BILLS

On Sunday and Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of important bills, including a piece of legislation that will give family members and law enforcement the ability to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals from possessing firearms who are displaying certain warning signs that they may harm themselves or others.

Reuter’s Sharon Bernstein has more on the “Gun Violence Restraining Order” bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation – the first such measure in the United States - was introduced after police near Santa Barbara said they were unable to confiscate weapons from a man who later went on a rampage and killed six people, despite concern from his family he was in poor mental health and might become violent.

Under the so-called gun violence restraining order in the court system, immediate family members and law enforcement agencies could ask a judge to order guns temporarily removed from certain individuals.

The restraining order would last 21 days, and could be extended up to a year, after a notice and a hearing.

“The new ‘Gun Violence Restraining Order’ law will give families and law enforcement a needed tool to reduce the risk of mass shootings and gun violence both in the home and on our streets,” said Nick and Amanda Wilcox, legislative co-chairs of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gov. Brown also signed SB 1111, which will establish safeguards for kids involuntarily transferred (because of expulsion or probation referral) to community schools, making sure they are given schooling options that are “geographically accessible” to students. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has done excellent reporting on this particular issue.) The bill will also exempt homeless children and kids with certain probation referrals from having to transfer to a county community school.

Another newly signed bill, AB 2276, will ensure that kids exiting juvenile justice facilities are immediately enrolled in school. (We previously linked to this issue here.)

AB 2124, which will allow judges to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed, also made it past the governor’s desk this week.

Brown also approved a heap of bills to help and protect California’s foster children, including, SB 1252, which will extend housing for foster kids until they are 25 if they remain enrolled in school. (The rest of the list can be found here.)


MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE KILLED BY SFPD ARE MENTALLY ILL, AND WHAT THE DEPT. IS DOING TO ABOUT IT

Between 2005 and 2013 in San Francisco, 58% of people police officers had shot and killed had mental disabilities. While California does not mandate specialized training to teach officers how to de-escalate confrontations with the mentally ill, most of the Bay Area police forces have implemented a program Called Crisis Intervention Training, which includes diverting the mentally ill from lock-up.

While the SFPD adopted CIT in 2011 after several years in which every person officers killed was mentally ill, it has been slow going. Only 18% of officers have received the specialized training (20-25% is ideal) more than three years into the program.

KQED’s Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale have the story. Here’s a clip:

The San Francisco Police Department adopted the Memphis Model of CIT in 2011, after three years in a row in which every person killed in a police shooting had a mental illness.

But it’s clear implementing the program hasn’t been fast or easy.

Three and a half years into the program, the department has trained about 18 percent of its patrol officers. Ideally, somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of officers are trained, with the goal of at least one trained officer at each station for each shift.

Finding the right officers for the training hasn’t been easy, and that’s true anywhere, said Major Sam Cochran, who founded CIT while at the Memphis Police Department.

“There are some officers that are not ready to be CIT officers,” said Cochran, who is now at the University of Memphis. “They don’t have the experience. Some officers don’t have the maturity level.”

In some cities, like Berkeley, the program is so elite that officers must compete to get in. But as it launched in San Francisco, few officers volunteered, and station chiefs simply had to choose who got sent to training. Cochran says it’s the the role of a police chief to elevate the status of the team so officers want to be a part of it.

“That chief needs to make sure that those men and women understand that they have an identity and that they have a role,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s model calls for CIT to be an elite, and independent, team within the department, like SWAT or hostage negotiation. In an interview with KQED, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said he’d prefer it not to be separate.

“Police officers by nature find niches,” Suhr said. “I don’t want cops to find a niche and be expert on what they do and don’t do. I want them to do it all.”

That’s how SFPD Commander Richard Corriea once felt. He’s the third person to lead SFPD’s Crisis Intervention Team in three years.

“I’m a convert on the issue of team,” he said. “I think it inspires officers who are engaged in this. They have a special skill. It makes them feel part of something. And the outcome is better and better service.”

A team creates a feedback loop, said Angela Chan, a former police commissioner who spearheaded the program. The unit is supposed to learn from each response. It allows officers perfect their skills, share information with other CIT officers and establish strong relationships with mental health providers.

The SFPD is one of many forces struggling with this issue: the Department of Justice has said that Albuquerque, NM, police have a serious problem with excessive use of force, sometimes escalating confrontations until there is reason to use force against someone.

NPR’s Kelly McEvers has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some officers argue that in these situations, it’s black and white. There is no gray. If someone has a weapon and points it at police, police are going to shoot. And they don’t shoot to wound, police told NPR; they shoot to kill.

But the Justice Department says it is gray sometimes. In its report, the Justice Department said Albuquerque police sometimes use force when there is not an imminent threat to officers or others, and that they themselves sometimes escalate the situation until there is a reason to use force.

Sam Costales, a former Albuquerque cop for more than 20 years, says of course there is a gray area.

Back in 2001, Costales was chasing an armed robbery suspect who grabbed a piece of pipe from the back of his truck and came at him. Costales took out his gun.

“I could’ve shot him,” he says. “I had every right to shoot him. But I didn’t want to shoot him.”

Instead, he put his gun back in the holster, maced the guy and arrested him.

Back at the station, Costales put the suspect in an interview room and went to get him something to drink. A couple of detectives walked by.

“And they go, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m getting the guy a Coke.’ ‘You’re getting the guy a Coke? This guy that just came at you with a pipe? A guy that’s gonna kill you, you’re gonna buy him a Coke now?’ I said, ‘He didn’t kill me, and he’s thirsty,’ and I left it at that,” Costales says.

Costales says he tried to treat suspects with respect. But other cops yelled at people, beat people up, used their weapons against people and then covered it up, he says.

Riot police faced off with protesters Sunday, during a demonstration against recent police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M. The march lasted at least nine hours.

A lot of this bad behavior is the work of a good-old-boys network, where it’s all about who you’re related to, says Cassandra Morrison, another former Albuquerque cop of 20 years.

Doug Brinson sits on a stoop next to a makeshift memorial for Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by police officers while being arrested at the site last month for selling untaxed loose cigarettes. His death has been ruled a homicide.

It’s about “who you know, who you hang out with, who you smoke cigars with, who you go have a beer with,” she says.

If you’re in the club, she says, you don’t get punished when you act like a cowboy, break the rules and use excessive force. It’s a system that won’t change until some of those cowboys get punished, she says.


CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER SAYS AMERICANS PAY NO MIND TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL CONDITIONS IN PRISONS ACROSS THE US

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Martin Garbus, an attorney and author of several books on constitutional law, says Americans are disregarding reports of atrocious conditions prisoners across the nation are held in, particularly in solitary confinement. Garbus says that turning the other way is a matter of “bad public policy,” and that the prisoners enduring cruel and unusual punishment, health hazards, and sexual assault will eventually return to their communities. Here’s a clip:

As a litigator and constitutional lawyer, I have heard appalling stories from the nation’s prisons and jails. One prisoner described to me how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. I’ve heard how cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. I’ve heard about showers that produce only scalding or icy water and about how, when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up.

The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. I contracted it myself after visiting such a prison in June and was hospitalized for three days. Sexual assaults and sexual activity are well known to occur in prisons, but prisoners rarely have access to protection, such as condoms, that can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary. A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622.

Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. I have heard it described more than once as like being trapped in a coffin. Lights are sometimes kept on 24 hours a day. Prisoners often have no books or reading material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.


PAUL TANAKA’S CAMPAIGN (OR LACK THEREOF) FOR SHERIFF

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a story about sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka and his campaign that isn’t a campaign, consisting of a handful of social media posts, a video, and a few appearances in Gardena, the city of which he is mayor. Here’s how it opens:

After squeaking into the runoff election for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka posted a message on his website.

He had been trounced by Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, but his hopes of leading the department where he spent 31 years were still alive.

“We need someone who is ready to lead on Day One,” he wrote June 5. “We have just begun this effort!”

Since then, the retired undersheriff has mostly disappeared from view, throwing the contest to lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies into a strange limbo.

He has ignored requests to debate McDonnell. He dismissed his campaign team after the primary and apparently has not brought on replacements. His public appearances have largely been limited to City Council meetings in Gardena, where he is mayor, and his testimony at the criminal trials of sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing an FBI investigation of jail abuse.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Paul Tanaka | No Comments »

Jury Says No to Sexual Harassment in Walton/Fennell Trial

September 30th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the sexual harassment trial regarding the case brought by Lt. Angela Walton
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department against Cmdr. Joseph Fennell, also of the LASD, after a comparatively short deliberation, the jury found—in a vote of 9-3—that there had been no sexual harassment. (Unlike in a criminal trial, the jury does not have to reach a unanimous verdict.)

In an interview following the trial, the three female jurors who voted that Walton had been sexually harassed said that the nine who voted against the harassment charge spoke mostly about certain allegations by the plaintiff’s attorney and witnesses brought by plaintiff Fennell, having to do with some of Walton’s behavior that the jurors felt was not rejecting of Fennell, and also the accusation that Walton had dressed provocatively at work.

Nohemi Gutierrez Ferguson, Fennell’s attorney, put a strong focus on what she contended was Walton’s style of dressing during her tenure in the LASD’s personnel unit when she was working on a recruitment team and represented the department at events and in photos on billboards, that she had worn tight skirts and form-fitted tops. “She dressed to impress,” said Ferguson in closing arguments.

Ferguson also criticized Walton’s more conservative style of dress in the courtroom. (Think Michelle Obama in cardigan sweaters and JCrew skirts.) “Has she ever worn her hair down [during the trial]?” the attorney asked. “She’s manipulating you.”

(Ferguson was also the attorney representing the County of Los Angeles, which was a co-defendant in the trial.)

More details on the case tonight.

Posted in LASD | 2 Comments »

LASD Sexual Harassment Trial Finishes Closing Arguments & Goes to the Jury

September 30th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



The 10-day civil trial in which Commander Joseph Fennell of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
—along with the County of Los Angeles—is being sued for sexual harassment by Lieutenant Angela Walton, also of the LASD, wrapped up and went to the jury late Monday.

(WLA originally reported on the lawsuit here and here.)

We’ll have a story on the case and the arguments presented by both sides later today.

Posted in LASD | 15 Comments »

Long Beach Youth Journalists Explore Trauma and Healing, Sheriff Candidate Jim McDonnell to Speak

September 30th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LONG BEACH POLICE CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL TO SPEAK AT YOUTH-LED FORUM ON TRAUMA, VIOLENCE & HEALING

VoiceWaves, an innovative youth journalism project located in Long Beach, has been reporting all summer on the issue of trauma, its effects on kids and immigrants, and ways in which the trauma can be addressed and healed.

The results of VoiceWaves‘ work will be presented at a community forum Wednesday night, the centerpiece of which will be a panel discussion between various experts including Long Beach police chief and LA County sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell.

Nadra Nittle of the Long Beach Telegram has more on the project.

Here are some clips:

VoiceWaves reporter Oscar Bautista spent the summer reporting on how gangs traumatize their members, even after they’ve left the streets behind.

“A lot of the trauma they’re coming out of I would say is somewhat social, how they interact with other people,” Bautista said. “Some of the ex-gang members end up finding it difficult dealing with their own trauma. They have mild versions of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Maybe if they hear a balloon pop, they might duck. It varies depending on the trauma. They are very mistrusting, very survivalist. They just become very cautious people.”

[SNIP]

While Bautista explored gangs and trauma, VoiceWaves Beat Reporter Michael Lozano interviewed immigrants from countries such as Mexico, Laos and Cambodia about the trauma they’ve experienced.

A political refugee from Cambodia who spent time in a labor camp told Lozano that she hasn’t overcome the trauma she experienced abroad.

“Even when she was in Long Beach, she still experienced nightmares,” Lozano said. “A lot of the immigrants experienced trauma abroad and relive trauma through nightmares.”

Two women from Mexico who Lozano interviewed said their husbands were assassinated in that country….

The Community Forum on Trauma and Healing begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the First Congregational Church, 241 Cedar Ave., Long Beach.

The forum is presented in partnership with The California Endowment and Building Healthy Communities.

Posted in art and culture, Jim McDonnell, Trauma, Youth | No Comments »

Gov. Signs Law Eliminating Expulsions for “Willful Defiance” But Vetoes Drone Bill…LASD Restricts Association With Convicted Dept. Members…. No More Prisoner of the War on Drugs…Running the Homeboy 5 K

September 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


GOVERNOR SIGNS FIRST IN NATION LAW TO LIMIT “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS & EXPUSIONS

On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 420, a bill that limits suspensions and eliminates all expulsions for the catch-all category of “willful defiance,” which—until now—could have kids tossed out of school for such minor misbehaviors as talking back, failing to have school materials and dress code violations.

According to a statement issued by Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that is one of the bill’s sponsors, the new law makes California the first state in the nation to put such limits on the use of willful defiance.

Brown’s signing of AB 420 is the culmination of several years worth of work by juvenile advocates, education reformers and others who have led the recent movement away from the zero tolerance discipline policies that were dominant since the 1980′s, and toward positive discipline and accountability approaches that been found to keep children in school. The issue of willful defiance has been a particularly intense focus for reformers in that the elastic designation accounts for 43% of suspensions issued to California students, and is the suspension category with the most significant racial disparities.

“In just a few short years, school discipline reform has become an important education policy priority in California because the stakes are very high,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), who authored the bill. “Research has shown that even one suspension can make it five times more likely that a child will drop out of school and significantly increase the odds they will get in trouble and head into our juvenile delinquency system.”

While, AB 420 doesn’t do away with willful defiance altogether, it is considered an important step in that, as a compromise measure, it has gotten agreement from people who were initially reluctant to ax the category completely. like Gov. Brown, and certain state legislators. (The law eliminates all willful defiance suspensions for children in grades K-3 and bans all expulsions for the category for all grades. It is to be reviewed in 3.5 years.)

It should be noted that the Los Angeles Unified School District banned all suspensions for willful defiance spring.

The new law was co-sponsored by Public Counsel, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and the ACLU of California and supported by a statewide coalition of organizations.


BROWN VETOES BILL LIMITING LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF DRONES SAYING IT WENT TOO FAR

The bill, which would have required law enforcement to obtain warrants before using surveillance drones, got a thumbs down from Governor Brown on Sunday night, one of about a dozen bills that Jerry nixed on Sunday.

The LA Times Phil Willon and Melanie Mason have more details on the story. Here’s a clip:

Brown, in his veto message, said that although there may be some circumstances when a warrant is appropriate, the bill went too far.

The measure appeared to impose restrictions on law enforcement that go beyond federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures and the right to privacy, the governor stated.

The bill, AB 1327, would have required the government to secure a warrant from a judge before using surveillance drones except in cases of environmental emergencies such as oil or chemical spills. Three other states have placed a moratorium on drone use by state and local agencies

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), the bill’s author, had argued that the expanded use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, by law enforcement has pushed the boundaries of the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy, triggering a need for protection.


SHERIFF SCOTT SAYS NO ASSOCIATION WITH CONVICTED LASD MEMBERS WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION

On Friday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Scott sent out two official messages to department members regarding the conviction of seven current and former LASD members, and last week’s sentencing of six of the seven defendants.

(Deputy James Sexton was convicted in a retrial earlier this month, but will not be sentenced until December 1. Sexton’s first trial resulted in a 6-6 hung jury.)

In the first message, Scott wrote of emotional reactions to Tuesday’s sentencing of the six to prison terms ranging from 21 to 41 months, that “have left many Department members stunned,” he wrote. “The six defendants in this case were our co-workers and friends.”

It was clear, Scott wrote, that the convictions and lengthy sentences were, “in part, the result of failed leadership” at various levels of the LASD.

“The question that burns in the hearts of many is whether those who were the most responsible have been held accountable for their actions…”

The second announcement, headlined “FEDERAL CONVICTIONS AND PROHIBITED ASSOCIATIONS POLICE” clarified one of the sad artifacts of the convictions of the seven LASD defendants: All department members are aware that they are not allowed to associate with convicted felons. But this rule suddenly became confusing and in need of sorting out with the conviction of the seven LASD defendants, each of whom have long time friends—and in many cases best friends—among their former colleagues still working for the sheriff’s department.

So the following was sent out on Friday:

With respect to personally associating with the individuals who were convicted, the policy requires:

*A written request for authorization, directed to the unit commander

*Unit Commander response, whether approved or denied, to be documented in writing

*Both documents to be filed in the requesting employee’s personnel file.

The statement further instructed that the policy doesn’t prevent donations of funds to the defendants or their families. But it split hairs by stating that department members may not attended fundraisers for those convicted.

The policy prohibits doing favors for or associating with persons where the association would be detrimental to the image of the Department, such as in cases of persons adjudged guilty of a felony crime.

Therefore, Department members are prohibited from attending fundraising events for the individuals who have been convicted, whether the individuals are present or not.

Unit Commanders are not authorized to make exceptions with respect to this aspect of the situation involving the recent Federal convictions.


NO LONGER A PRISONER OF THE DRUG WAR

A wonderful longread by the LA Times’ Jenny Deam paints a journalistic portrait of Billy Ray Wheelock, who is an example of the kind of inmate that, in the last three decades, has filled the nation’s prisons to overflowing as a consequence of our ill-considered war on drugs. In the case of Wheelock, however, the story has a happy ending—even though that happy ending is very belated.

Here are two clips:

Wheelock had been sent to prison in 1993 at age 29 during an era of no-mercy drug sentencing. At the height of the country’s war on drugs, crack cocaine offenders were locked away by the tens of thousands, often with no key in sight.

Most were men, most were poor, most were black.

Wheelock was all three.

His story embodies what many, including judges and former prosecutors, now see as a judicial system gone wrong. He is the first to admit he was guilty and deserved to do time. He had been arrested three times on crack charges.

But he says he was never violent and never owned a gun. He says he only sold a bit of rock sometimes to make ends meet. “For that I got life? Life?”

Years passed and Wheelock waited, sure someday someone would see that his punishment did not fit his crime.

Here’s when such draconian sentencing began:

In 1986, Congress created a mandatory drug sentencing law and took aim squarely at crack cocaine. Under the law, a person convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack would get the same five-year sentence as someone selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

Since 1980, there have been an estimated 45 million drug arrests in this country. The number of people in U.S. prisons for all crimes has quadrupled from about 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million now, “and that growth was disproportionately driven by the drug war,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington research and advocacy group.

In the beginning, many in the judicial system were true believers, certain that if a person knew harsh sentencing awaited him he might think twice about selling drugs. But as the millennium turned, judges began to complain that their discretion had been stripped away by mandatory sentencing. Lawmakers also questioned not only the fiscal responsibility of keeping so many locked up for so long but also the humanity of such a stark racial divide, since crack cocaine disproportionately imprisoned minorities.

Calls for reform were bipartisan. In 2010, Congress showed rare unity and passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

Read on to discover more about Wheelock’s story.


HOMEBOY 5K: “EVERY ANGELENO COUNTS”

If you’ve got an interest in getting excellent exercise with crowd of interesting and varied companions, doing the aforementioned for an important LA cause—and coming away with a snazzy t-shirt—-the annual Homeboy Industries 5K on October 18 is likely the perfect event for you.

The race starts at 8 a.m., on Saturday, October 18, at Homeboy Industries (130 W. Bruno Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012) with registration and packet pick-up from 6 to 7:30 a.m.

If you’d like to register in advance, Wed. Oct 1 is the cutoff. But you can still show up early on the day of the race and pay a last minute registration fee ($45), to run, jog, or walk with the crowd.

The purpose of the race, as you might imagine, is to raise money for Homeboy Industries, which serves more than 12,000 former gang members each year and offers full time employment to 200 men and women in an 18-month program that allows them to redirect the trajectories of their lives and “re-identify who they are in the world.”

With this in mind, the yearly 5K is designed as more than merely a fundraiser. Here’s how the Homeboy folks explain it:

The Homeboy Industries “Every Angeleno Counts” 5k is an opportunity for us to walk, run, and stand with thousands of former gang-members whose lives are being completely transformed. Every Angeleno can help dispel the myth that some lives matter less than others.

So grab your running shoes and com’on down.


Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Homeboy Industries, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

LASD: a “Toxic Culture” or a “Few Bad Actors”…..Eric Holder Replacement…..A Head Start Program That’s Trauma Smart…Long Beach Police Chief’s Dealings With Officer Involved Shootings

September 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


DO THE RECENT SENTENCES OF THE LASD SIX POINT TO A “TOXIC CULTURE” IN NEED OF REFORM OR A “FEW BAD ACTORS”…?

A new LA Times editorial rightly points out that— contrary to what Sheriff John Scott has apparently said—”the sentencing Tuesday and likely imprisonment of six sworn Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, sergeants and lieutenants does not reflect merely the actions of a ‘few’ bad actors.”

The Times’ statement—which is really a rather sizable understatement—also applies to the rest of the 21 indicted department members, whose cases, which primarily involve brutality and corruption in the jails, will be coming to trial later this year and early next year. Those indictments do not represent “a few bad actors” either.

When the six, who were just sentenced this week, were convicted of obstruction of justice last July, then U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that the convictions represented.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Yet while all this tarnishing was going on, someone—or more accurately several someones—gave the various orders that resulted in hiding a federal informant, threatening an FBI agent, and intimidating witnesses in a federal investigation. Furthermore, it was a deeply-entrenched culture of arrogance, everyday corruption, and a venomous us-against-them contempt for anyone outside certain favored circles—a culture that had, for years, emanated from the LASD’s highest levels—which made orders to obstruct justice seem perfectly natural to seasoned department members who should have known better.

It was that same psychological environment—which U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson labeled a “corrupt culture” on Tuesday as he handed out sentences—that allowed for the actions of those who have been indicted and will likely be convicted for allegedly blithely brutalizing jail inmates and visitors. After all, such behavior had long carried with it little threat of adverse consequences. In fact, some of those in charge even signaled tacit approval.

Here’s more of what the Times wrote:

They earned their sentences; but as obstructors rather than defenders of justice, they were not self-taught. They operated within an ingrained culture of contempt, mismanagement, dishonesty and gratuitous violence. It is important to remember that they were trying to block a probe into the widespread use of excessive force, and that such force has been documented against visitors as well as inmates in Los Angeles County jails. It is important to keep in mind also that the department’s Antelope Valley stations were found to have engaged in patterns and practices of racially based discrimination and unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and detentions. Settlement talks are ongoing in a lawsuit alleging that top sheriff’s officials condoned a pattern of violence against inmates. A court-appointed monitor is operating under a similar lawsuit alleging mistreatment of mentally ill inmates going back decades, and the U.S. Department of Justice advised the county earlier this year that it too would go to court over treatment of the mentally ill in the jails. Meanwhile, a Times investigation found fluctuating hiring standards that sometimes drop so low as to suggest the department will hire, at times, almost anyone.

In other words, despite the many decent men and women who daily do good, honest, tough-but-fair-minded work as members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, this is an agency still in deep trouble, and reforming it in any meaningful way is going to be a challenging endeavor.

Which brings us back to the sentences handed out on Tuesday: at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we truly hope that this summer’s convictions are simply the starting point, and that the government’s prosecutors go on to indict some of those who gave the orders that have resulted in six department members losing their careers and—barring some kind of appellate intervention—heading for prison. (More accurately, make that seven department members, counting James Sexton, whose retrial and conviction is another topic altogether, which we’ll discuss at a later time.) Such additional indictments would signal, with more than mere rhetoric, that it is the department’s culture as a whole that needs fixing, not just the actions of 21 individuals.


LISTEN TO WHICH WAY LA? ON TUESDAY’S SENTENCING

Which Way LA? with Warren Olney did a show on Tuesday’s sentencing of the six LASD department members that features Brian Moriguchi, president of Professional Peace Officers’ Association (PPOA), and Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the Southern California ACLU. It’s definitely worth a listen.



ERIC HOLDER RESIGNATION: WHO WILL COME AFTER AND WILL THEY PAY ATTENTION TO JUVENILE JUSTICE & SENTENCING REFORM?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s surprise announcement Thursday of his resignation has many speculating who will replace him.

For justice activists Holder has been a mixed bag. They point to his unwillingness to prosecute “too big to jail” banks and others responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, and his support of government spying, and the like.

Yet in the last few years, Holder has become very active in the criminal justice reform arena, particularly when it comes to disparities in sentencing, and issues of juvenile justice.

So, as the speculation revs up about who will replace Holder, activists are preemptively worrying that many of the justice reforms Holder has recently supported, will not be a priority for his successor.

Interestingly, Yahoo News and CNN put Kamala Harris on their list of possibles, while the New York Times did not. (Thursday, Harris issued a statement saying she intends to stay in California.)

Here are the Wall Street Journal’s picks, which also include Harris. And here’s USA Today.

We will, of course, be keeping an eye on the matter of Holder’s replacement—with justice issues in mind—as it unfolds.


A HEAD START & TRAUMA SMART PRESCHOOL PROGRAM HELPS KEEP STRUGGLING KIDS IN SCHOOL

Some kids are so adversely affected by trauma at an early age that when they show up at preschool they have trouble behaving appropriately. In the past, teachers tended to expel such acting out-prone children from preschool programs, not always out of lack of compassion, but because they simply didn’t know what else to do.

Then in 2005, a study startled educators by showing that preschool kids were three times more far more likely to be suspended or expelled than those in any of the K-12 grades—numbers that have continued to worsen in the years since.

Recently, however, certain preschool programs around the country have begun experimenting with methods that address the causes of trauma-based behaviors in young children that, in the past, risked derailing a three or four-year-old’s academic future before it ever started.

The PBS Newshour with host Judy Woodruff and correspondant Molly Knight-Raskin looked at one such program last July. And, as we were surveying this year’s important stories on the issue of childhood trauma, we decided that this show was too important to miss.

Here are some clips:

Every year, thousands of children in this country are expelled from school before they reach kindergarten. In fact, studies show that preschool children are expelled at significantly rates than those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem this trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these kids face at home.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In many ways, Desiree Kazee, is a typical 5-year-old girl. She’s bubbly, bright and affectionate. Her favorite color is pink. And she enjoys drawing and dancing.

But, two years ago, when Desiree began preschool at a Head Start program near her home in Liberty, Missouri, she didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.

[SNIP]

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Janine Hron is the CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center, a psychiatrist hospital in Kansas City. In 2008, Hron and her team developed Head Start Trauma Smart, an innovative program that evidence-based trauma therapy into Head Start classrooms.

The program was created in response to the pervasiveness of trauma in the Kansas City area. Of the 4,000 kids in Head Start, 50 percent have experienced more than three traumatic events.

JANINE HRON: This is not a one-and-done kind of a bad experience. This happens over and over and over, and it becomes rather a lifestyle of trauma.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.

Avis Smith, a licensed social work at Crittenton, explains why.

AVIS SMITH, Crittenton Children’s Center: Their behaviors are so extreme, that the adults don’t know how to keep everybody safe….


HOW LONG BEACH POLICE CHIEF AND SHERIFF CANDIDATE MCDONNELL DEALT WITH OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

In 2013, 15 people were shot—or shot—at by Long Beach Police officers, a rate that was about twice the average for the city. Community members were very upset. Long Beach Police Chief and candidate for LA County sheriff, Jim McDonnell, was front and center as the man held responsible.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Nearly a year after her son was shot and killed by a Long Beach police officer, Shirley Lowery still keeps the urn holding his remains on a makeshift alter on a bar near the back door of her house.

“I was going to deposit his ashes,” Lowery said, “but I just can’t let him go.”

She still can’t sleep well either, her mind racing.

“The other night, I woke up at 3:15 and it was like a recording,” she says. “When he was born, when he learned how to walk, the first time he went snowboarding, the first time he went surfing. It keeps flashing.”

Her son, Johnny Del Real, was one of 15 people Long Beach police officers shot or shot at in 2013— about double the average in the city, records show.

The rash of shootings provoked protests, lawsuits (including Lowery’s current $10 million claim against the city) and questions about the tactics used by the Long Beach Police Department.

At the center of those questions was Jim McDonnell, the current police chief and frontrunner to win the job of Los Angeles County sheriff in the November election.

Darick Simpson, head of the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, said one of the men shot last year was friendly with kids in one of his group’s youth programs.

When Sokha Hor, 22, was critically wounded by police, at first his family was kept from seeing him in the hospital. Public outrage ensued and a lot of kids in Simpson’s program participated in protests.

But McDonnell and his staff’s willingness to share information – and desire to hear the kids’ side of the story – helped mitigate the tension, Simpson said.

“You know there’s three sides, right? Your side, my side, and the truth of any given story,” he said. “We came to a greater understanding of a truth that diffused an issue that could have been blown up into bigger than what it needed to be.”

McDonnell said he reacted to the spate of 2013 shootings by looking at the evidence in each case. Most involved people who were armed with real or replica weapons.

“To try and say why is one year higher than another year is difficult,” he said. “We look at each officer-involved shooting based on the merits of that shooting. The circumstances that led up to it, the tactics the officers used, the use of force itself. And then what they did after the use of force.”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 31 Comments »

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