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LA County Supes Vote to Investigate Abuse Allegations Within Juvenile Lock-Ups

August 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps.

The Supervisors were alerted to allegations of probation staff abuse against kids within the county’s juvenile facilities after WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at a juvenile hall in Sylmar involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

Last week, WLA reported on a second alarming incident—this one at Central Juvenile Hall in May. A county employee witnessed a senior Detention Services Officer roughly handling a physically small 14-year-old who had already been restrained on the ground. When the boy said that the DSO was hurting him, the officer yanked the boy up by the back of his sweatshirt, reportedly causing the boy to choke. The teen retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things spiraled from there.

With three juvenile halls and thirteen probation camps, Los Angeles County is home to the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Ridley-Thomas says the reported staff abuses “underscore that more reforms are needed to protect young people and promote institutional accountability. The County’s response to these occurrences can be just as significant over time as the events themselves.”

Tuesday’s motion—which Supe. Ridley-Thomas read in during last week’s board meeting—directs the County CEO to coordinate with the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Mental Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services, and return to the board in 45 days with a report that includes Probation’s policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the ones that occurred at the two juvenile halls, an exact definition of what constitutes a “critical incident” versus a “non-critical” incident (and how probation staff make that determination), whether the department’s policies and protocols address the underlying causes of the conflicts between kids and probation staff, and what kind of medical attention and trauma-informed care is provided to youth—both before and in response to an incident.

“Trauma-informed, timely responses that emphasize healing, coordination, and accountability should be the norm and the protocol, not the exception,” Ridley-Thomas said in the motion.

The motion also requests information on how internal investigations are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

Then, within 90 days, the county’s Auditor-Controller, in coordination with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Attorney of the Office of the Independent Monitor, the Director of the Office of Child Protection, and County Counsel will report back to the board with an analysis of three years of critical incidents that have occurred within the juvenile camps and halls.

“It is a priority of the Board of Supervisors that we do all that we can to make sure those who are in our custody and care are treated as they should be, consistent with the law, and with the basic principles and practices of decency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

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

California Bill Says a 10-Year-Old Cannot Waive Miranda Rights – by Jeremy Loudenback

August 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

THE PUSH TO PROTECT KIDS FROM UNWITTINGLY WAIVING THEIR MIRANDA RIGHTS

by Jeremy Loudenback


Early one morning in 2011, a 10-year-old Riverside boy named Joseph woke up, went downstairs and grabbed a .357 revolver from his parents’ bedroom closet.

He walked over to the living-room couch where his white supremacist father was sleeping off a night of drinking and shot him in the head.

“I shot dad,” the boy told his stepmother minutes later.

Alone in a patrol car later, Joseph again admitted to the grisly killing. He told the officer that he had been physically and emotionally abused by his father, a leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. The night before, he said, Joseph’s father had threatened to take out all the smoke detectors in the home and burn the house down while the family slept.

As they drove to the police station, Joseph was worried that his sisters would be angry with him.

In 2013, then 12-year-old Joseph was found guilty of second-degree murder. At the end of a high-profile case that attracted lots of media attention, he was sentenced to seven years in juvenile prison.

But during interrogation, Joseph was permitted to waive his Miranda rights and to confess to the murder, despite a history of abuse at the hands of his parents as well as pronounced developmental issues.

When a police detective asked Joseph if he understood his right to remain silent, the 10-year-old replied that he did.

“Yes, that means I have the right to remain calm,” Joseph said.

Because no lawyer was present during the interrogation, the case sparked a legal appeal to the California Supreme Court.

In a four-to-three decision, California’s Supreme Court denied Joseph’s petition for review, leading Human Rights Watch, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the Juvenile Law Center to file petitions to the United States Supreme Court to review the case.


PROPOSED LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM

In the wake of the Joseph H. case, as it is known, the California legislature is considering a bill that would place restrictions on how law enforcement officers can interrogate children and youth during a criminal investigation.

Under Senate Bill (SB) 1052, minors interrogated by the police would be required to speak with a lawyer before they could to waive their Miranda rights. Currently minors like Joseph are allowed to waive these rights even if they are too young or don’t understand what they mean. The bill would also provide guidance to courts about assessing statements given to the police by minors.

This is an auspicious year for Miranda rights. Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Miranda v. Arizona required police to inform suspects in custody that they have the right to remain silent and the right to consult with a lawyer before submitting to police interrogation. In 2011’s J.D.B v North Carolina case, the Supreme Court found that juveniles should receive expanded Miranda rights. But many now wonder if this was enough, and if there should be special provisions for children as young as Joseph.

Over the past decade, the Supreme Court has often ruled that children should be regarded differently under the law, in large part because of research on the socio-emotional and cognitive capacities of the adolescent brain. A developing brain, experts say, prevents youth from understanding the consequences of their actions and makes them susceptible to peer pressure and other forms of coercion.

But in the Joseph H. case, California courts deemed Joseph’s waiver of his Miranda rights was “knowing, intelligent and voluntary,” a legal standard that must be met for confessions to be admissible in court. This is the first time the state’s courts have upheld the waiver of Miranda rights for a child as young as age 10.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law who has followed the Joseph H. case, feels the California court missed an opportunity to decide the age at which a child should be able to speak to a police officer without a lawyer or other friendly adult being present, such as a parent.

“You don’t let a 10-year-old make any legal decision, let alone one with potentially enormous consequences in waiving a constitutional right,” Chemerinsky said.

Introduced by California State Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), SB 1052 would address the difference between adults and children by mandating that any child or youth have a conversation with a lawyer before a law enforcement officer would be able to question them. The attorney would be charged with making sure the minor understood their Miranda rights and the potential consequences of waiving them.

The bill has made it through the state Senate and is now moving through the Assembly. If it passes a vote before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, it could soon land on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice | No Comments »

After Sentencing Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Says He Wants to Go to Trial to Set the Record Straight

August 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE DEAL CRUMBLES

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, where his attorneys made one last ditch effort to save the plea deal that Baca agreed to in February, and that Judge Anderson dynamited two weeks before at the former sheriff’s first sentencing hearing, instead of sentencing Baca to six months in federal prison, and thus concluding his case.

Now at just after 1:30 p.m. after five hours of sidebars, out-of-court negotiations, and several lengthy recesses, Attorney Michael Zweiback, stood up, walked to the attorneys’ podium to address the court, Baca beside him, and announced the decision that had likely been in the cards since everyone assembled in the courtroom five hours earlier.

“Your honor,” Zweiback said “….unfortunately we have failed to reach any kind of resolution that could be acceptable to the court,” despite the fact that both parties “tried diligently.”

Therefore, “we request that our plea be withdrawn, and we be allowed to proceed to trial.”

Anderson asked Baca if he was in agreement. “Yes, your honor,” Baca replied. He appeared ready for this outcome.

The judge, who has a reputation for liking to move is calendar along at a brisk clip, announced that he was going to set a date for trial.

Voire dire—jury selection—would begin September 20, 2016, at 8:30 a.m., Anderson said, with the last pre-trial hearing scheduled for September 12, at 3 p.m. (Obviously Anderson planned ahead for this eventuality.)

Zweiback said he almost certainly intended to petition for more time, since the prosecution had given them “a terabyte worth of data…”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox countered saying that, the giant pile of data notwithstanding, this would be a fairly “straightforward” case, with multiple previous trials that have already laid out the issues.


THE CIRCUITOUS ROUTE TO TRIAL

Monday’s sentencing hearing came about because, two weeks ago, at the first sentencing hearing, on Monday July 18, Percy Anderson surprised court watchers by firmly rejecting Baca’s plea deal, which specified that when Anderson selected a sentence for Baca, he remain within the constraints of a 0 to 6 month term in federal prison.

Instead, Anderson informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month maximum sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson’s rejection of the plea deal meant Baca had the choice of accepting whatever sentence Anderson decided to impose, which could go as high as five years, or working with the prosecution to come up with a new deal that both parties could live with, and that Anderson hopefully might accept.

Option three was that Baca and company could withdraw altogether from the plea deal, meaning that the former sheriff would take his chances in a full-scale, high profile trial. Of course, if Baca decided to go to trial, it was virtually guaranteed that the government would add some new charges on top of the single count of lying to federal officials, which had consituted the plea.

The new charges would almost certainly be obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Eight department members had already been convicted of those two charges, all with Anderson presiding at their trials, including the former under sheriff, Paul Tanaka, whom Anderson sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

(For more on the back story on the plea deal, and Anderson’s rejection of it, go here and here.)


“HISTORIC MOMENT”

After court adjourned on Monday afternoon, Lee Baca and his legal team, met with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse, where the former sheriff addressed everyone briefly, and then read from a prepared statement.

“I want to first of all thank the thousands of people who I’ve come across since I retired,” Baca told those assembled, “people who have come to me on their own initiative to say how much I have done, and how much the sheriff’s department has done to make their communities safer,”

“Go to trial and die in jail!” hissed a heckler who suddenly turned up in the photo-journo mob, but who was quickly yanked out of the way,

“This is a very historic moment in my life, obviously,” Baca continued. Then he announced that he would read his statement, after which he would take no questions.

Baca’s prepared statement was as follows:

For the peace of my family, to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial, and to minimize the court drama associated with this case, several months ago I entered a guilty plea to the one charged filed against me.

“Be very clear—one charge!” Baca said with emphasis, breaking for a moment from the prepared script.

“I am withdrawing my guilty plea today and will seek a trial. I have made this decision due to the untruthful comments about my actions made by the Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that are contradicted by the evidence in this case.

“While my future and my ability to defend myself depend on my Alzheimer’s disease I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the misleading aspects of the Federal investigation..while I am capable of doing this.

“I want to thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right. My spirits are high and my love for all people is God’s gift to me…”

And with that, federal marshall’s escorted him to a friends vehicle that was waiting at the curb, and Baca was gone.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

Once Baca had been ushered away, his attorneys, Michael Zweiback, and a new addition to the team, Nathan Hochman, said that due to Baca’s “catastrophic illeness,” and the uncertainty of Judge Anderson’s sentencing intentions, they had to choice but to go to trial.

Zweiback also said their team didn’t believe the government could prove their case and, when asked if the trial wasn’t a big risk for the defense, Zweiback said that the prosecution has “the biggest risk” with its case. “They now have the burden of proof.”

Hochman when further. “I think the prosecution would like this to be an open and shut case,” he said. “But I think the prosecution is going to be a bit surprised.”

Zweiback and Hochman said that Baca’s illness will definitely come into the trial. For one thing they said, they have evidence that “the arc of the disease started” while Baca was still the sheriff.

When asked whether Baca’s health had impeded his ability to function as sheriff during the time in which the alleged obstruction occurred, Zweiback said, “Well, he was certainly delegating more responsibility in those days….”

And so the drama continues.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

Man with Dementia Found Dead After Release from LASD Custody, Risk Assessment for Pre-Trial Release in SF, and a Parent-Led Campaign Against Gun Violence

August 2nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

CALLING TO MIND THE MITRICE RICHARDSON CASE, A 71-YEAR-OLD WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES IS FOUND DEAD THREE DAYS AFTER RELEASE FROM LASD CUSTODY

On Monday, the body of Gerald Sakamoto, a 71-year-old suffering from bipolar disorder and possible dementia, was found in a maintenance yard in downtown Los Angeles.

California Highway Patrol officers reportedly arrested Gerry Sakamotoin the wee hours of Friday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence. The septuagenarian had left his home late Thursday night, and likely had not taken his medication, his daughter, Mindy Brink, told ABC7. Family members had been searching for him when they received a call from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, notifying them of Sakamoto’s arrest.

When Sakamoto’s wife called the county jail, she was told to wait and call back six to eight hours later.

Despite reportedly being informed by Sakamoto’s family about the state of his mental health, the aging man was released from the downtown Inmate Reception Center around 7:30p.m. on Friday evening without any money or a cell phone, according to City News Service.

Everyone who is released from LASD custody is “offered the opportunity to stay in custody up to 16 hours, or until daylight hours, to arrange transportation or to contact service providers,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. But Sakamoto reportedly did not want to stay, and officers did not identify the man as needing any special assistance. Gerald Sakamoto’s body was found three days later.

Some are comparing Sakamoto’s story to that of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson who disappeared in 2009 after she was released in the middle of the night from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Malibu/Lost Hill’s station.

Richardson was released far from home, in an area unfamiliar to her, without her cell phone, her purse, her car or any other practical form of transportation. A year later, in 2010, the young woman’s partially decomposed body (and pieces of her clothing 100 feet away) was discovered by park rangers in an out-of-the-way area of the Santa Monica Mountains known as Dark Canyon. In February, six years after Richardson’s remains were found, the Office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed to launch a formal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled the case.

“That Gerald Sakamoto met the same fate as Mitrice Richardson is incomprehensible,” said Ronda Hampton, a clinical psychologist and friend of the Richardson family, who has been calling for justice in Mitrice’s death. “How many people who are suffering a mental health episode have to die before things are truly changed with regards to releasing inmates?”

ABC7′s Eileen Frere and City News Service have more on the the story about Mr. Sakamoto’s disappearance and death.


SAN FRANCISCO TESTING OUT RACE AND GENDER-NEUTRAL PRE-TRIAL RISK ASSESSMENT

Since May, San Francisco has been experimenting with pre-trial risk assessment tool developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to helps judges determine how likely a person awaiting trial is to skip court or reoffend. Using factors such as a defendant’s prior offenses, whether the defendant has been incarcerated before, the pending charge(s), and the defendant’s record of showing up to court, the computer algorithm—called the Public Safety Assessment—produces a recommendation either for or against the individual’s release. Then, judges have the option of following the recommendation or rejecting it.

The risk assessment tool that San Francisco is testing out—thanks largely to the efforts of SF District Attorney George Gascon—is unique in that it does not consider other, potentially discriminatory factors such as race, gender, education level, employment, and neighborhood, unlike many other risk assessment algorithms that are often used in sentencing and to determine eligibility for early release and rehabilitative programs.

San Francisco isn’t the only jurisdiction using the Arnold Foundation’s PSA model. More than 20 cities and states have adopted or are piloting the program, including Santa Cruz, CA.

The cash bail punishment-until-proven-innocent system has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in jails. (John Oliver has an excellent segment on the horrors of the cash bail system, if you are unfamiliar.)

The SF Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:

Basing bail decisions on a cold assessment of risk brings the system back to its original purpose, proponents say — keeping those who could be dangerous off the streets, regardless of their ability to post bail. Still, the rollout of the algorithm hasn’t been without tension, and some are frustrated with what they are seeing in San Francisco.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys say they have encountered results from the assessment they do not agree with. Meanwhile, they say, some judges are often refusing to follow the release recommendations.

“I think it has the potential to be a move in the right direction, but when it is watered down or misunderstood or rejected unreasonably, then it’s not clear what good it will do,” said Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris. “We were excited about having more research and more data being brought into decision-making, but we’ve been disappointed.”

She said prosecutors sometimes ask for high bail or no release despite the tool’s recommendations and District Attorney George Gascón’s support of the algorithm.


SOCAL PARENTS PUSH FOR END TO GENERATIONAL VIOLENCE

Approximately 800 LA-area parents—mostly mothers—came together last weekend at the California Science Center as part of a parent-led campaign (in partnership with more than 30 organizations) to reduce gun violence by having important conversations with their children, by working to reduce domestic violence, and by promoting positive parenting, among other efforts.

KPCC’s Dorian Merina has the story. Here’s a clip:

By starting at the family level – and by focusing on the welfare of young children – participants hope to spur a change that can then expand to the neighborhood.

“With this program, with these workshops, with these trainings, [families are] starting those conversations that haven’t been started in the past,” said Bedolla.

Maribel Cepeda said she joined after her child’s bout with chemotherapy treatments spurred her to find ways to support his recovery and find healthy alternatives for the youth in her neighborhood.

“Sometimes, when children go out from the house, there’s so much violence,” said Cepeda, 45, in Spanish. “That’s what we’re dealing with now.”

At home, that can be complicated by a reluctance to talk openly about violence.

“A lot of times, we don’t say anything, we remain quiet,” she said. “Sometimes even in our own families, we endure it and we don’t even realize it.”

She soon became one of the parent leaders that met weekly at Richardson Park. Like most of the other participants, Cepeda is a Spanish-speaking mother with an immigrant background. Like others, she also lives in neighborhoods that, according to LAPD statistics, chart more violent crime than other areas of the city. She spoke on the sidelines of Saturday’s event, which at one point, featured a scripted performance by parents that depicted a peaceful resolution to domestic violence and ended by girls walking into the crowd to hand out roses to the parents.

Posted in LASD | 1 Comment »

Baca Sentencing: Round 2 – Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Is Going to Trial

August 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: When Lee Baca, his defense lawyers, and the prosecution team returned from recess at 1:30 p.m., Baca’s attorneys announced to Judge Percy Anderson that they would be withdrawing from the plea deal, and felt there was no choice but to go to trial. The trial for the former sheriff is now set to begin on September 20.

Details to follow.



SEARCHING FOR AGREEMENT

When former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, his attorneys made one last effort to save the plea deal that Anderson dynamited two weeks before at a previous hearing. If Baca walks away from the deal, then he will assuredly be indicted by the government and proceed to trial.

The defense team’s Hail Mary was the notion of what is called a “settlement judge,” a kind of outside mediator within the federal system who can help parties save plea deals that have become stuck.

But after a cluster of sidebars with the judge and the prosecution, plus a half-hour recess, there was no resolution, and the settlement judge idea in particular was deemed a non starter. (It turned out that the prosecution has its own rules on the matter that preclude it from joining in such a strategy.)

“All sides are trying” added Zweiback. “But right now there’s a good likelihood that we’re going to trial.”

The other wild card in the mix, said the attorney, is the fact that “Mr. Baca’s disease has progressed.” (But we’ll get to all that in a minute.)

Finally, around 10 a.m., Judge Anderson agreed to one more recess asking all the players to return to court after lunch at 1:30 p.m.


JUDICIAL CONCERNS

Anderson too appeared to want a resolution, but he also reportedly reiterated in the sidebars the concerns that caused him to reject Baca’s plea deal in the first place two weeks ago. Unlike more conventional plea deals, this particular federal deal has built constraints that allow only for a sentence within the range of 0 to 6 months in federal prison. Thus the deal precluded the judge from handing down a prison term of more than six months.

Those following the Baca sentencing saga may remember that, at the previous sentencing hearing on Monday, July 18, Anderson’s tone was flinty as he informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

But Anderson did not say what sentence would be acceptable to him, leaving the defense and prosecution with a guessing game as they tried negotiate with each other to craft a new and mutually acceptable deal that, most crucially, Judge Anderson would also accept.

Were it not for the constraints of the plea deal, under federal sentencing guidelines Anderson could sentence the former sheriff to as much as 5 years in a federal prison. Thus if the defense knew for sure that Anderson was leaning toward, say somewhere between one year and 18 months, rather than between three and five years, perhaps he and his attorneys would keep the deal in place and go ahead with sentencing, rather than taking a chance on a trial. Yet, if Anderson believed only the upper ranges were appropriate, then the trial option becomes more attractive.

On Monday, August 1, however, the judge explained that he felt he couldn’t legally tip his hand and let the defense know what kind of sentence he felt was fair, because it would be deemed an interference in the plea-making process according to Rule 11, of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.


GO TO TRIAL, GET MORE CHARGES

To remind you how everyone arrived at this quandary, here—again—is the backstory: In February of this year, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials having to do with an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the sheriff’s department-run LA County jail system—an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

If all efforts fail to find a resolution to the plea deal standoff, then a trial becomes the only option. And that will mean additional charges, according to Zweiback, who said that the prosecutors had indicated that they would definitely add a charge of obstruction of justice and likely conspiracy to obstruct justice, the same two charges of which former LA County undersheriff Paul Tanaka was convicted. Anderson also presided over that trial, and sentenced Tanaka to five years in a federal prison. (Tanaka’s conviction has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit, thus he remains out of prison at this time)

Zweiback, a former assistant U.S. attorney has been with his client through the lengthy plea process.

On Monday, however, in advance of a possible trial, he was joined by a new team member, attorney Nathan Hochman, who was the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice’s Tax Division, and also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Criminal Division of the Central District of California.


BACA’S WORSENING HEALTH

As mentioned above, Monday’s negotiations have been further complicated by the fact that, according to his attorneys, Baca’s health has worsened. Specifically, Zweiback said, the former sheriff’s Alzheimer’s has progressed. “He had early stage Alzheimer’s,” the attorney told reporters. Now it has progressed to “normalized dementia”

When asked if Baca understood all that was going on in Monday’s hearing, Zweiback was firm. “He very much understands the significance of what is going on and has been intimately involved in every phase of this process.

“What my client wants is a degree of certainty.” said Zweiback. “He wants this very much to be over. He wants it to be over for his family. And he wants it to be over for the members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, especially—and for himself, to be able to move on.’

But to agree to a situation “where he has no idea what he’s walking into, said Zweiback, “he has no alternative but to fight for his life and go to trial.

Thus far, however, the certainty all parties appear to seek has been elusive.

Posted in LASD | 30 Comments »

No New Plea Deal Reached, Baca Almost Certain to Be Indicted and Go to Trial

July 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After two weeks of negotiation, reportedly no new plea deal has been reached between attorneys
for former sheriff Lee Baca, and government prosecutors.

This means, according to sources, that barring some legal miracle, in the near future the four-term former leader of the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency will face an indictment for charges that go beyond the one count of lying to federal officials that was the basis of Baca’s original plea deal.

Specifically, if indeed Baca’s plea deal vanishes,—as is expected to happen on Monday morning, August 1, in the courtroom of Federal district Court Judge Percy Anderson—the government is expected to indict Baca soon for obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the single count of lying to the feds, that was the basis for Baca’s original deal.

Then some time next year or so, Baca will go to trial.

For those coming late to this drama: in February of this year, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials having to do with an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the sheriff’s department-run LA County jail system—an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson, which was supposed to occur just under two weeks ago, on July 18th. There were, however two wild cards that affected the sentencing end of the deal.

One wild card was Baca’s newly disclosed diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease (a story that WLA broke in late May).

The other wild card was the fact that the plea deal agreed to by Baca was a special kind of legal arrangement in which the sentencing range was agreed to upfront, rather than leaving it to the whim of a judge, post deal. In Baca’s case, the sentencing range approved by both the defense and the prosecution was 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

The prosecutors pushed for the upper end, meaning a six-month sentence.

At the same time, the defense tried to persuade Judge anderson that no prison time and probation only was the way to go given Baca’s past accomplishments, and his present declining health.

But Judge Anderson chose door number three and elected not to accept either the prosecutors’ suggestion or that of the defense. Instead a grim-faced Anderson said he was rejecting the plea deal altogether, and giving Baca a chance to withdraw his plea, and go back, legally speaking, to square one.

A six-month sentence for Lee Baca, said Anderson, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson gave Baca and his team of attorneys, led by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Zweiback, until Monday, August 1, to decide what the once-powerful former sheriff wanted to do now that the judge had dynamited the plea deal.

His options were as follows: He could elect to accept whatever sentence the judge decided to impose, which could be as high as five years. Or, together with the prosecutors—Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—Baca and company could present a mutually-agreed-upon alternate deal that might be more to the judge’s liking.

Or Baca could simply withdraw his original plea, thus almost certainly triggering an indictment and a lengthy federal trial sometime next year.

It appears—barring the aforementioned miracle—everyone, however reluctantly, is about to go for option three.

More soon.


PHOTO NOTE: The above photo of the former sheriff was taken at the swearing in of Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

A Disturbing Report of Another Assault of a Teenager by a Los Angeles County Probation Staffer

July 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On May 31 of this year, another incident of alleged abuse of a teenage probationer
by Los Angeles County Probation staff reportedly occurred in a county juvenile facility. This most recent reported assault took place at Central Juvenile Hall, located on Eastlake Avenue, east of downtown LA.

Unlike the April 2016 beating of a seventeen-year-old boy by four probation staff members at another LA County Probation juvenile facility—that WitnessLA reported last month— this time there was no video of the incident.

But there were witnesses. And the event was deemed serious enough that at least one witness called the police.

We have obtained a written account from one of the witnesses. This source is not a probation staff member but a member of another county agency that has personnel working in LA’s juvenile halls and camps.

According to the witness, the incident began at around 10 a.m. in what is known as the B-wing of the aging facility. A male student had been kicked out of class for a reason that was unknown to the witness. (We have since heard from a source inside probation that the student was being “disruptive” in some manner.)

Once the student was asked to leave class, he entered the hallway outside the classroom where he was intercepted by probation staff who presumably had been alerted to his impending exit.

According to the witness, the student was “restrained by three probation staff,” who initially, she wrote, shoved him to the floor and handcuffed the boy, who is 14-years-old, and reportedly physically small. According to our source, he was also an “RSP” student. (RSP stands for Resource Specialist Program, which means he had some kind of learning designation that qualified him for special education.)

The problem began, according to the witness’s account, when a senior Detention Services Officer—or DSO—began to pull the now-handcuffed kid from the floor to a standing position. But, because the boy was face down with his hands restrained behind his back, the pulling motion yanked his arms up and back in such a way that the boy found painful.

“You’re hurting me” he said. According to the witness, the DSO appeared to be irritated by the complaint so pulled the kid up even harder, this time using the back of his sweatshirt to do the yanking, which reportedly caused the sweatshirt to produce a visible choking effect.

The handcuffed kid retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things went rapidly downhill from there.

The senior DSO reportedly “got very upset” and bunched the back of student’s sweatshirt with his hand and yanked, further choking the student “while [the] student is trying to tell him” that he is being choked.

“Tell me again and I’ll do it harder!’ the DSO reportedly yelled at the kid.

The 15-year-old boy immediately took the DSO up on the offer.

“N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r!” he shouted.

Meanwhile, the senior DSO “kept pulling him straight up” with the student’s sweatshirt, and the student reportedly kept choking.

“It was unpleasant to me to…witness this,” wrote our source, since the “student is already handcuff[ed] and restrained” and the boy “had no other way to defend himself.”

That’s when somebody called the Hollenbeck division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

After the police had come and gone, according to the witness’s account, probation staff members approached an administrator in charge of the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) workers present in the hall. (Both LACOE staff and some Department of Mental Health–DMH–witnessed the incident.)

“If your staff is going to be snitching,” the probation staffer reportedly said to the administrator, “then we won’t be here to help with nothing.” In the days to follow, according to the witness, various DSOs attempted to question civilian staff “to find out who made the report.”

Some of the civilian witnesses who saw the senior DSO allegedly manhandle and “choke” the teenager with the kid’s sweatshirt, talked to other volunteers who were present that day, one of whom talked to us with alarm about what he’d heard of the incident, which matched our witness’s written account.

LA County Probation Chief Cal Remington, told WitnessLA he was aware of the choking incident but could not comment in detail, due to legal constraints. “Anytime there is an incident of hands placed on a kid, we expect reports,” Remington said. “We review those reports, and we take the incident very seriously.” This incident was no exception, he said. “The investigation for this alleged incident is still ongoing.”

Yet, other county officials say they are disturbed by this newly reported incident. And when the topic came up briefly on Wednesday morning at the LA County Probation Commission meeting, several commissioners who had heard anecdotal accounts of the so-called “choking” expressed dismay that—as with the story of beating of a 17-year-old in Sylmar—they were not getting any information or notification from probation officials, but only learning about these alleged occurrences through back-door sources.

“On May 31 a kid was choked by a supervisor to a point that was so bad…the police were called,” commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez-Sonoqui said to probation higher-up who was at the meeting to answer questions on another topic. “And yet nobody here was notified!” (We profiled Sal Martinez here.)

Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro expressed a similar frustration. (Yamashiro is also the founding executive director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy at Loyola Law School.) “I thought we had moved past this notion of ‘hide-the-ball,’” he said. But today, he continued, feels like “we’re returning to the way it used to be.”

With like concerns in mind, at Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s meeting, supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a motion that asks probation for, among other things, data on the “types and prevalence” of “critical incidents”—such as the two reported here—that have occurred over the past three years in the county’s three juvenile halls, and thirteen probation camps.

Posted in Juvenile Probation, Probation | No Comments »

LAPD Chief, NYPD Commissioner Working to Mend the Relationship Between Cops and Marginalized Communities…and More

July 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES RACE, POLICING, AND RECENT HIGH-PROFILE SHOOTINGS ON KPCC’S AIRTALK

Across the country, controversial shootings of men of color by law enforcement officers, and the mass shootings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have left police-community relations particularly tense. For months, Los Angeles Black Lives Matter activists have been regularly protesting at the LA Police Commission’s weekly meetings, calling for the resignation of LA Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Protesters’ cries grew louder this month when the commission found the fatal South LA shooting of a woman named Redel Jones to be within policy. (Read more about the shooting: here.)

During a monthly conversation with host Larry Mantle on KPCC’s AirTalk, Chief Beck talked about the state of policing in LA and what’s being done to improve the LAPD’s relationship with the community it serves.

Beck talked about attending a White House meeting to discuss race and policing with President Barack Obama, law enforcement leaders, local officials, activists, and others. Beck said at the White House meeting, attendees from both sides of the debate were receptive and empathetic, rather than “people pontificating, only presenting their point of view and not listening to other people,”—the sort of candid dialogue that he believes is missing from the national discussion.

“Nobody strives for empathy, nobody tries to understand the view of others,” Beck said. “Everybody just go to their polarized opposites. We’ll never get closer to a solution if people try to do that.”

The police chief also talked about officer training, body-worn cameras, racial bias and uses of force, his #StoptheViolence campaign with rapper the Game, and law enforcement’s disparate impact in communities that are underserved in every way.

The communities where LAPD officers make the most stops and arrests are the places with the highest crime rates, Beck said. Those communities also have the “highest rate of unemployment, lowest rate of high school graduation rate, worst rate of pre-school entry, worst housing market,” Beck continued. “There are layers and layers and layers of failure in delivery of services and disparate impact. And yet, somehow, policing is expected to be completely different.”

For more of Beck’s AirTalk discussion, head over to KPCC.


ANOTHER TOP COP, NYPD COMMISSIONER BILL BRATTON, IS ADDRESSING RACE AND POLICING ISSUES, AS HE PREPARES TO END HIS 45-YEAR LAW ENFORCEMENT CAREER

In New York City, NYPD police commissioner, William J. Bratton, is also trying to navigate the task of improving trust and accountability between cops and minority communities, as he nears the end of his policing career.

Bill Bratton, who was LAPD chief from 2002-2009, steered a department mired in misconduct and use of force scandals through a fundamental culture change.

Bratton reiterated that he will retire by the end of 2017, after more than 45 years in law enforcement. Until then, the commissioner is focusing on ways to heal racial tension between cops and citizens through a neighborhood policing program and other efforts. One step toward that goal will be finding the best way to educate officers about their implicit bias, Bratton said.

(You can read more about Bratton and the legacy he will leave behind—including the controversial “broken windows” method of policing—here.)

The New York Times’ Al Baker and J. David Goodman have the story. Here’s a clip:

“We’re in uncharted waters here, at this particular point in time in American policing,” Mr. Bratton said on a Sunday morning CBS News program after three Baton Rouge officers were killed by a black gunman who, officials said, explicitly targeted officers.

Across the country, officers have been newly on guard.

In New York, Mr. Bratton’s policing reforms were paired with the most significant militarization of the city’s officers in its history — changes, aimed at combating terrorism, that began last year. Hundreds of new specialized officers were outfitted with body armor and assault rifles. At the same time, others were added to precincts to buttress the neighborhood policing plan.

These two tracks in New York reflect the goals of many American police departments today: arming up for any eventuality, anywhere in the city (an active shooter, a coordinated terror attack), while, at the local level, toning down the everyday encounters between officers and civilians.

“His essence is to read the horizon,” Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group, said of Mr. Bratton.

Aides praise Mr. Bratton’s flexibility, his willingness to revisit an approach to tailor it to the times. But he can also be rigid and prone to doubling down on provocative public statements.

That has caused some grumbling at City Hall, where aides to Mr. de Blasio have watched Mr. Bratton attract unwelcome press — denigrating rap artists, linking marijuana and violence, accusing Black Lives Matter protesters of bigotry for their broad-brush approach to police.

And for all the talk of the unique role the police can play in healing old racial tensions, Mr. Bratton is frank that officers cannot do it alone. He said on Thursday that the department was “struggling, struggling,” with how to teach its officers about their “implicit bias,” the often subconscious racial baggage they may carry.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. The ultimate goal is to open officers’ minds to others’ perspectives, Mr. Bratton said. “That includes opening up my own mind.”

He is counting on the neighborhood policing plan to take hold and improve police-community relations. Under the leadership of Chief James P. O’Neill, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and a possible successor to Mr. Bratton, the program is being expanded across the city. Among the smaller changes aimed at making police precincts more welcoming: Six have added A.T.M.s for officers and the community to share.


DUALITY OF POLICING EMPHASIZED BY TWO VERY DIFFERENT LAPD-INVOLVED INCIDENTS IN SOUTH LA

This week in South LA, two incidents—one that infuriated community members, and the other that earned LAPD officers gratitude from onlookers—just 12 hours apart underscored the duality of policing in America today.

On Monday night, LAPD officers shot and killed an 18-year-old, after the young man reportedly shot at the officers, wounding one. On Tuesday, several officers were working their way through the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts, trying to talk with residents angry about the death of yet another young black man at the hands of law enforcement.

While officers were walking through the housing project and talking with the residents, they heard shouting. The officers ran down the street to the source of the yelling, and found a young man on the ground struggling to breathe. The group of six officers worked quickly, trying to revive the man, pumping his chest and performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. One of the officers tore off part of her uniform to use as cloth to clean the vomit out of the man’s mouth.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the two incidents. Here’s a clip:

The fast-moving drama in Nickerson Gardens underscored the complicated duality of modern-day policing. Twelve hours before, the police killing of a black 18-year-old had infuriated the neighborhood. That anger, however, melted away — at least temporarily — when officers ran to another black man who needed help.

“If those officers never came,” one woman remarked after an ambulance arrived, “he probably wouldn’t be here.”

[SNIP]

Thompson, the officer who spent Tuesday trying to calm tempers, is one of the officers focused on Nickerson Gardens. At one point on Tuesday, he approached Risher, explaining the lengthy investigation that would follow his son’s death and telling him to reach out if he had any questions.

“Hang in there, man,” Thompson said.

“They’re all upset and frustrated — as they should be. It’s a soul lost,” Thompson told a Times reporter. “I just try to help them.”

A half-hour later, Thompson was one of the officers desperately trying to save the unconscious man in the parking lot. He and others tried to resuscitate the man mouth-to-mouth, pausing to spit out the vomit they had cleared from his throat.

Paramedics arrived to take the man to a hospital. One officer turned to the crowd that had been watching.

“They got a pulse,” he said.


TEEN FACES UP TO A YEAR BEHIND BARS FOR POSSESSING A SMALL AMOUNT OF CANNABIS

A Native American 19-year-old in Oregon faces a year in federal prison for possessing a gram of weed (one-twenty-eighth of what 21-year-olds can legally possess in Oregon).

The Guardian’s Sam Levin has Devontre Thomas’ story, which points a spotlight on the issue of continued targeting of people of color by federal agencies in the failed—yet persisting—war on drugs. Thomas’ case also points to major (and underreported) problems with the way the feds enforce laws among Native populations. Here’s a clip:

Devontre Thomas, a Native American 19-year-old, is accused of possessing a small amount of weed – enough for about one joint – and will face a federal trial that advocates say is a waste of resources and a stark reminder that US law enforcement agencies continue to target people of color for low-level pot offenses.

The one-count charge brought by the US attorney’s office – which could also result in a $1,000 fine – is the latest illustration of growing tensions in US laws on marijuana. The drug is sold recreationally in four states but remains outlawed at the federal level.

The government’s decision to file charges against Thomas, which criminal justice experts say is a perplexing move that directly contradicts federal guidelines, has also raised questions about how the US Department of Justice enforces laws on Native American territories.

“I can’t figure out why they are going after this youth. It literally makes no sense,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “I find it really hard to believe this should merit the concern of the US attorney. It’s really heartbreaking.”

Posted in Charlie Beck | 1 Comment »

Supes Meeting: Addressing Juvenile Hall Beating, Transforming a Girls’ Probation Camp, and Placing a Animal Shelter in a Jail

July 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES TO LOOK INTO ABUSE ALLEGATIONS AT SYLMAR JUVENILE HALL, AND THE COUNTY’S OTHER JUVENILE LOCK-UPS

Last month, WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

At Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas read in a motion—which will be officially submitted to the board next week—that directs the County CEO, the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Public Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services to review policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the juvenile hall beating. “I think we need to get this ball rolling again and again until we get this right,” Supe Ridley-Thomas said.

The motion will allow the board to “frankly tell the Probation Department to get its act together,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas and his fellow supervisors were reportedly disturbed by the Sylmar story, as well as other allegations of staff abuse against kids in camps, halls, and other county probation-run facilities. “The county is responsible for their safety and well-being at all times,” said Ridley-Thomas.

NOTE: WLA has some additional reports on other alleged incidents coming soon.


SUPES CONSIDER POSSIBLE REFORM-FOCUSED REMODEL OF AN LA COUNTY PROBATION-RUN CAMP FOR GIRLS

The Supervisors also voted Tuesday to have county officials look into remodeling Camp Joseph Scott—one of the county’s two probation camp for girls—following the therapeutic dormitory-style remodel that will be completed at Camp Vernon Kilpatrick (soon to be Campus Vernon Kilpatrick) next year.

“Girls and young women who are under Probation Department oversight should have equal access to the same small-group therapeutic model and other benefits available to boys and young men at Campus Kilpatrick that emphasizes: (1) reduced recidivism; (2) positive behavioral change; and (3) improved well-being through education, health and mental health,” says the motion introduced by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Michael Antonovich.

While the cost of a dormitory-style remodel at Scott is yet to be calculated, it likely would be far less than the $52.5 million price tag for Kilpatrick’s upgrades, as Scott would not need a complete tear-down like Kilpatrick.

The approved motion directs the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, and the Department of Public Works to report back to the board with an analysis of how feasible renovating Scott would be, along with proposed changes to the county budget for fiscal year 2016-2017, as well as any other possible grant funds to offset the cost to the county.


SUPE ANTONOVICH WANTS TO LOOK INTO PLACING AN ANIMAL RESCUE INTO AN LA COUNTY JAIL

In addition, on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Michael Antonovich to look into placing a new animal shelter for small animals at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The jail animal shelter would both ease current levels of overcrowding at the county’s animal shelters, and provide inmates with another avenue for rehabilitation: caring for abandoned animals “who may otherwise languish and be euthanized.” This is an issue that appears to be close to Antonovich’s heart: the supervisor has facilitated more than 1,000 pet adoptions by holding one sweet critter per week at the board meetings, and urging residents to adopt rescues.

(We’ve written about other LA County jails that have participated in rescue dog training programs with great success, including Men’s Central Jail.)

County CEO Sachi Hamai will now work with the Department of Animal Care and Control and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and report back to the board in 30 days on the feasibility of installing an shelter at Pitchess.

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

Suicides at CIW, a New Trial After Miranda Rights Violation, and Indigent Defense

July 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A BAFFLING EPIDEMIC OF SUICIDE ATTEMPTS AT CALIFORNIA INSTITUTION FOR WOMEN

Erika Rocha was 35 years old when she committed suicide on April 14 of this year, in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Women (CIW) in San Bernardino, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing. Rocha, who was serving a 19-to-life sentence for a juvenile crime, was taken off of suicide watch despite a making a suicide attempt before a previous parole hearing. (Read WLA’s previous reporting on Rocha’s untimely death: here.)

Unfortunately, Rocha’s case is not an outlier.

In June, one month after Rocha’s death, 27-year-old Shaylene Graves was found hanging in her cell, with just six weeks left to go on an 8-year sentence. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said Graves’ death was a suicide, but the young woman’s loved ones are challenging that conclusion.

CIW has experienced an alarmingly high number of suicides and suicide attempts since at least 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate—five times the state average—among all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

There have been 73 suicide attempts and six women have committed suicide since the beginning of 2013.

A 2014 report examining suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found CIW, in particular, to be “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

While the prison has been faulted for its suicide prevention efforts, CDCR officials have not pinpointed a single specific reason for the spike in suicides and attempts. There are likely other factors involved. Krista Stone-Manista—an attorney who took part in a lawsuit against the state over treatment of mentally ill prisoners—says the stream of suicide attempts may be due to “suicide contagion” effect.

“There’s a greater sense of despair there that I haven’t seen in other prisons,” Angie Junck, supervising attorney for the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, told LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron.

The inmates agree.

Other possible factors include an increase in drug traffic through the prison, and a high turnover rate for psychiatrists.

CA Senator Connie Leyva wants to solve the mystery. The senator says she is going to call for an investigation into the situation at CIW to ensure that “officers are receiving adequate training, making sure policies there are being adequately followed.”

Here’s a clip from Aron’s story for LA Weekly:

For years, the California Coalition of Women Prisoners has been asking California lawmakers to open an independent investigation into suicides at CIW.

“I think the problem is so deep,” Lenz says. “You could have better mental health care, but the culture of prison is so dehumanizing. I don’t think you can ever remedy the problem without changing the way we deal with crime and violence. But in the meantime, we want to help people survive.”

Following Erika Rocha’s death, which has received a small amount of media attention, their requests are gaining traction.

State senator Connie Leyva, whose district includes CIW, says she’s going to call for “an audit,” in August to “find out exactly what’s going on.” Leyva credits correctional officers with bringing the suicide rate to her attention.

“Clearly there is a problem,” Leyva says. “No one seems to be able to put their finger on what’s happening. We need to make sure that officers are receiving adequate training, making sure policies there are being adequately followed.”

She says she’s spoken to CIW’s warden, Kimberly Hughes. “I want to keep our discussion private,” Leyva says, “but we’re moving forward.”

Department of Corrections spokespeople declined L.A. Weekly’s request for an interview with Hughes.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristina Khokhobashvili points out that CIW is the only women’s prison in California with a psychiatric inpatient program. “Those inmates that require that advanced level of care, they will leave CCWF and be housed at CIW, because that facility is set up for that,” Khokhobashvili says.


BECAUSE OF MIRANDA RIGHTS VIOLATION, NINTH CIRCUIT GRANTS NEW TRIAL TO MAN CONVICTED OF MURDER AS A TEEN

In a 2-1 ruling on Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Kevin Jones Jr.—a man convicted in 2003, when he was 19, of fatally shooting one teen and wounding two others in a drive-by—must be granted a new trial because LAPD officers continued questioning him after the young man invoked his right to remain silent.

The court said LAPD detectives lied to Jones, telling him they had evidence of his guilt. Jones’ responses to the detectives’ post-Miranda questioning were pivotal in the case against him.

The victims who survived the shooting were unable to identify Jones from a lineup, and the vehicle witnesses described seeing was different than Jones’ car. The witnesses also described a hat that did not match Jones’ baseball cap.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

In a ruling written by Judge Jay S. Bybee, the court said Jones had invoked his Miranda right to remain silent when he said he didn’t want “to talk no more.”

“Once Jones said he wished to remain silent, even one question was one question too many,” wrote Bybee, a President George W. Bush appointee. Bybee was joined by Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee.

The victims were members of the Eight Treys Gangster Crips. They were shot while stopped at a gas station in a neighborhood that bordered the territory of a rival gang, the Westside Rolling 90s Crips.

An African American man sitting in the passenger seat of a black Ford and wearing a Cleveland Indians cap fired at the victims, witnesses said.

An informant told police that Jones was a gang member and drove a car similar to the one used in the shooting.

But the surviving victims were unable to pick Jones out of a photo lineup, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, the court said.


CREATING A PATH FOR FEDERAL LAWSUITS IN CASES OF INADEQUATE INDIGENT DEFENSE

US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) announced their partnership on proposed legislation that would open up avenues for defendants to file federal lawsuits (including class action lawsuits) against states and local governments for system-wide failures to give poor felony defendants effective legal representation.

Across the nation, public defenders are severely overburdened (and underpaid), which means that and often can’t provide all of their clients with effective representation. In some jurisdictions, public defenders only have a few minutes to spend on each case. Approximately 95% of indigent criminal defendants take plea deals, Booker and Maloney point out.

“Fifty-three years after the Supreme Court reaffirmed our constitutional right to an attorney, public defenders are still juggling hundreds of cases and defendants are still meeting their lawyers only minutes before entering a guilty plea,” says Rep. Maloney.

These justice system failures most heavily impact low-income communities, Sen. Booker says. “The Equal Justice Under Law Act seeks to fill in the glaring gaps that have left too many Americans vulnerable and without adequate legal representation.”

The proposed legislation is a welcome step toward a more just public defense system, says NAACP Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, Hilary O Shelton. “By allowing a federal cause of action that allows a class of indigent defendants to sue in federal court for systemic violations of the Sixth Amendment on a pre-conviction basis, you are offering a constructive and effective solution.”

By the way, Booker’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is worth watching, if you missed it:

You can also read the full text of Booker’s speech over at Time.

In talking about Democratic pres cand Hildog, Booker managed to work into the speech his own most cherished topic, namely criminal justice reform:

She knows that our criminal justice system desperately needs reform, that we need to bring back fairness to a system that still, as Professor Bryan Stevenson says, treats you better if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

She knows that we can be a nation that both believes that our police officers deserve more respect, support, cooperation, and love – and believes that a young twenty-something black protestor deserves to be valued, that they should be listened to with a more courageous empathy, and that change is needed in our system.

Posted in prison | No Comments »

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