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LA Supes Vote to Analyze LASD Deputy Probationary Training After IG Report Finds Problems

June 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department may be failing to weed out problematic or underperforming deputies during the standard year-long probationary training period, according to a report from Inspector General Max Huntsman presented to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The board approved a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich to direct Sheriff Jim McDonnell to report back with a plan for ensuring that the probationary supervision period “is a meaningful part of the employee selection process.”

After deputies graduate from the Academy, they must complete a one-year probationary period, which is spent in the Custody Division. First, they attend a four-week, classroom-based training course to prepare for work in Custody, then they are divided up among the county jails.

After that, new deputies spend 12 weeks in an on-the-job training program under the guidance of Training Officers. During this time, the TOs are expected to assess and give trainees feedback regularly, and complete bi-weekly evaluations of the deputies’ training progress.

At the 90-day mark, a unit commander (usually a captain) must review a trainee’s work habits and performance, with a focus on “issues such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and character, and any other characteristic” that would show whether a deputy was fit for a law enforcement career. If the trainee passes the assessment, he or she moves on to an assignment within the jail. Thirty days before the probationary period is up, the unit commander must complete a final evaluation of career performance to determine whether the deputy will move on from probation. This is a crucial step, because during the probationary period, deputies do not have the same protections held by permanent LASD employees, and if trainees do not meet department policy standards, they can be “released.”

None of the LASD Academy’s 334 Deputy Sheriff Trainees (DSTs) who graduated in 2014 were eliminated for poor performance.

Over the last two years, the department has reportedly revamped it’s hiring practices in order to get a large number of recruits through the door quickly.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was sworn in on December 1, 2014 (and has had the task of reforming a department plagued by abuse and misconduct scandals), has said he only wants to hire officers with a strong moral character. “While we’re heavily recruiting and we want to be able to fill the ranks, we’d rather work short than hire the wrong people,” McDonnell told the LA Daily News last year.

A veteran LASD manager, now retired, said that in the past, under former Sheriff Baca’s rule, there were too few background investigators to handle the number of LASD applicants, and some applicants that should have been disqualified were hired (despite objections from investigators) in order to quickly increase the sheriff’s department ranks.

The IG’s report took an in-depth look at 16 of the deputies’ probationary training files. According to the report, 9 out of 10 evaluations of new deputies on probation occurred after the one-year deadline, leaving no way to get rid of any unfit trainees—which is the main purpose of the probationary period. Those final evaluations are supposed to be completed a month before the end of the probationary period. The untimely assessments were reportedly completed between 1.5 and 5 months after the end of the probation period. Some were never completed. Moreover, many of the written evaluations included non-specific, cut-and-pasted comments about the trainees.


In one particularly alarming case reviewed by the IG’s Office, a problematic trainee was passed around among several Training Officers like a hot potato, but still managed to finish his probationary period. The deputy’s first TO wrote that the trainee was “not comprehending the importance of having knowledge of department policy and unit orders,” and not taking his TO seriously, despite multiple conversations about the issue.

After a pile of similar reviews, the department moved the deputy to a new TO, with similar outcomes. The deputy was passed to a third TO who said the trainee was “not taking his position here at Men’s Central Jail as a Deputy Sheriff seriously” and that his “integrity is a major concern not only in his role as a Deputy Sheriff but also for the safety of his partners.” The department sent him to yet another TO, who was able to push the deputy through the training program 10 months into his probationary year.

The deputy finished his year, and did not receive a final assessment. “Even though this DST received rigorous evaluations over the course of his probation that revealed the significant likelihood that he was not a fit for the position of Deputy Sheriff, the Department nonetheless failed to take advantage of the opportunity to release a low-performing employee before he obtained the substantial rights provided by civil service protection,” the IG’s report said.


IG Huntsman recommends certain clarifications on current custody training policies, like actually defining what a “meaningful” assessment entails, as well as what specific competencies a trainee should have (with measurable benchmarks) in order to move on to patrol.

The report also recommends that each deputy trainee be assigned to one dedicated Training Officer for their entire probationary year, and that custody training officers receive a boost to their salary for their extra responsibilities.

Huntsman makes a good point, said our veteran source. “But it is not as easy as it seems.” Making sure there are enough seasoned, capable training officers in Custody, which has in the past not been considered a coveted assignment, he said, “will take some real leadership, standards and honest assessments of employees.”

Unfit deputies should actually be let go during their probationary period, the report says, and higher-up commanders—rather than captains—sign off on each trainee’s completion of probation 30 days before the end of the year.

Sheriff McDonnell only agreed with the recommendation to review department policies, including defining “meaningful” training. McDonnell did not agree with the other recommendations—assigning a trainee to one TO for the whole year, releasing unfit deputies, and moving evaluations up to the commander level—citing staffing issues.

The Supervisors voted to have Sheriff McDonnell report back to the board within 60 days with a plan for implementing the first recommendation, as well as options for achieving the remaining recommendations (and what each option will cost), and any other recommendations for improving the department’s probationary training system.

Posted in LASD | 23 Comments »

A Focus on Homelessness, Veterans Courts in CA, SF District Attorney on SFPD Reform, and Bellfower Shooting Suspect Charged

June 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


This week, news publications across the state have joined together to shine a light on the issue of homelessness in California.

The journalistic movement, started by the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED as the “SF Homelessness Project,” has expanded to include more than 70 news organizations, including SFGATE, The San Jose Mercury News, The California Sunday Magazine, ABC7, Youth Radio, SF Weekly, and more.

In an open letter to the city of San Francisco, the Chronicle announced the large-scale partnership. Here’s a clip:

We want to inspire and incite each other as much as we want to prod city and civic leaders.

Fundamentally, we are driven by the desire to stop calling what we see on our streets the new normal. Frustration and resignation are not a healthy psyche for a city.

Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information and potential options to put San Francisco on a better path. Then it will be up to all of us – citizens, activists, public and private agencies, politicians – to work together to get there.

According to the 2016 count, there are approximately 47,000 homeless people Los Angeles County. In Southern California, KCRW and KPCC and the Southern California News Group newspapers (which includes the LA Daily News, the Orange County Register, and nine other papers) will take part in the project, by sharing stories and exploring solutions.

KPCC’s Evelyn Larrubia has a preview of upcoming KPCC coverage, which, starts today (Wednesday), and will include an episode of AirTalk featuring local policymakers, formerly homeless people, and advocates, as well as a story for Morning Edition and All Things Considered about a particular strategy one community is employing, and whether it’s working. Here’s a clip:

…our homeless population has swelled, right alongside the region’s property values. The largest unsheltered homeless population in the nation is right here in Los Angeles.

In January, volunteers counted up nearly 47,000 homeless people, some of whom were packed into shelters, but tens of thousands more were scattered under freeways, in alleyways and park benches across Los Angeles County. That’s about 12,000 more people than live in the city of Beverly Hills (roughly 35,000).

As we reported Monday, more families and women are slipping into homelessness. For the first time in its 125-year history, women and children outnumber single men at the Union Rescue Mission’s shelters.

And Los Angeles is by no means alone.

Frustrated by what seemed like government inaction, forward-looking media directors in San Francisco decided to band together to blanket their airwaves, websites and social media feeds with coverage on the homeless for one week – culminating in a day of news this Wednesday.

For further reading, many of the participating news organizations have some great stories up, including the LA Daily News, California Sunday Mag, and Orange County Register.

We will continue to follow this project as the week progresses.


On Tuesday, the California Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved a bill that would require the Judicial Council of California to analyze veterans courts run in 25 of the state’s 58 counties, as well as the need for the specialized courts in the other 33 counties.

If you are unfamiliar, veterans courts aim to help, rather than punish, vets who are often suffering from PTSD, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans courts are similar to alternative drug courts and offer low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.

KQED’s Katie Orr has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“(They) fall into issues around dysfunctional family relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, and then they begin to touch the criminal justice system,” [says Wayne Hughes Jr., bill sponsor and veterans program operator]. “And once that happens, they sort of get caught up and lose control and it ends up being a spiral.”

The Judicial Council of California will be responsible for conducting the study and reporting back to the Legislature. The Council’s Sharon Reilly says there’s a variety of reasons some counties do not have veterans courts.

“Probably one of the biggest drivers is in smaller communities it’s difficult to have a court that’s directed to a particular population,” she says. “One of the things that the study will look at is whether there’s opportunities for regional means of making sure that veterans have these services available to them.”


Lately, the San Francisco Police Department has been plagued by scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between officers, as well as controversial police shootings. At the end of May, after a particularly questionable shooting, SF Mayor Ed Lee removed SFPD Chief Greg Suhr from office.

In an interview with Mother Jones’s Brandon Ellington Patterson, SF District Attorney George Gascón—a former SFPD chief himself—shares his thoughts on how to reform the department and increase accountability.

First, Gascón says the department should change its use-of-force policy to require cops to use minimum force necessary during confrontations with suspects. Last week, the SF Police Commission unanimously voted in favor of a new department policy requiring officers to try to de-escalate a situation before using force. That policy change still has to pass through union and city negotiations before it can be adopted. And following training in using minimum force and changing department policy, SFPD officers should also be issued tasers, says Gascón. (At this point, SF is one of the only big cities not equipping its officers with tasers.)

Gascón also stresses that the DA’s Office and the SFPD should not conduct investigations into police-involved shootings. “The worst-case scenario is what we’re doing today,” Gascón told Mother Jones. “Perhaps the only thing that could be worse than that is if we didn’t go to the scene at all.” Instead, Gascón says the California Attorney General’s Office, or a separate, independent division within the DA’s office, should conduct the investigations.

Here are some clips (but go over and read the rest):

The SFPD should adopt a use-of-force policy that requires officers to respond to physical threats with the minimum force necessary, Gascon said. Enforcing a more restrictive policy would both reduce the number of fatal police encounters and put officers at less risk of legal action for running afoul of the “reasonable force” legal standard, he said. Under current interpretations of the law, no particular weapon or level of force is more reasonable than another in responding to threats that pose great bodily harm to officers—but department leadership can draw its own line, Gascon said. “What you do is you’re modifying behavior with this line. And you’re creating a buffer, so that if you make a very restrictive policy, even if the officer violates policy, they’re still very far away from violating the law.”


Currently, the San Francisco police department leads investigations into officer-involved shootings, while the DA’s office conducts its own investigation into the shooting. Investigators from the DA’s office respond to the scene but rely heavily on the SFPD for information, which doesn’t always get passed along. “The worst-case scenario is what we’re doing today,” Gascon said. “Perhaps the only thing that could be worse than that is if we didn’t go to the scene at all.” Earlier this month, a ballot measure was passed requiring the Office of Citizen Complaints to conduct an investigation into every police shooting. Previously it only conducted investigations when a complaint was filed with the office—which rarely happened.

The SFPD can’t continue to investigate itself for shootings involving its own officers, Gascon said. Ideally, the California state attorney general’s office should investigate police shootings, he said, though that agency says it lacks the resources. Gascon has proposed creating a special division within the district attorney’s office that would be exclusively responsible for investigating officer-involved shootings. The division would consist of investigators and prosecutors who were hired and trained specifically to investigate police shootings and would not be involved in the work of the DA’s office on other criminal cases. This would build trust, he said, between the police department and the community in terms of the integrity of police-shooting investigations.

In Gascon’s view, the SFPD should also regularly publish updated information about complaints against officers and use-of-force incidents on its website every 30 days, including the numbers of each, the race of the victims, and the race, gender, and age of the officer involved.


On Friday, authorities arrested a male suspect who allegedly shot two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies while fleeing a DUI checkpoint Thursday night. The alleged shooter, Juan Manuel Martinez, has been charged with attempting to murder 10 LASD deputies, and one felony count each of holding a hostage, dissuading a witness by threat of force, and being in possession of a firearm with a prior felony conviction.

The Associated Press has the update.

Posted in Homelessness | 1 Comment »

Education Reformer Steve Barr Announces a Run for Mayor in 2017

June 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Running against a well-liked incumbent Los Angeles mayor is usually considered…well…nuts,
but education reformer Steve Barr has a record for taking on the impossible.

Barr is the founder of Green Dot charter schools, which—in the early 2000s—launched small charters in low income areas of LA County, where sprawling and dysfunctional LA Unified School District facilities, like Jefferson High School, were then failing catastrophically, with drop out rates through the roof, and grad rates in the toilet. Yet, at the same time, local teachers’ unions and others got in the way of anyone trying to fix them.

Enter Green Dot, begun when Barr was unsuccessful in finding a way to partner with LAUSD. and was determined to give families living in impoverished neighborhoods an educational option that acted as if their kids actually mattered.

By 2007, in a grand and risky experiment, Green Dot managed against daunting odds to seize control of a large failing high school itself, namely Alain Leroy Locke High School, located at the edge of the Watts.

Locke, with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures. It was also the first such “hostile takeover” in the U.S. of a public high school by a charter, and it made national news.

Amazingly, Green Dot’s small-is-better education model, with its high degree of teacher autonomy and parent involvement, actually worked. Kids who showed up at the Green Dot start-up charters on the first day of class with their reading and math abilities discouragingly far below grade level, not only stayed in school and graduated, they applied to college.

By 2009 two of Green Dot’s charters were named among the 100 best public schools in America.

That same year,Barr was profiled in the New Yorker.

Two years later still, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Green Dot is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools repeatedly made headlines.

In 2010, Barr left Green Dot to do education reform work elsewhere in the U.S., helping to open a Green Dot-style charter schools in New York and New Orleans

In 2012, he turned his sights back to LA with an unusual partnership with LAUSD.

Now, he has announced he is running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017, challenging Eric Garcetti. He filed the necessary papers on Monday. “I’m in,” he posted on his Facebook page.

The LA Times’ Peter Jamison and Howard Blume have more on the story of Barr’s candidacy. Here’s a clip:

Barr, a Silver Lake resident and darling of education-reform advocates who has not previously held elected office, said he has grown impatient with what he sees as Garcetti’s passivity in the face of a worsening public education crisis. He said Garcetti is “a really nice guy” who lacks “a sense of urgency” about solving the city’s problems, foremost among them the shortcomings of the nation’s second-largest school system.

“The school district – and I’m saying this as a big fan of the school district, as a parent in the school district – in some ways is a little bit like an alcoholic who hasn’t bottomed out yet,” Barr said. “It’s getting better, but we can’t afford as a city to just let this thing linger out there, because it’s not just affecting them anymore. It’s affecting our city and it has for a long time.”

Barr’s entry into the 2017 race comes amid a historic push by local activists to expand charter schools as an answer to problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in L.A. government: the relationship between LAUSD and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.


In taking on Garcetti, Barr faces long odds against an incumbent who has built a broad base of political support and an impressive fundraising machine – and who has made no major missteps during his first three years in office.

Jaime Regalado, an emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said he thought nothing short of a serious scandal – or perhaps an abrupt exit by Garcetti to accept an appointment in a Hillary Clinton White House – would create “any chance at all” for Barr’s success.

Others cautioned against underestimating Barr’s appeal to an unpredictable electorate in a city where public school quality still tops most polls as an issue of voter concern.

“He’s running as an outsider at a time when voters are powerfully suspicious of the political establishment, and he’s running on an issue that’s close to the hearts of most Angelenos,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “It will be an uphill fight for him, but this is something that Garcetti and his team would be smart to take very seriously.”

Posted in Education, Green Dot | No Comments »

Former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Gets 5-Year Sentence & Scorching Lecture

June 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced
former Los Angeles County undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, to five years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Before his forced retirement in August 1, 2013, Tanaka was the second-in-command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department—according to many, the real power behind the throne—and was widely considered to be the person mostly likely to replace Lee Baca as sheriff.

Instead, Tanaka, 57, is scheduled to self-surrender to federal marshals on August 1 of this year. (Unsurprisingly, his attorneys have already appealed his conviction, which will likely put off any self-surrendering for a while.)

In the minutes before the stony-faced Judge Anderson actually announced Tanaka’s 60-month sentence, the judge first took time to deliver a scorched-earth speech to the defendant about his “abuse of the public trust” and the “incalculable harm you have caused this community.”

And that was just for openers.

It helps to know that, in addition to Tanaka’s trial, Anderson, who was nominated to federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, presided over the previous obstruction of justice trials that resulted in the conviction of seven department members for attempting to derail the FBI’s investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system, which is overseen by the sheriff’s department. Anderson also presided over the plea deal and sentencing of former deputy Gilbert Michel, who was caught in an FBI sting for accepting a bribe from an inmate in return for bringing said inmate a contraband cell phone. (The inmate, Anthony Brown, turned out to be a federal informant.)

And Anderson managed to yank former sheriff Lee Baca’s plea hearing away from another judge to whom it was originally assigned. Thus it will be Anderson who will sentence Baca on July 11.

In short, this means that Percy Anderson is far more familiar with the facts of Tanaka’s case, and those cases that surround it, than even the best informed and most diligent jurist would ordinarily ever be.

This has turned to be bad news for Tanaka, for whom Anderson reserved an unusually strong expression of censure.


Anderson’s lecture of the about-to-be-sentenced Tanaka covered a lot of ground, including the fact that the judge found the defendant “evasive, combative and not credible” when on the stand in trial.

Most of the judge’s remarkably detailed criticism, however, had to do with the principles with which Tanaka allegedly “operated in his career.” The former undersheriff, said Anderson, “rewarded loyalty over honor,” and “derailed the careers” of anyone who got in his way. Anderson referenced such controversial Tanaka hallmarks as his infamous “work the gray” statements, which Anderson said communicated that “deputies would not be held responsible for aggressive behavior.”

Similarly, the judge said that Tanaka’s management style “undermined the authority of supervisors” who attempted reform, and “set the stage” for “an environment of aggressive deputy conduct,” and an “us versus them mentality” that resulted in hospitalized inmates, and falsified reports, to cover-up the LASD-perpetrated jailhouse brutality.

The evidence is “overwhelming,” said the judge, that the defendant “made no attempt to investigate and build cases against corrupt deputies.” To the contrary, Tanaka and his coconspirators attempted to convince witnesses “not to cooperate” with the FBI, seeming to focus only on “avoiding embarrassment” for the LASD.

“The most troubling thing about this troubling chapter” in the sheriff’s department’s history, Anderson told the former undersheriff, “is that your efforts to shield dirty deputies has been largely successful,” despite the government’s multiple convictions of deputies for brutalizing inmates.

“Those convicted deputies are a small fraction” of a “deputy culture” that Tanaka allowed to thrive, Anderson said. “Some of those deputies, remain with the department,” and have risen to high levels. As a consequence, Anderson said, “the public has little confidence” that the problem has been rooted out.


During much of this disquisition, Anderson stared down at Tanaka from the bench with the ferocity of a large-winged raptor, noting pointedly at one juncture that “you have shown no remorse.”

When U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a short post-sentencing press conference on the steps of the court building, her words echoed those of the judge. “His actions harmed the sheriff’s department, harmed law enforcement everywhere and the good men and women who strive every day to uphold their oaths and serve justice,” said Decker. “The sentence today demonstrated that, indeed, no one is above the law.”

In sentencing Tanaka, Anderson went above federal guidelines, which reportedly call for 41-51 months in prison. The 60 month sentence that Anderson finally imposed, was the term the prosecution had requested. Still, one got the sense that, while Anderson thought the five year stretch sent a strong message, he wouldn’t have minded going higher.

Tanaka—who wore a closely tailored black suit for the packed hearing, along with what appears to be one if his favorite ties, an elegant blue on blue striped number that went with his baby blue shirt—was stoic and mostly expressionless when the sentence was announced. In fact, perhaps the only time he spoke was when the judge asked him if he understood that if he violated his bail conditions in even the tiniest of ways, bail would be revoked.

“Yes, sir,” said the former undersheriff.

Tanaka’s family arrived in force for the hearing and, both before and after sentencing, did their best to offer Paul and each other steadying support.

Other court watchers mostly commented on Judge Anderson’s unusually vivid pre-sentencing tongue-lashing.


“I think that the judge made a very strong statement today,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and served as an advisor to Sheriff Jim McDonnell during his first year in office. It wasn’t so much about the case, she said. “It was really an indictment of an entire career and a culture of lawlessness that Paul Tanaka allowed to fester,” “I think the judge sent a strong message that this kind of gross abuse of the public’s trust by those whom we trust with keeping the community safe will simply not be tolerated.”

Anderson also seemed to be making the point, said Krinsky, that Tanaka’s policy of sidelining anyone who attempted reform, may have produced as situation where, those department members already convicted for wrongdoing, “may be merely the top of the iceberg in terms of misconduct.” And that there may be others in the department “who share the views of those who have been criminally convicted.”

It’s clear, said Krinsky, “that this is the beginning not the end of a process of reform and transformation of this department.”

Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, also spoke after the hearing. They said they were “very disappointed” at the sentence, of course, and that they completely disagreed with the judge’s pre-sentencing remarks.

But they are also “very optimistic about our client’s chances on appeal,” said Haig. In fact, the attorney remarked as we chatted, that the fact Judge Anderson chose to allow a line of questioning about Tanaka’s Viking’s tattoo into the prosecution’s cross examination during the trial “is a big part of our appeal.”

In other words, the drama continues.

In the meantime, a three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit will hear the appeal of the seven department members previously convicted of obstruction of justice on July 5th.

Full updated story published at 7:45 p.m.

Posted in LASD | 73 Comments »

Sentencing Day Arrives for Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles County,
will be sentenced on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The arguments have been made and remade by the prosecution and the defense regarding what kind of sentence Judge Anderson ought to hand down to the man who was, for years, considered the real power behind the throne of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka’s legal team, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, asked (not surprisingly) that their client be given probation—arguing that, far from being the “ringleader” that the prosecution had portrayed him to be, Mr. Tanaka was completely peripheral to the crimes of which he was convicted.

(The former second in command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka personally directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to upend the FBI’s investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.)

Tanaka and his lawyers further argued that it was Sheriff Lee Baca who ran the show. Any crimes that were committed, they wrote, were “planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles.”

All the while, according to the defense, Tanaka was “…a fearless executive in the Department who fought to weed out problem deputies, not encourage them. The only culture he fostered was excellence and he made daily efforts to accomplish it.”

In response to this rosy portrait of defendant Tanaka, the prosecution— namely Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—reiterated in scathing detail the reasons why they have recommended a sentence of 60 months—or five years—in a federal lock-up:

Defendant Paul Tanaka’s defiance is on full display in his sentencing brief,” the prosecutors wrote. “Rather than accept the judgment of the jury based on the mountain of evidence against him, defendant attempts to shift the blame, minimize his role, and redefine himself. He takes no responsibility for his actions and shows no remorse….

“Despite his claims in his sentencing memorandum, “defendant is the same person who: (a) led the conspiracy that sought to obstruct an investigation into deputies physically abusing inmates; (b) protected rogue deputies who trampled on the rights of those they encountered inside the jail and on the streets; and (c) encouraged deputies everywhere to operate in the ‘gray area’ of the law.”

in the end, of course, it really only matters what Judge Anderson thinks.

Whatever the outcome, Monday promises to be a strange and historic day in the life of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and of the County of Los Angeles.

So….stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

LASD Deputies Shot in Bellflower—UPDATED…Personnel Files & the Oakland PD Scandal…CA DOJ Investigating San Bernardino Child Welfare System…and LAUSD’s Random Weapon Checks

June 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Friday morning, authorities arrested a male suspect who allegedly shot two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies while fleeing a DUI checkpoint Thursday night. The suspect reportedly shot a deputy who had followed him on motorcycle. The deputy returned fire. The suspect fled on foot, and fired several more rounds at responding deputies, hitting a second officer. Still in flight, the suspect shot at a third group of deputies, who also returned fire.

By Saturday afternoon, the first deputy had been discharged from the hospital and sent home to rest with his family. The condition of the second deputy, who was in recovery after surgery, was still serious but improving.

We will continue to update as the story continues to unfold.


Two on-duty Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies were shot in the 900 block of Oak St. in Bellflower on Thursday night. Both were rushed to the hospital, their conditions unknown. The shooting took place around 10:30 Thursday night but as of 12:30 a.m.the suspect was still “outstanding,” according to a department spokes person.

More news is expected.


California Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) says he’s considering sending a ballot measure before voters that would open up police personnel files to the public, as a wild sex scandal within the Oakland Police Department continues to develop. (A bill Leno authored to do just that—in cases of serious uses of force and sexual assault—died in the Senate Appropriations committee late last month, mere weeks before news of the OPD scandal broke.)

Leno won’t be able to reintroduce his bill, as he will be termed out of office this year. Leno says that the law enforcement lobby is so powerful, that it may not be possible to get it through the legislature, anyway. “The only way we may have to change these secrecy laws would be to go to the ballot,” Leno told KQED. He may try to get his proposal in front of voters in 2018, when the next California gubernatorial election will be held.

If you’ve missed the backstory, earlier this month, a young woman who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014. After the news broke about the OPD passing around a minor for sex, the police chief resigned. Six days later, Schaaf sacked the interim chief. A few days after that, sacked the second interim chief. Fed up, the Mayor placed the City Administrator in charge of the OPD, vowing to weed out “toxic, macho culture.”

KQED’s Ted Goldberg has the story. Here are some clips:

“It’s quite possible it cannot be done legislatively, that the power of the law enforcement lobby is so intense that it’s not going to move successfully through the Legislature,” Leno said in an interview. “The only way we may have to change these secrecy laws would be to go to the ballot.”


During Mayor Libby Schaaf’s most recent news conference, announcing that yet another police chief was stepping down, she said 11 times that she was not able to release details about the investigations.

That has been frustrating to members of the Oakland City Council, who say they’ve been kept in the dark on the multiple investigations into some police officers who allegedly had sex with an underage girl and others who allegedly traded racist text messages.

“I think I can speak for the entire council of our frustration, not knowing what others know,” City Councilman Larry Reid, who represents East Oakland, told reporters recently. “We certainly understand that the police have these enormous rights given under the state law as it relates to law enforcement officers, but we would like to know something.”

Reid asked City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to find out from City Attorney Barbara Parker if the council can get more information about the investigations in closed session.

“We are having to rely on those of you who have to report the news on a daily basis for us to learn anything about what’s going on with our Police Department,” Reid said.


On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that her office’s Bureau of Children’s Justice is in the middle of an investigation into San Bernardino County’s child welfare system after former social workers accused county officials of covering up deaths and serious abuse of kids in the child welfare system.

In fact, Harris said that the San Bernardino investigation was one of the key reasons the Bureau of Children’s Justice was established. Harris announced the investigation so that members of the public with any relevant information could contact the Bureau of Children’s Justice.

“Our children embody California’s future and deserve legal rights and equal opportunities to succeed,” Harris said in a statement. “I created the Bureau of Children’s Justice last year to shine a spotlight on accountability and enforcement gaps that put our children at risk and to protect vulnerable children like foster youth.”

Former social workers Eric Bahra and Mary Anna Whitehall have filed two lawsuits alleging retaliation for their whistleblowing.

The San Bernardino Sun’s Joe Nelson has more on the investigation. Here are some clips:

“We are looking more broadly than any one individual incident. We’re looking at the need for systemic reform and potential systemic breakdowns,” said Jill Habig, special counsel to the attorney general, on Wednesday. “The reason we’re disclosing this now is we’re at a point in the investigation where we need public engagement and input so we have a full, thorough and impartial investigation. We’re putting this out so people can contact us and provide information.”

The investigation was launched last year amid allegations by former social workers that top San Bernardino County officials covered up incidents in which children in the juvenile dependency system either died or were severely abused by their parents or foster parents. At least two lawsuits have been filed by former San Bernardino County social workers alleging whistleblower retaliation.


Whitehall alleges in her lawsuit that she was placed on administrative leave six days after she and two other social workers filed motions in juvenile dependency court alleging the Department of Children and Family Services committed fraud upon the court in order to discredit Bahra, which ultimately led to his termination.

Specifically, top DCFS officials, Whitehall alleges, attempted to discredit Bahra by falsifying evidence in a July 2013 case in which Bahra and another social worker responded to a report of a dead infant at a San Bernardino residence. Bahra reported the home smelling of methamphetamine, and that four other children in the home showed signs of physical abuse. He recommended they be removed from the home and placed into foster homes. The social worker who accompanied Bahra that day, Melissa Pena, corroborated Bahra’s assessment.

But DCFS officials, Whitehall alleges, falsified evidence and told the court Bahra lied in his reports and breached confidentiality. They recommended the four surviving children be returned to their biological parents. By doing so, DCFS jeopardized the safety of the four children, Whitehall alleges.


At a meeting on Tuesday, a group of teachers, students, and parents called for an end to mandatory daily random weapon searches in Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools and high schools. The school board agreed to reconsider the policy, which was established in 1993, following a fatal shooting at Fairfax High School. The recent refusal of LA-area charter schools to adopt the weapon search policy rekindled the debate about the practice, which advocates say leads to racial profiling.

On KPCC’s Air Talk, Patt Morrison, standing in for host Larry Mantle, talks with David Holmquist, General Counsel for the LAUSD, and Christina de Jesus, President and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California about the practice.

Holmquist credits the metal detector search policy as the reason the district has been free of school shootings since ’93. “Obviously, there haven’t been any incidents—major gun discharges—as a result of our policy, and we confiscated, over this past year, 440 different weapons,” Holmquist said. “Fifteen of them were guns.”

And addressing parents’ and teachers’ concerns that the practice leads to racial profiling, Holmquist said the district’s duty is “to all students, not just those that are feeling singled out.”

De Jesus said that students’ safety is a top priority for Green Dot, and that the search policy is not part of a system that keeps kids safe, and will also “uplift, empower, and inspire the youth in the communities…”

Holmquist said that if Green Dot doesn’t follow LAUSD protocol, their charters may be revoked.

Go listen to the episode.

Posted in BREAKING L.A. | 4 Comments »

Body Cams for LAPD…SCOTUS Decision on Evidence From Illegal Police Stops…and Bills

June 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the LA City Council approved a nearly $60 million plan to equip 7,000 Los Angeles police officers with body-worn cameras.

The city will enter into a five-year agreement with Taser International Inc. to the tune of $31.2 million in equipment (including 4,400 cameras) and services. Another $23.7 million will go to Sprint for phones and data, and 4.3 million will be earmarked for what the Public Safety Committee Report designates as “infrastructure.” (The LAPD will also use a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice, $3.1 million in unspent fiscal year 2015-2016 program funding, and $7 million from the 2016-2017 adopted budget.)

Once the body cams are implemented, the LAPD will be the largest department in the nation to attach cameras to its officers. About 860 officers are already wearing cameras because of an earlier pilot program.

Four times per year, the LAPD will also be required to report back on the status of camera implementation, along with a cost-benefit analysis.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the body cam plan. Here’s a clip:

Originally, L.A. Mayor Garcetti had promised to have cameras on LAPD officers by the end of the year to improve accountability by both police and citizens, and provide evidence in criminal trials. City council members, however, balked at the price tag and approval was delayed six months.

A study commissioned by the council and unveiled Tuesday predicted eventual cost savings from body cameras. Justice and Security Strategies, the consultant commissioned for the report, said LAPD can expect to pay less in litigation costs after body cameras roll out, since they could absolve officers accused of misconduct, and deter use of force by officers.

The plan includes a $31 million contract with Taser International, which will supply the cameras, uploading equipment and storage. The rest of the money will go to things like extra LAPD staff to review and manage the footage.

Garcetti hailed the decision.

“Today’s action by the City Council is an investment in my vision of a Los Angeles Police Department that leads in transparency and accountability — values that protect officers and everyday Angelenos, and that are fundamental to policing in the 21st century,” Garcetti said in a statement. “This is a historic moment for the LAPD, and I am proud of the leadership shown by everyone who played a part in getting us to this day.”


In a 5-3 decision on Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers can use evidence obtained during illegal stops in courts, if the searches were conducted after the officers found out that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent, arguing that the ruling would disproportionately impact people of color. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” she wrote.

In the case, Utah v. Strieff, Salt Lake City narcoticts detective Douglas Fackrell unlawfully stopped Edward Strieff based on an anonymous tip about “narcotics activity.” The check Fackrell ran on Strieff turned up a warrant for a traffic violation. When Fackrell arrested and searched Strieff, he found meth and drug paraphernalia. The justices ruled that the drug evidence does not have to be suppressed, but can be used as evidence in court.

“The officer illegally stopped Strieff and immediately ran a warrant check,” said Sotomayor in her dissent. “The officer’s discovery of a warrant was not some intervening surprise that he could not have anticipated.”

Sotomayor pointed out that according to recent Department of Justice statistics, 16,000 of Ferguson, Missouri’s population of 21,000 had outstanding warrants.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joined most of Sotomayor’s dissent, as well as Justice Elena Kagan’s separate dissent.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.

“Officer Fackrell was at most negligent,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

In a dissent that cited W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Justice Sotomayor said the court had vastly expanded police power.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay,” she continued, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Justice Sotomayor added that many people were at risk. Federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, she wrote, “the vast majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.”


AB 2298, a bill to notify people included on California’s gang database, CalGang, passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and has been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The bill passed through the Assembly earlier this month.

People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.

The bill also gives Californians the right to challenge their inclusion in the database, and removes people from the list who have been free of gang-related convictions for at least three years.

Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood.


On Monday California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her support of a bill that would ensure that eligible inmates with felony convictions keep their right to vote while in jail (but not prison), as well as while under county supervision (but not parole).

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and society, and yet for too long we have stripped certain individuals of that right,” AG Harris said.

And on Tuesday, Harris endorsed a bill to place significant limits on when, why, and for how long California kids can be locked in solitary. The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

“Subjecting young people to prolonged periods of isolated confinement is cruel, inhumane and counterproductive to rehabilitation,” Harris said. “This unnecessary and punitive practice undermines the goal of helping this vulnerable young population become healthy and productive members of our society.”

Harris endorsed two other criminal justice reform bills aimed at reducing recidivism. The first, AB 1597, by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey), would allow inmates who haven’t been sentenced yet to participate in rehabilitative programs and earn good time credits toward a future sentence. The inmates’ use of these tools would not be admissible as evidence of their guilt.

The second bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would ensure that local detention facilities using video visitation would also allow a number of in-person visits for inmates, as well.

Posted in LAPD | 11 Comments »

California Funds Gun Research, LASD Mental Health Crisis Efforts, a Collaboration of Arts Groups in Juvie Camps, and Possible Settlement in Gabriel Fernandez Case

June 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A pot of $5 million dollars for a gun violence research center at a University of California campus was included in the $170 billion budget California lawmakers approved on Thursday. The center, which will likely be established at UC Davis, will work to gather evidence that can be the foundation for sound firearm violence prevention programs and policies.

The original bill was authored by CA Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis). “Acts of firearm violence like Sunday’s horrific mass shooting in Orlando leave us searching for answers. California made finding those answers a priority, taking leadership once again where Congress has failed,” Wolk said.

In 1996, Congress banned funding for gun-related research by the federal government, because—said the NRA—gun violence is not a disease, and does not fall under the Center for Disease Control’s domain as a public health issue. Supporters hope California will set an example for the rest of the country.

The research center garnered the unlikely support of Jay Dickey, an NRA member and former congressman who authored the amendment that killed federal funding for gun violence research at the CDC. “It is crazy for any state to expect its legislators to vote on gun violence legislation if they do not know that it will be effective in both protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners and reducing gun violence,” said Dickey in a joint statement with his former adversary, Mark Rosenberg, CEO of The Task Force for Global Health. “California is setting a very good example by supporting the research that will empower their legislators to protect both its citizens and their gun rights.”


As the LA County Sheriff’s Department grapples with an increase in mental health emergency calls and use-of-force incidents involving the mentally ill, the department is working on ways to better serve the county’s mentally ill population (and keep them out of jail).

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of mental health-related calls to the LASD jumped by 55% from 11,660 calls to 18,061 calls. In 2014, 29% of uses of force by deputies on patrol involved someone with mental illness, and 47% of uses of force by deputies in jails involved a mentally ill person.

One focus is on increasing mental health crisis training for deputies. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to implement a new week-long training for department members, but must wait for the LA County Board of Supervisors to approve $2.8 million in funding to launch the project.

The sheriff’s department also deploys mental health crisis teams, each comprised of one officer and one mental health clinician. Unfortunately, the department only has eight teams, which are not all on duty at once, and are stretched extremely thin.

In a 2015 report on diverting the county’s mentally ill from jails into community treatment, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey suggested boosting the number of teams to 23. This, too, requires county funding. (WLA will be tracking these issues.)

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

The officer-and-clinician duos “take a step back and provide someone the space they need to feel safe. They take a slower approach,” said Mark Gale, criminal justice chair for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Los Angeles County Council.

But there is a chronic shortage of teams.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said staffing reductions prevent him from expanding his mental health teams beyond the single one on duty each shift.

In sheriff’s territory, there are only eight teams, with fewer on duty at a given time, for the more than 4,000 square miles patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department. Often, deputies don’t bother to call because it can take hours for a team to arrive.

Last year in Lakewood, a federal law enforcement officer tried to summon a team to help his mentally ill brother, but all were busy on other calls. Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot the brother when he refused to get out of his car and drove it towards them.

In Long Beach, though, when a woman who had been brandishing a hunting knife locked herself in a McDonald’s restroom, Long Beach Police Officer Chris Costa spent 10 minutes coaxing her to slide the knife under the door. The effort may have avoided a violent encounter with other officers, said Costa, who has worked as the law enforcement half of a mental health team for nearly two decades.

The LAPD’s mental health teams are relatively well-staffed but still have only been able to respond to about a third of mental health calls, said Det. Charles Dempsey, who heads the department’s mental evaluation unit.

With a recent expansion from eight to 17 teams on duty, Dempsey anticipates that up to 70% of mental health calls will now be answered by specialists.

In August 2015, an advisory board convened by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey produced a long list of recommendations to improve mental health care in the county, among them nearly tripling the number of sheriff’s mental evaluation teams to 23. Sheriff’s officials hope to reach that target by gradually obtaining more funding from the county, adding two additional teams this year and more in the future.

“Our struggle has been we don’t have enough teams to handle the need, especially for the geography we serve,” said Chief Stephen Johnson, who heads the new mental health initiative. “The ones we have don’t have the capacity to move around the county and really be a resource to deputies.”


The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) is made up of nine organizations providing arts education to kids locked up in 10 LA County juvenile lock-ups. These interdisciplinary groups are teaching kids skills like acting, African drumming, screenwriting, poetry, and painting.

The collaborative group model helps the network members to have a larger impact and cover more ground. The goal is to help kids heal their trauma, break away from destructive trajectories, and gain marketable arts-related skills they can use upon their release.

The AIYN is part of a larger effort, called the Create Economy Create Autonomy Project that aims to boost access to arts-focused employment for formerly locked-up young people in Southern California. Among the participating groups are the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, InsideOUT Writers, The Actors’ Gang, and Street Poets.

AIYN’s governing council includes Homeboy Industries artist Fabian Debora, Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund, Janice Prober of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Melissa Denton of the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, among others. Poet Luis Rodriguez has a seat on the advisory council.

Twenty-year-old professional actor Johnny Ortiz got his first lessons in acting at age 15 through a ten-week program run by the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, held at Camp David Gonzalez, the juvenile probation camp in Calabasas where he was serving a sentence for robbery. Ortiz has since appeared on the shows “Southland” and “American Crime,” and McFarland, USA, a Disney Movie.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the network. Here’s a clip:

Growing up in Highland Park, Johnny Ortiz always wanted to be an actor, but he had no idea how to get started.

At the age of five, he recently recounted, he called 4-1-1, asking for advice. The operator gave him a phone number.

“I called the number but it was a false number,” he said. “I guess she just didn’t want to break my dreams, you know?”

Instead of chasing his acting dreams, Ortiz ended up joining a gang at 10 years old. At 15, after being charged with robbery, he landed in juvenile detention.

But it was there that Ortiz was finally exposed to formal acting classes.

Four years ago, the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company came to do a ten-week workshop at Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas. Through the program, inmates learn about performing and write their own plays. At the end of the workshop, professional actors come in and perform what they’ve written.

This experience made Ortiz even more determined to turn his life around and pursue acting once he got out. When he was released, he started volunteering and taking acting classes through the Boyle Heights theater CASA 0101. And eventually started booking gigs – including on the TNT show “Southland,” ABC’s “American Crime” and with Kevin Costner in the Disney film “McFarland, USA.”


A $2.63 million dollar settlement is expected in a lawsuit against LA County following the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and fatally beaten in 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite numerous reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused. Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including burns all over his body, broken ribs, and a fractured skull.

Attorneys will appear in court Monday at a hearing to dismiss the case, pending the settlement, although the LA County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted to approve the settlement.

Back in April, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against four social workers involved.

City News Service has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two county claims boards voted earlier this month to recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay $2.63 million to settle the claim. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted on the matter, but a Lancaster court hearing is set for Monday to dismiss the case pending settlement.

The plaintiff’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Family members of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez — including his father, two grandparents, siblings and four other relatives on his father’s side — filed two separate suits alleging that the departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services were culpable in the boy’s death, the result of alleged serial abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.

The boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, 32, and then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are charged with murder in Gabriel’s death and prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty against the two. Both are being held without bail and awaiting a pretrial hearing July 28.

Posted in guns | 22 Comments »

L.A.’s One-and-Only Native American Foster Mom – by Daniel Heimpel

June 21st, 2016 by witnessla


A look at the urgent need for foster families to give LA County’s Native American foster kids a place to belong.

by Daniel Heimpel

Lisa Smith and her two daughters peer out the front windows of their Diamond Bar, California, home.

“We were that anxious,” 49-year-old Smith says, recalling the afternoon in March.

They see a car pull up, and hurry to the curb. Inside are the two boys the family has been waiting for.

Smith immediately takes the younger boy, still a toddler, in her arms while her teenage daughter holds the hand of the older one.

Newly expanded, the family, alongside a pair of social workers, walks into the house and heads straight for the boys’ new room. For weeks, Smith, her husband and their three children have been stocking the bedroom with toys, baby clothes and the blankets that the Smith children slept in when they were little.

“This is home,” Smith tells the older boy. “These toys are yours forever.”

Smith cries with joy, overcome.

And while the transition is, on its face, easy, something about it concerns Smith.

The boys don’t ask when they will be going back home.

“They wanted to stay,” Smith explains. “And that’s hard – for them to not have that bond to where they came from.”

For Smith, the boys’ severance from their family strikes a chord. Like them, Smith grew up a member of the Cherokee Nation. She can track her roots back to the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s, when thousands of her ancestors were marched west from their native lands. For Native children, foster care is often the final tug that forever breaks the strands of shared tribal culture.

Smith wants to turn back the clock, rebuild the boys’ lives and strengthen her tribe. That’s why, only weeks before this bittersweet moment, she decided to become Los Angeles County’s one-and-only Native American foster mom.

“Within, you carry that pride, and you carry that pride onto the next generation,” Smith says. “And that’s what I am hoping, that with the children, I can serve to let them know that you’re a part of something larger, part of our [Cherokee] family here and across the United States.”

But for Native American children who enter the foster care system, being placed with a Native foster parent is far from guaranteed. Mistrust, a lack of accountability and a decades-long dearth of initiative has led many child welfare jurisdictions, Los Angeles included, to remain wildly out of compliance with federal legislation aimed at keeping tribes and Native families intact.


L.A. County is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country. Members of the great tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw and Navajo – are part of a diverse 152,000-person community, which also includes the local Tongva, Tataviam and some southern Chumash peoples.

Many, like Smith’s family, came during the Termination and Relocation Era, which started in the late 1940s and ran through the 50s, when the U.S. Congress set out on an explicit policy to assimilate Native Americans by forcing them to relinquish their lands and sovereignty. Tribes’ assets were liquidated, and their children were removed into foster care at increasing rates.

Relocation entailed offers of jobs, housing, job training and cash awards to Native families in exchange for moving off their lands and into urban centers like Los Angeles. These promised supports often did not materialize. Smith’s relatives fell into poverty, forcing her grandmother to engage in prostitution to support the family.

Smith holds onto photos of her uncle, James Cantrell, picking cotton and pears in the San Joaquin Valley in 1949, one year after the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officially launched its Relocation Program. She calls the photos “propaganda.”

“Who smiles when they’re picking cotton?” she asks sardonically.

For Smith’s family, and that of many other Native Americans, the dual policies of Termination and Relocation threatened to erase tribal bonds already frayed by successive waves of U.S. efforts to snuff out Native culture.

In Los Angeles and across the U.S., Native Americans, lured from their ancestral lands and the reservations they had been moved to, had to submit to the same laws that governed all Americans, including its child-protection policies.

In California and Los Angeles in particular, Native Americans soon found their children entering foster care at disproportionately high rates. According to the Children’s Data Network, a research institution housed within the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, nearly 9 percent of all 839 Native American children born in California in 2006 and 2007 would enter foster care by age 5, compared to 2.4 percent of white babies and 6.4 percent of black babies. The same held true in L.A. County, where 10.9 percent of Native children entered foster care by their fifth birthday, compared to 2 percent of white children and 7 percent of black children.


Today, the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which oversees the county’s foster care system, says that it cares for 169 Native American children, 120 of whom are handled by the so-called “American Indian Unit.” Despite being established in 1999, the 10-person team has long struggled to recruit and retain Native American foster parents like Lisa Smith.

This struggle is rooted in the understandable mistrust the Native American community has of government agencies, and inconsistent efforts by the non-native child welfare system to let Native Americans lead foster parent recruitment efforts.

“Historically, when you look at the nature of the relationship between government and American Indians in general, there’s a history of distrust there,” says Robert Rodriguez, the American Indian Unit’s supervisor. “And, so, it has been very difficult, I think, for us to break through the barrier, to get that trust from the community and for them to understand the process.”

Rodriguez, who is of Yaqui and Comanche descent, is sitting next to David White, the regional administrator who oversees the unit, who has no Native blood.

The two cannot recall DCFS recruiting any Native foster homes despite both having spent years in the American Indian Unit. In 2014 they decided things had to change, and stepped up their efforts. So when Smith agreed to care for the two Cherokee boys this past February, it was a big moment.

“We are very protective of her,” White says.

Smith says she had serious misgivings about working with a foster care system known for dismantling Native families.

“It took me some time before I trusted DCFS and the American Indian Unit,” she says. “I had to see that they were coming with the right intentions and the right way to make a difference for our children.”

For Sherry White, a Ho-Chunk Indian originally from Wisconsin, and a close confidant of Smith’s within Los Angeles’ vibrant Native community, mistrust of the system started at an early age. White was placed into foster care with a white family at the age of 2. She refers to her foster mom as “Suzy Homemaker” and her foster father as “Satan.”

After leaving care at 17 to attend college, White had two children of her own. In 1982, after a particularly cold Wisconsin winter, she packed her two boys up and moved to Los Angeles.

Her boys now men and she now 61, White is seeing the system from a new perspective, as the informal foster mom to a brother and sister who hail from the Lakota tribe. Despite her own terrible experience with the foster care system, she decided that she needed to get involved.

“When I think about our Native children being placed in non-Native homes, which is something that is happening to about 200 children in L.A. County because of the lack of Native foster homes, [it] gets me a little riled up inside,” White says. “If the families do not let the children know they are Native and can’t teach them their Native culture, their traditions, their language, we’ve lost our children.”

The children grow up knowing they’re different, knowing that there’s something special about them, and they may grow angry, [and] they don’t know why they’re angry because nobody’s taught them that they are special.”

While Smith’s decision to take in two Cherokee boys gives the American Indian unit a sense of pride, it also points to a foster care system both here and across the country that gives federally mandated protections of Native American foster children short shrift.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 2 Comments »

Former Sheriff Lee Baca’s Alzheimer’s Confirmed by Court Filings

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Court filings released today have confirmed the story that WitnessLA
broke last month, that former sheriff Lee Baca is suffering from early state Alzheimer’s.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing-related memo just released that this diagnosis should not prevent Baca from being sentenced to prison.

More soon.

Posted in LASD | 21 Comments »

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