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Drugging California’s Foster Kids, Suspect Asking for Help Dies in LAPD Custody, “Reasonable Fear,” and a Bill to Seal Juvenile Records

August 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRESCRIBING PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER KIDS

The San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has an excellent investigative longread exploring the issue of the high rates at which foster kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs (often a cocktail of several different pills), why they are prescribed, and the lasting negative effects the drugs are having on kids.

An investigation by the Mercury found that one-in-four of California’s foster kids are receiving psychotropic drugs—a number more than three times that of all kids across the nation. The study also revealed that kids are receiving questionable prescriptions for drugs that are not approved for children.

The story is the first in a five-part series. Subsequent installments will explore topics like group homes’ excessive use of drugs to manage kids, how young kids are being medicated, and the cost to taxpayers and kids.

Here’s how it opens:

They are wrenched from abusive homes, uprooted again and again, often with their life’s belongings stuffed into a trash bag.

Abandoned and alone, they are among California’s most powerless children. But instead of providing a stable home and caring family, the state’s foster care system gives them a pill.

With alarming frequency, foster and health care providers are turning to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children.

An investigation by this newspaper found that nearly 1 out of every 4 adolescents in California’s foster care system is receiving these drugs — 3 times the rate for all adolescents nationwide. Over the last decade, almost 15 percent of the state’s foster children of all ages were prescribed the medications, known as psychotropics, part of a national treatment trend that is only beginning to receive broad scrutiny.

“We’re experimenting on our children,” said Los Angeles County Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the nation’s largest juvenile court.

A year of interviews with foster youth, caregivers, doctors, researchers and legal advocates uncovered how the largest foster care system in the U.S. has grown dependent on quick-fix, taxpayer-funded, big-profit pharmaceuticals — and how the state has done little to stop it.

“To be prescribing these medications so extensively and so, I think, thoughtlessly, with so little evidence supporting their use, it’s just malpractice,” said George Stewart, a Berkeley child psychiatrist who has treated the neediest foster children in the Bay Area for the past four decades. “It really is drugging them.”

The state official who oversees foster care, Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, concedes drugs are overused, but insists his department is wrapping its arms around the problem: “There’s a lot of work to be done here to make sure we do things right.”

No one doubts that foster children generally have greater mental health needs because of the trauma they have suffered, and the temptation for caregivers to fulfill those needs with drugs can be strong. In the short term, psychotropics can calm volatile moods and make aggressive children more docile.

But there is substantial evidence of many of the drugs’ dramatic side effects: rapid-onset obesity, diabetes and a lethargy so profound that foster kids describe dozing through school and much of their young lives. Long-term effects, particularly on children, have received little study, but for some psychotropics there is evidence of persistent tics, increased risk of suicide, even brain shrinkage.

Sade Daniels, of Hayward, became so overweight in her teens, that at age 26 her bathroom mirror still taunts and embarrasses her. Mark Estrada, a 21-year-old from Anaheim, said he felt too “zoned out” to focus on high school and so groggy he was cut from his varsity basketball team.

And Rochelle Trochtenberg, now 31 and living in Eureka, still struggles to bring a glass to her lips because her hands are so shaky from the years she spent on a shifting mix of lithium, Depakote, Zyprexa, Haldol and Prozac, among others. When people ask, she tries to cover it up with remarks about a possible hereditary condition.

The truth is too painful to explain, she said. “I don’t want to tell people I have a tremor because I was drugged for my whole adolescence.”

The interactive longread is full of great videos and photos by Dai Sugano, so be sure to click over to the Mercury for the rest of the story.


MAN DIES OF ASTHMA IN LAPD CUSTODY AFTER REPEATEDLY ASKING OFFICERS FOR HELP

Last September, Jorge Azucena died in police custody after reportedly requesting help numerous times from LAPD officers because he was having trouble breathing.

Azucena led police on a car chase for a few miles before getting out of his vehicle and fleeing on foot. Azucena gave himself up to officers at an apartment complex nearby. Audio recordings from the officers’ microphones indicated that Azucena then complied with officers’ commands to lie down on the ground. The microphones also recorded Azucena telling the officers that he could not breathe.

A new report by the Inspector General says that microphones picked up Azucena telling officers he was having a hard time breathing at least five times. The IG’s report shows that officers dismissed Azucena’s pleas for help, telling him that if he was able to talk, he was able to breathe.

Azucena continued to beg officers for help after arriving at the station. He was left in a holding cell until an officer noticed that he appeared to have stopped breathing. Forty minutes after he was brought into the station, paramedics arrived, tried to revive him, and transported him to a hospital where he was declared dead a few hours later.

While blood tests showed meth in Azucena’s system, his autopsy suggested that he died of his asthma attack.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

…as he was lying handcuffed on the ground, Azucena said again that he was struggling to breathe and told the officers he had asthma. Officers had to help him to his feet and hold him by the arms as he walked to a patrol car. One officer recalled to investigators that Azucena was “walking wobbly” and seemed “fatigued,” Beck’s report said.

Over the next 10 minutes, as various officers and sergeants watched over him, Azucena is heard on the recordings complaining about his trouble breathing at least five times, the reports showed. In one exchange, he told officers he was on drugs and believed he was having a seizure. At another point, he began yelling to onlookers.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he shouted, according to the inspector general’s report. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

In response, a sergeant ordered officers to place him in the back seat of a patrol car, believing he was trying to incite the crowd watching, the report said.

The patrol car’s camera recorded Azucena as he tried to lie down in the back seat. When an officer ordered him to sit up, Azucena kicked the car door and said, “I can’t breathe. Help me, help me. I can’t breathe,” according to the reports.

Several officers and sergeants told investigators afterward they did not see any indications that Azucena was in serious distress. One recalled that Azucena seemed to be trying to catch his breath as he sat in the patrol car waiting to be brought to the station but nonetheless appeared to be fine.

The inspector general’s report highlights several exchanges in which police dismiss Azucena’s complaints and tell him that he is fine because he is talking. Several officers told investigators they noticed that Azucena was sweating but believed the humid weather and his attempt to flee were responsible, the report said.

Steve Soboroff, president of the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said it was “troubling” that so many officers ignored Azucena. The case, he said, underscored the need to better train officers on department policies that require them to call for an ambulance whenever a suspect complains of breathing problems.

“I don’t think this points to a culture of officers who don’t care about people,” Soboroff said. “But it’s important that we make sure officers know they can follow their own moral compass and can feel comfortable speaking up in any situation if they have questions about what is going on.”

Read the rest.


“REASONABLE FEAR” MOST CRUCIAL FACTOR IN DETERMINING FATE OF OFFICER WHO SHOT MICHAEL BROWN

The NY Times’ Michael Wines and Frances Robles talk with a number of criminal justice experts about what factors will go into a grand jury’s determination of whether Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, earlier this month. Experts point out that while there are pages and pages of rules on officer use of force, in split-second, life-or-death decisions, “reasonable fear” of a suspect causing grave injury or death to an officer or civilian is enough cause for deadly use of force. The question of whether Wilson had an “objectively reasonable” fear will be crucial in deciding whether the shooting was within the law.

Here’s how it opens:

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

The police, the courts and experts say some leeway is necessary in situations where officers under crushing stress must make split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences. A large majority of officers never use their weapons. A handful of officers may be rogue killers, researchers say, but laboratory simulations of armed confrontations show that many more officers — much like ordinary civilians — can make honest mistakes in the pressure cooker of an armed encounter.

“It’s a difficult job for coppers out there,” Timothy Maher, a former officer and a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said in an interview. “In the heat of the moment, things are happening so quickly. If they were role-playing, they could say, ‘Time out.’ But in real life, it’s, ‘Wow — in my training, this guy stopped, but here, he didn’t.’ ”

Some citizens who read witnesses’ accounts of police shootings or view cellphone videos of them see the shootings as brutal and unjustified, which underscores a frequent gap between public perceptions and official views.

The rules dictate when an officer may move from mild coercion, such as issuing an order or grabbing a suspect’s arm, to stronger or even deadly action. In general, officers are allowed to respond with greater force after a suspect does so, and the type of response — from a gentle push to a tight grip, a baton strike to a stun gun shock to a bullet — rises as the threat grows.

Every step, however, is overshadowed by a single imperative: If an officer believes he or someone else is in imminent danger of grievous injury or death, he is allowed to shoot first, and ask questions later. The same is true, the courts have ruled, in cases where a suspect believed to have killed or gravely injured someone is fleeing and can only be halted with deadly force.

Read on.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO AUTOMATICALLY SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS AND GIVE KIDS A CHANCE TO START OVER FRESH

Late last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, SB 1038, that will automatically seal kids’ non-violent juvenile records from the public upon completion of probation. Current law allows kids to seal their records, but only through petitioning the court, which can be costly and time-consuming.

You can read more about the bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), on Sen. Leno’s website. Here’s a clip:

“This important legislation helps ensure that young people who have been in trouble and have paid their debt to society are given the chance to turn their lives around before it’s too late,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Without a fresh start, a young offender could be prevented from pursuing higher education or entering the workforce, two of the best ways to keep youth from entering a life of crime as adults. I thank Governor Brown for his leadership in signing this measure.”

SB 1038 provides for the automatic sealing of juvenile records in cases where the youthful offender successfully completes all court-imposed sanctions. Existing law already allows for the sealing of non-violent juvenile records, but requires a young person to petition the court. Many young people never file a petition because it can be a lengthy process and have significant costs. Others are unaware of their right to petition, move away, or assume their record is automatically sealed when they turn 18.

The bill does not apply to serious, violent crimes, which remain un-sealable under all circumstances.

“Today California has taken a significant step to help non-violent juvenile offenders move past mistakes they made in their young lives,” said Maureen Pacheco, legislative committee member with the California Public Defenders Association (CPDA). “We are redoubling our focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders back into society, an objective that is nearly impossible to attain when that person is forever stigmatized by a past crime.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LAPD, mental health | 5 Comments »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Middle School Dropouts, Bill Passes to End Prison Sterilizations, Ferguson Protests…and More

August 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA HAS THOUSANDS OF FORGOTTEN MIDDLE SCHOOL DROPOUTS

More than 6,400 California middle-schoolers (7th and 8th graders) dropped out of school in the 2012-2013 year, more than 1,000 of which were LAUSD students. The number seems relatively low when compared with California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year, so these younger kids are often overlooked and underserved. Most schools do not even have the resources to track them down once they stop showing up.

KPCC’s Sarah Butrymowicz takes a closer look at the issue in a story produced by the Hechinger Report. Here’s how it opens:

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO BLOCK STERILIZATION OF FEMALE INMATES MOVES ON TO GOVERNOR’S DESK FOR SIGNING

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that California prison doctors performed 148 unlawful (and ethically questionable) tubal ligations (or “tube-tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law, often without proper legal consent from the women, between 2006 and 2010.

On Tuesday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 1135, that would prohibit prisoner sterilizations as a means of birth control, except in the event of a medical emergency or treating an illness.

The bill, now headed for the governor’s desk, would also require the CDCR to provide counseling to women receiving the procedure, as well as post data online about any sterilizations performed. The bill would also provide safeguards for those who might report future misconduct.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign (or not sign) the bill into law.

CIR’s Corey G. Johnson has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill, passed unanimously today by the state Senate, would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state prisons, county jails and other detention centers. Surgeries would be restricted to treating life-threatening medical emergencies and addressing physical ailments.

Women would receive extensive counseling, and correctional facilities performing such surgeries would be required to post data about the procedures online. The bill also protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pushed for the bill after The Center of Investigative Reporting found more than 130 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff pressured women, targeting inmates deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”


WHAT MADE PROTESTS IN FERGUSON, MO, TURN INTO A WEEK OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER

NBC’s Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter have delved into why protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, spiraled out of control, while nearby protests over an unconnected fatal shooting of a young black man did not turn violent. Here’s how it opens:

The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has led to angry protests and violent clashes with police that reached a fresh crescendo earlier this week. A second, unrelated fatal police shooting of a young black man just a few miles east on Tuesday, however, sparked protests, but no violence.

Why did events spiral out of control in Ferguson? Why did this little-known St. Louis suburb, with just 21,000 people, explode into more than a week of unrest? Part of the problem seems to have been a series of missteps by local authorities.

Experts from around the nation, including law enforcement officials, academics and civil rights attorneys, cite four factors: A poisoned relationship between a virtually all-white police force and a majority black city; heavy-handed police tactics both before and after the shooting — including a military-style response to the initial protests; and mixed messages from local authorities, some of whom attempted to focus attention on an alleged robbery by the dead teen, Michael Brown, instead of updating the public about the investigation into Brown’s death.

“Put that all together and you have a ready-made disaster,” L.A.-based civil rights attorney Connie Rice told NBC News.

The Police vs. the Public: Rice and others said most of the problems in Ferguson flowed from the almost non-existent connection between the city’s police and its residents. Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents many of the area’s officers, told NBC News he thought there had been early friction in Ferguson between police and protesters because there had been “no established lines of communication with community leaders.”

While two-thirds of Ferguson’s citizens are African-American, there are only three blacks on its 53-member police force. Where larger urban departments like the NYPD have used so-called “community-based policing” in recent years to build trust with a diverse public, Ferguson focused on old-fashioned top-down policing and revenue generation. That meant most contact with civilians involved traffic stops and writing tickets – an extraordinary number of tickets for traffic and other offenses. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and a former resident and legislator in St. Louis County, described Ferguson as “a constant, simmering state of tension and mistrust.” Smith said community policing could have reduced tensions, but that “it’s like (Ferguson) missed the whole phenomenon.”

[SNIP]

Changing the Subject: Two related moves last week appeared to defuse tensions. Missouri State Police took over command of the scene from the local cops, and designated Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up near Ferguson, as the on-site commander and liaison with the community.

But then Ferguson Police Department Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference and released documents and surveillance video — over Justice Department objections — allegedly showing that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before he was fatally shot. Hours later, Jackson held another press conference to announce that the white officer accused of shooting Brown was unaware of Brown’s alleged involvement in the robbery when he shot him.

Eric Rose, a crisis management expert who advises police organizations across the country, called Jackson’s revelations “foolish,” saying they served “to further incite tensions.”

“The goal should have been to calm things down,” said Rose. “Releasing that information did not serve that purpose.” In high-profile cases, he said, “You never want to go public without truly knowing all the facts and you want to have a clear strategy. In this case, the stakes of being wrong could have meant riots. And that’s exactly what happened.”


CHILD WELFARE TRANSITION TEAM AND SUPERVISORS DIFFER ON HOW TO MOVE FORWARD

At the end of June, the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a nine-member transition team to assist in the creation of a child welfare czar meant to oversee the implementation of child welfare reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

On Tuesday, in their first progress report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team members outlined qualifications the Office of Child Protection should have. Co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague also asked for an executive director to keep the group focused and moving forward on reforms until the czar can be put in place.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that the hiring of a child welfare czar was of higher importance than the hiring of an executive director, and that the BOS never approved staff for the transition team. Yaroslavsky also suggested that there might be a calculated delay on hiring a czar until he and Supe Gloria Molina are termed out of office in December.

Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to continue implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s other recommendations while the search for a czar continues.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In its first report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague presented the group’s work over the course of the past month. Those efforts have largely centered on clarifying the role and desired qualifications of the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection.

“The founding director of the Office of Child Protection will have the opportunity to forge a transformational process for the children of Los Angeles County and we hope you see it the same way,” Gilbert-Lurie said while addressing the Board of Supervisors at the August 19 meeting.

But the transition team remains hindered by confusion about its responsibilities beyond assisting in the search for a leader of the new office and questions about staffing support that team members say would help speed up the implementation of reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“What bothers me is that we’re not seeing eye to eye on what’s the most important thing for us,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The most important thing is getting the Office of Child Protection person hired. The search firm in my opinion is moving very slowly, too slowly, and is responding to too many people. It’s August 19 and we’re no closer to hiring, or even searching for the office of child protection than we were a month ago.”

Transition team member Gilbert-Lurie argued that the team needs additional resources and support in the form of an executive director to accelerate efforts at implementing further recommendations.

“You have herded a group with a wide range of talents—we have doctors, Ph.D.s, judges, lawyers,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “But we need someone whose eye is on the ball of moving this forward. We believe there’s a lot of information that could be helpful in working with department heads. [We could] leverage the best of what you have in the county if there is someone available to take our ideas and help implement them when we’re working in our day jobs. We don’t believe we have access to that sort of person with that executive experience right now on a full enough time basis.”

Posted in DCFS, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Police, prison, women's issues | 18 Comments »

Los Angeles School Police Announce Important Reforms to Decriminalize School Discipline….& More

August 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TELLING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR AND CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR

In a drastic change in approach when compared to the policies and protocols that ruled the day in the Los Angeles Unified School District as recently as three years ago, the head of the district’s school police, Chief Steven Zipperman, announced on Tuesday that his force will no longer criminalize the less serious forms of school rule breaking—a move that is expected to significantly reduce student contact with the criminal justice system.

Instead, multiple categories of student actions that previously would have led to citations or arrests, will be now be handled by referring the student to rehabilitative forms of intervention by school officials.

These newly re-classified behaviors include such infractions as tobacco possession, alcohol possession, possession of small amounts of marijuana, minor damage to school property (under $400), trespassing on school property, and most fights between students, which usually account for 20 percent of school arrests.

The policy of treating non-serious student misbehavior as criminal behavior was part of the zero-tolerance mania that came into fashion 25 years ago when fear about youth gang violence was hitting its apex, then continued to ramp up further in the panic after school shootings like Columbine in 1999.

The new policy, said Zipperman, “contains clear guidelines” that will help LASP officers “in distinguishing school discipline responses to student conduct from criminal responses.”


HARD WON CHANGES

Tuesday’s reforms are the latest in a series of hard-won changes that began to gain traction after national reports showed that the broad-brush of zero-tolerance did not, in fact, make schools safer, and that contact with police was a strong predictor of school performance and whether a kid would graduate from high school or drop out. (A single arrest doubles a student’s chances of dropping out of school.)

Significant progress was made in Los Angeles in 2012, when police agreed to dial back much of the disastrously punitive policy of truancy ticketing, in which thousands of students per year were issued $250 tickets, often resulting court fees on top of them, for being late or absent from school. Instead, students with chronic absences began being referred to school counselors, rather than courts.


CONCERN OVER RACIAL INEQUITIES

The urgency for reform was further recognized after data surfaced showing that school arrests and school suspensions in California consistently cut disproportionately against students of color and those with disabilities. In 2013, in Los Angeles, for example, LA School Police made nearly 1,100 arrests, 94.5 percent of those arrests involved students of color.

That same year, black students represented just 10 percent of the student population, but accounted for 31 percent of the LASP arrests.

Manuel Criollo, Director of Organizing for the Strategy Center’s Community Rights Campaign, called Tuesday’s announcement a “civil rights breakthrough” that would help “curb the school to prison pipeline in Los Angeles.”

Supervising Juvenile Court Judge Donna Groman put it another way.. “Juvenile court should be the last resort for youth who commit minor school-based offenses,” she said in a statement. “The education system is better equipped to address behaviors displayed at the school level through restorative justice and other alternative means.”

Groman, along with presiding judge of the LA Juvenile Courts Michael Nash, was among the prominent players who actively supported California-based pro-bono law firm, Public Counsel, and the Community Rights Campaign, in their two years of negotiation for Tuesday’s changes.

“There are enough studies that show bringing them into the justice system is really more of a slippery slope that leads to negative outcomes and poor futures,” Judge Nash told the New York Times this week. “The people who are in these schools need to deal with these issues, not use the courts as an outlet. We have to change our attitude and realize that the punitive approach clearly hasn’t worked.”


A NATIONAL MODEL?

The LA School Police joined Oakland, San Francisco and Pasadena in enacting these much-needed reforms.

However, with more than 640,000 students and nearly 1,100 schools, the LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation. (New York’s system is the largest.) And its school police force is America’s largest, As a consequence advocates hope that Tuesday’s reforms will lead the way for similar reforms statewide and elsewhere in the U.S.

“If fully implemented,”said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director for Public Counsel, “this policy will move Los Angeles in the right direction to becoming a nationwide leader in putting intervention and support for struggling students before arrests and juvenile court time.”

May it be so.



AND IN OTHER NEWS:

NEW U.C. IRVINE STUDY SAYS HAVING A FATHER OR MOTHER LOCKED UP CAN BE MORE DETRIMENTAL TO A CHILD’S HEALTH THAN DIVORCE OR THE DEATH OF A PARENT

In a startling new study just released by UC Irvine, Assistant Professor of Sociology Kristin Turney finds that children’s emotional and health disadvantages are an overlooked and unintended consequence of mass incarceration. “In addition,” says Turney, “given its unequal distribution across the population, incarceration may have implications for racial and social class inequalities in children’s health.”

The study will appear in the September edition of the Journal of Health & Social Behavior, a publication of the American Sociological Association.

Here’s a clip from the ASA’s pre-publication write-up:

With more than 2 million people behind bars, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. This mass incarceration has serious implications for not only the inmates, but their children, finds a new University of California-Irvine study. The study found significant health problems, including behavioral issues, in children of incarcerated parents and also that, for some types of health outcomes, parental incarceration can be more detrimental to a child’s well-being than divorce or the death of a parent.

“We know that poor people and racial minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest of the population, and incarceration adversely affects the health and development of children who are already experiencing significant challenges,” said study author Kristin Turney…

[SNIP]

The likelihood of having an incarcerated parent is especially high in certain groups. “Among black children with fathers without a high school diploma, about 50 percent will experience parental incarceration by age 14, compared with 7 percent of white children with similarly educated fathers,” Turney said.

Compared to divorce, parental incarceration is more strongly associated with both ADD/ADHD and behavioral problems in children; compared to the death of a parent, parental incarceration is more strongly associated with ADD/ADHD….


IN THE JOURNALISTIC COMMUNITY WE ARE REELING FROM THE MURDER OF JAMES FOLEY

A veteran war reporter, American freelance journalist, James Foley repeatedly went deep into conflict zones to bring back stories of the suffering and hardship of people most affected by the conflicts. He went to bear witness. Then he disappeared into Syria nearly two years ago on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

On Tuesday, the Islamic extremist group ISIS released a video appearing to show Foley’s execution.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at least 69 other journalists have been killed in Syria since the fighting there began.

Posted in American voices, campus violence, children and adolescents, Civil Rights, Education, juvenile justice, LAUSD, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 12 Comments »

Lessons the LAPD Can Teach……What About Body Cameras?…..John Oliver on Police Militarization….”Toxic Stress” and CA Kids…..& More

August 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT FERGUSON CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD

Yes, the Los Angeles Police Department is far from perfect. There was, for instance, the recent revelation that they appear to be deliberately cooking some of their crime stats to shower better numbers than they actually have. Yet, they’ve also undeniably made a huge amount of significant progress in the last decade.

With that in mind, the LA Times editorial board listed a few lessons that the staggeringly problematic Ferguson police department might want to learn from the LAPD

Here’s a representative clip:

….More than two decades ago, civic leaders here grasped the importance of diversity on the police force. Today, the LAPD mirrors the city quite closely — Latinos are the department’s largest ethnic group, and blacks make up just over 10% of the force, roughly equivalent to their representation in the city. Ferguson’s force is almost entirely white — only three of 53 commissioned officers are black — even though the population of the city is two-thirds black. It is difficult for residents to trust a force that feels foreign.

The riots forced deep reflection in Los Angeles over how police should best handle unruly crowds. The department today attempts neither to yield to violence nor to provoke it. It’s not always successful — by its own admission, its handling of a May Day rally in 2007 was cause for “great concern.” Still, the LAPD’s reputation for restraint in crowd control is generally deserved. By contrast, authorities in Ferguson responded to initial protests with heavy arms and tactics; the situation escalated rapidly….

For the rest, read on.


WHAT ABOUT THOSE BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE?

The shooting of Michael Brown has brought up the topic of body cameras for police again and, in his story on the issue, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims notes that the Ferguson police department, like many law enforcement agencies, has a supply of the cameras but has not actually deployed them to officers.

The LAPD has been testing body cameras out but has not gone into any wholesale ordering of the things.

Rialto, California, however, is one of the cities that has required all its officers to use cameras (which are no bigger than pagers).

“In the first year after the cameras’ introduction,” Mims writes, “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.”

Mims had more to say about the benefits and potential challenges of camera use when he was on Madeleine Brand’s Press Play on Monday.


JOHN OLIVER’S SCATHING TAKE ON POLICE REACTION IN FERGUSON & LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOCK & AWE

John Oliver covered the behavior of the police in Ferguson and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement in his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight.” He makes one false step in calling the convenience store video of Michael Brown irrelevant, but most of the rest of Oliver’s commentary is well-researched, sharply on target, and scathing.


CALIFORNIA SENATE PASSES RESOLUTION ASKING GOV TO LOOK AT INTERVENTION POLICIES TO ALLEVIATE “TOXIC STRESS” AND TRAUMA IN CHILDREN

With a bipartisan vote of 34-0, on Monday, the California Senate passed a resolution aimed at getting the governor to begin to focus on the issue of the effect of childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences”—-or ACES— on a kid’s future.

Big sources of trauma are things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness or incarceration of a household member, domestic violence, community violence….and so on.

The resolution notes that studies now have tracked the effects of too many “ACES,” and the results are alarming. For instance, a child with 4 or more ACES is 46 times more likely to have learning or emotional problems, and far more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system…and more.

It also notes that prolonged “toxic stress” can “impact the development of a child’s fundamental brain architecture.”

Yet research has shown too that intervention in a child’s life can mitigate and heal the potential for damage caused by these toxic traumas.

The resolution—-introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice— is largely symbolic.

But it is also viewed as a big step in acknowledging the importance of early childhood trauma in the lives and future of the state’s children, and the need for policy that provides trauma-informed intervention for the kids most affected.

A concurrent resolution unanimously passed the California Assembly on August 11.


CA PRISONS BEGIN TO REFORM POLICIES TOWARD THE MENTALLY ILL DESCRIBED AS “HORRIFIC”

As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation begins to comply with the federal court ordered revisions of its long-criticized use-of-force policy with the mentally ill, the California Report’s Julie Small looks at mental illness and California prisons with a series of reports. Here’s a clip from her Monday story, with more to come.

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury.

The issue was brought to light last year through graphic videos shown in court in a lawsuit that was begun in 1990, a lawsuit brought by inmates to improve psychiatric care.

[SNIP]

One video showed custody staff at Corcoran State Prison struggling to remove an inmate who was hallucinating and refusing to leave his cell in order to receive medication.

The inmate had taken off his clothes and smeared feces on himself. When he refused to submit to handcuffs, guards in gas masks sprayed a potent pepper spray into the cell, causing the inmate to gasp for air.

The video showed that as the inmate screamed for help, an officer ordered him to “turn around and cuff up.”

The inmate screamed back, “Open the door!”

When the inmate still wouldn’t “cuff up” the officers sprayed him again, repeatedly.

Later, the video showed guards rushing in and wrestling the inmate to the floor and into restraints.


IF INMATES DESIGNED A PRISON, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

In an innovative restorative justice program run out of one of San Francisco’s jails, men who are awaiting trial on violent crimes rethink their own lives and actions by rethinking what a prison could look like.

Lee Romney of the LA Times has this story, and it’s a good read. Here are a couple of clips to get you started:

All the students wore orange. And on this final day, their paper models were taking shape.

Architect Deanna VanBuren adjusted a piece of tracing paper over Anthony Pratt’s design, showing him how to mark the perimeter to show walls and windows, then urging him to use dots to indicate open spaces.

A towering, broad-chested man with full tattoos adorning both arms, Pratt, 29, was among those sketching out new visions: an airy room with a skylight to cure vitamin D deficiencies and a fountain with a cascading waterfall to represent resilience and adaptability. Privacy barriers for the shower and toilet. A healing center with lots of windows and, in the middle, a talking circle with a sun emblazoned in its center.

The spaces they were planning could be at a New Age retreat, but these were conceived by inmates at San Francisco’s County Jail No. 5.

Most inmates on this 48-man jail pod are awaiting trial on violent crimes. All must agree to participate in a program called “Resolve to Stop the Violence,” which involves concepts of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional criminal justice that focuses on healing victims and offenders alike. This day’s class allowed them to explore their feelings about the system that landed them here and how its physical contours might be altered…..

[BIG SNIP]

Restorative justice concepts were first promoted in the 1970s by global practitioner and theorist Howard Zehr, now a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The goal was to make the needs of victims central, and by doing so effect broader healing for all, communities included.

Critics of restorative justice contend the process is too subjective and could lead to proposed remedies that are wildly disparate. As a result, some victim organizations and hard-line prosecutors reject it.

But the practice has nonetheless spread globally and throughout the U.S. as a body of evidence grows showing it helps reduce school expulsions, keep youths out of the criminal justice system and prevent youths and adults who have already been sentenced from re-offending.

The conversation has now turned to space.


NOTE: The video at the top was recorded by reporter Mustafa Hussein of Argus media,who was live streaming from Sunday’s protest when a Ferguson police officer allegedly pointed a weapon at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t turn off his camera light. Hussein is a graduate student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, media, prison, prison policy, PTSD, Restorative Justice, Trauma | 5 Comments »

Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

Camp for Kids with Locked-up Dads, Police Militarization and Money, and Long-Term Health Effects of Having an Incarcerated Family Member

August 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUMMER CAMP TAKES KIDS TO SPEND TIME WITH INCARCERATED DADS

A unique summer camp program aims to bring kids and their incarcerated fathers—who are often housed far away from their kids, making visits difficult—together for a week of much-needed bonding time.

Dads have to have good behavior for one year, and take a parenting class to be eligible to participate in the “Hope House” summer camp program.

NPR’s Shereen Marisol Meraji spent a day with the boys and girls at their camp, and went with them to spend time with their fathers at the Western Correctional Institution in Maryland. The program, which is in Maryland and North Carolina, partners with California summer camps, as well.

Listen to the Weekend Edition episode to hear the kids tell their stories, but here is a clip from the accompanying text:

Carol Fennelly founded Hope House in 1998, after a Washington, D.C.-area prison was closed, sending thousands of inmates to far-flung institutions. That made it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for relatives to visit.

Today there are three Hope House camps: one in North Carolina and two in Maryland. Fennelly also partners with groups that run summer camps in New Hampshire, Texas and California.

Inmates usually find out about the program through word of mouth or prison social workers. Dads are eligible if they have clean conduct for a year and take a parenting class.


MONEY AND MILITARIZATION OF POLICE

The conflict between armor-clad cops and angry citizens in Ferguson, MO, this week has reawakened the conversation about militarization of police forces, the offender-funded justice system that has emerged along side it, and the mistrustful barrier these tactics put between citizens and the cops whose job it is to protect them.

The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman says that the offender-funded criminal justice system is a less obvious element of police militarism that should not be overlooked. Things like unpaid traffic tickets, probation and incarceration fees, and court costs can land people in jail for their inability to pay, creating a modern day debtors prison. Here’s a clip:

The crisis of criminal-justice debt is just one of the many tributaries feeding the river of deep rage in Ferguson. But it’s an important one—both because it’s so ubiquitous and because it’s easily overlooked in the spectacular shadow of tanks and turrets. Earlier this year, I spent six months reporting on the rise of profiteering in American courts, which happens by way of the proliferation of fees and fines for very minor offenses—part of a growing movement toward what’s known as offender-funded justice. Private companies play an aggressive role in collecting these fees in certain states. (Often, this tactic is aimed at the poor with unpaid traffic tickets.) The reports from Ferguson raise questions about how militarization and economic coercion feed a shared anger.

Missouri was one of the first states to allow private probation companies, in the late nineteen-eighties, and it has since followed the national trend of allowing court fees and fines to mount rapidly. Now, across much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.

From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.

America’s militarized police forces now have some highly visible tools at their disposal, some of which have been in the spotlight this week: machine guns, night-vision equipment, military-style vehicles, and a seemingly endless amount of ammo. But the economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. The fears that Cobb and Ahmed describe—court debts that lead to warrants and people who are afraid to leave their homes as a result—compound the force that can be wielded during raids or protests like those on the streets of Missouri. Debtors’ fears change their daily lives—can they go to the grocery story or drive a child to school without being detained? “It deters people who have legitimate problems from calling the police, and removes the police’s ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing—helping people in the community respond to emergencies,” Karakatsanis said. It erodes the community’s trust in and coöperation with law enforcement.


HAVING A LOCKED UP FAMILY MEMBER NEGATIVELY AFFECTS KIDS’ HEALTH INTO ADULTHOOD, SAYS NEW STUDY

Kids living with an incarcerated family member have a higher risk of poor health-related quality of life through adulthood, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Access to the full report is restricted to specific institutions, but here’s the abstract:

Background. Incarceration of a household member has been associated with adverse outcomes for child well-being. Methods. We assessed the association between childhood exposure to the incarceration of a household member and adult health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in the 2009/2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System controlling for age, race/ethnicity, education, and additional adverse childhood experiences. Results. Adults who lived in childhood with an incarcerated household member had higher risk of poor HRQOL compared with adults who had not… Conclusions. Living with an incarcerated household member during childhood is associated with higher risk of poor HRQOL during adulthood, suggesting that the collateral damages of incarceration for children are long-term.

Posted in families, Police, prison, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

More on the LAPD Ezell Ford Shooting, DOJ to Review Police Tactics, LAUSD Welcomes Immigrant Kids…and More

August 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD UNION MAKES STATEMENT ON FORD SHOOTING…AND QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ANSWERED BY THE INVESTIGATION

On Monday, an LAPD officer shot Ezell Ford, an unarmed, young black man who was reportedly mentally disabled. According to LAPD officials, two officers stopped Ford, a struggle ensued, and Ford tackled one officer and tried to take his gun from its holster, at which point the officer shot Ford with his back-up weapon. The second officer also shot Ford. It is not yet clear how many bullets were fired.

Eyewitnesses are telling a conflicting story, one in which Ford was complying with officers.

Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League urges us not to rush to a conclusion on the matter—that a thorough investigation will take time to determine whether the shooting was within policy. Here’s a clip:

“Increasingly, in the immediate aftermath of any police shooting, unvetted statements by persons claiming to be witnesses are given prominent play. While a factual investigation unfolds at a deliberate and slower pace, an inaccurate narrative can be created before the actual facts are determined. The Ezell Ford incident on August 11, 2014, in Newton Area is no exception, as we have read and viewed some inaccurate reports of what occurred.”

“It is critically important, both for the LAPD and the community to establish what actually happened. The LAPPL reminds everyone that it is necessary for a thorough and transparent investigation to take place so the final conclusion is trustworthy and can withstand critical scrutiny—and that will take time. This thorough and complete investigation is being conducted by Force Investigation Division. The Inspector General and the district attorney monitor the investigation and ensure that it is complete and unbiased. The preliminary facts, according to LAPD officials, are that two LAPD officers assigned to the Gang Enforcement Detail in Newton Area stopped Ezell Ford at about 8:10 p.m. as he walked on a sidewalk near 65th Street and Broadway in South Los Angeles. A violent struggle ensued, and Ford grabbed one of the officers and tried to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster, prompting a deadly use of force.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is out of town, but KPCC’s Frank Stoltze spoke with LAPD Commander Andrew Smith and LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger about the Ford incident.

According to Smith, the struggle was chaotic and did end in Ford being shot while on the ground. Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story:

The incident started when two officers with the Newton Division’s Gang Enforcement Detail confronted Ezell Ford during an “investigative stop” around 8:20 pm, according to Commander Andrew Smith. He did not know what precipitated the stop. Gang officers regularly approach people who they believe may be involved in gang activity.

“As the first officer gets close, the suspect spins around and grabbed the officer around the waist, threw him to the ground and was laying on top of the officer,” Smith said. “There was a struggle over the officer’s weapon and the officer on the ground withdrew his backup weapon and shot the suspect.” Many officers carry backup weapons in ankle holsters or tucked inside pants pockets.

The second officer also fired at Ford. Smith would not say how many bullets were fired or how many struck the suspect. Both officers are “veterans” with at least seven years at the department, he said.

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told KPCC that Ford “made suspicious movements, including attempting to conceal his hands.” Paysinger also said Ford “attempted to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster.” He added that “the suspect partially removed the gun from the officer’s holster, and it was indeed a struggle for their lives.”

Whether or not the shooting is determined to be within policy, it had a tragic outcome. Here are some of the questions that we’d like to see answered by the investigation:

Why was Ford stopped in the first place?

Are Ford’s fingerprints on the officer’s gun?

How many bullets were fired by the officers? Which shot proved fatal? After the first shot, were any following shots necessary, or were they products of an adrenalized action that could have been avoided?


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF QUESTIONABLE USE OF DEADLY FORCE ON MINORITIES AND THE MENTALLY ILL: JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAUNCHING LARGE-SCALE REVIEW OF POLICE TACTICS

The Department of Justice is conducting an extensive review of police policies with regard to contact with the mentally ill, use of deadly force, and more, according to a federal law enforcement official. The review is expected to be completed early next year. The DOJ is also considering forming a national commission to oversee and direct police protocol and conduct.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In addition to deadly force, the review is expected to examine law enforcement’s increasing encounters with the mentally ill, the application of emerging technologies such as body cameras, and police agencies’ expanding role in homeland security efforts since 9/11, said the official, who is not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

The review is slated to be completed early next year while authorities consider establishing a special law enforcement commission similar to a panel created by President Johnson to deal with problems then associated with rising crime.

Rather than violent crime, which has been in decline in much of the country, police are now grappling with persistent incidents involving use of force and their responses to an array of public safety issues, from drug overdoses to their dealings with the mentally ill and the emotionally disturbed.

The call for a broader federal policy review, while not directly tied to any specific incident, grew out of a meeting involving law enforcement advocacy groups and Justice officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, the official said.

“Nobody has looked at the profession in any holistic way in more than 50 years,” the official said.


LAUSD TO WELCOME NEW IMMIGRANT STUDENTS “WITH OPEN ARMS”

All kids in the United States have a right to attend school regardless of their immigration status. In 2013, 13,000 kids entered the country without a parent or guardian. The number jumped to 25,000 this year, as kids are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said that he is preparing for about 1,000 new immigrant children to enter the public school system this year, and told the LA Times, “We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s how it opens:

At the low-slung bungalow west of downtown, a youngster screams from a vaccination and a nurse records the height and weight of an older boy. Academic counselors stand by, because it is here that many children who recently crossed the southern border enroll in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As the line runs out the door of the cramped reception area, José Miguel waits his turn to sign up 17-year-old niece Elena, a native of Guatemala who crossed over from Mexico in March without her parents or a guardian.

Under federal law, these children are entitled to attend public school regardless of immigration status.

“I am planning for 1,000 this year, but I will know more when our doors open,” L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said just before the nation’s second-largest district started its school year on Tuesday.

Across the country over the next year, federal agencies expect to manage about 60,000 minors who entered or will arrive in the United States without an adult guardian. That figure compares with about 7,500 who came in annually before the numbers surged to 13,625 last year and about 25,000 in the current year.

“We welcome the new youth with open arms in LAUSD,” Deasy said last week in an interview with reporters and editors at The Times.

Many unaccompanied minors land in Southern California; here they can be cared for by relatives who are part of well-established expatriate communities from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — the impoverished and sometimes violent countries from which most have journeyed.

José Miguel, a worker in the garment industry, needs assistance in part because his own education was limited. He speaks Spanish, but his first language is a Guatemalan dialect. Immigration authorities left him a stack of papers for his niece. He’s not sure what district staff need to see.

The center is outfitted to handle Spanish and Korean speakers, and brings in interpreters as needed.

L.A. Unified officials have warned schools to be prepared for students who may be afraid to enroll or who could experience separation anxiety and grief. Some have suffered trauma from witnessing violence. They may be undereducated or even illiterate.

Some of the girls might have been sexually abused; some are parents themselves. Diapers are among the supplies at the school enrollment, placement and assessment center, located in a fenced corner of Plasencia Elementary School.


BILL TO END RACIAL DISPARITY IN CRACK/POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING HEADS FOR GOVERNOR’S DESK

The California Assembly has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years.

SB 1010, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, after which it will land on the governor’s desk.

The Drug Policy Alliance has more on the bill’s progress. Here’s a clip:

“As Assemblymember Bradford said in presenting the bill today, the current disparities in our drug laws amount to institutional racism,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The Fair Sentencing Act will take a brick out of the wall of the failed 1980’s drug war era laws that have devastated communities of color, especially Black and Latino men. The time has long come.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body. Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda. Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

People of color account for over 98 percent of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale. From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4 percent of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1 percent. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6 percent of the population in California; Latinos 38.2 percent, and whites 39.4 percent.

“It’s time to end discriminatory sentencing for cocaine: whether possessed or sold as crack or as powder, it’s the same drug and violators should get the same treatment under the law,” said Senator Mitchell, chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. “Let’s stop demonizing drug-use when committed in communities of color while minimizing consequences for the white-collar version.”

Posted in LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 52 Comments »

More on Unarmed Man Shot by LAPD….Family of Compton Man Beaten by LASD Protests….Study: Effects of Cops With Personal Cameras…..Smart Trauma-Informed Re-entry Program for Women

August 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


TWO DISTURBING FATAL SHOOTINGS

It has been a bad week for the shooting of unarmed young black men.

First there is the case of Michael Brown in Missouri.

While eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, the friend of 18-year-old Brown’s, who was with him this past Saturday when he was fatally shot, has told MSNBC a disturbing account of what he observed prior to the seeing the Ferguson, MO, police officer fire first one, then another, then multiple shots into his unarmed fleeing friend.

Now there is the shooting by an LAPD officer of unarmed Ezell Ford on Monday in South Los Angeles. Ford, a reportedly mentally challenged 26-year-old tackled an officer and grabbed for his gun, after being stopped for an “investigative stop” according to the LAPD. That may very well be the way it happened. But, as with the Brown case, eyewitnesses have started to challenge the police account.

In the case of Ford, an eyewitness told Huffington Post staff reporter, Matt Ferner,

Here’s a clip:

An eyewitness to the killing of Ezell Ford told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that he heard an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department shout “shoot him” before three bullets were unloaded into the unarmed, 25-year-old black man, who was on the ground.

“It is unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations,” the LAPD said in a statement after the killing.

But people in Ford’s neighborhood said the young man was not remotely involved in gang activity. Leroy Hill said he was an eyewitness to the shooting Monday night, and confirmed that he heard three shots.

“He wasn’t a gang banger at all,” Hill said. “I was sitting across the street when it happened. So as he was walking down the street, the police approached him, whatever was said I couldn’t hear it, but the cops jumped out of the car and rushed him over here into this corner. They had him in the corner and were beating him, busted him up, for what reason I don’t know he didn’t do nothing. The next thing I know I hear a ‘pow!’ while he’s on the ground. They got the knee on him. And then I hear another ‘pow!’ No hesitation. And then I hear another ‘pow!’ Three times.”

At one point while the police had Ford on the ground, but before the shooting took place, Hill said, he heard an officer yell, “Shoot him.

The LA Times reports that another witness also has offered an account of Ford’s shooting that differs from that of the LAPD.

According to Mother Jones Magazine, Ford’s death brings the total of unarmed black men who died at the hands of police under disputed circumstances in the last month to four.


AND ON WEDNESDAY A PRESS CONFERENCE REGARDING ANOTHER CONTROVERSIAL CONFRONTATION BETWEEN THE POLICE AND A YOUNG BLACK MAN, THIS ONE NON-FATAL

On Wednesday, the family members and attorneys for a skinny 29-year-old schizophrenic man, Barry Montgomery, along with representatives from the Compton NAACP held a press conference in front of the Compton Police Station, to protest the non-fatal beating of Montgomery by sheriff’s deputies last month on July 14, resulting in multiple broken bones and possible permanent injuries.

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

Barry Montgomery is a skinny, “docile,” 29-year-old man who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to his attorneys. He was shooting baskets at Enterprise Park on the evening of July 14–something he does every evening.

Sheriff’s deputies approached Montgomery, according to the sheriff’s department’s account, because they smelled marijuana. According to the official report, Montgomery “became verbally confrontational and subsequently attempted to punch one of the deputies. The deputies then struggled with the suspect and took him into custody.”

He was taken to a hospital after for unspecified injuries.

The family’s attorney, Martin Kaufman said at least 20 deputies were involved.

The sheriff’s department said three deputies were involved–and all have been reassigned to office/administrative duties while an internal affairs investigation examines the incident. Max Huntsman, the newly appointed Inspector General is aware of the allegations and could potentially review the investigation, when his authority takes effect next month.

Montgomery’s family members and attorneys said he came out of the incident with cracked ribs, fractures in his eye sockets, and rips in the skin of his back–allegedly from Tasers


NEW REPORT SAYS THAT, YES, POLICE OFFICERS WEARING PERSONAL CAMERAS DOES HELP BOTH THE PUBLIC AND THE OFFICERS WHO WEAR THE CAMERAS BUT THAT MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED TO ISOLATE EXACTLY WHY THEY HELP.


A new report by Michael D. White, PhD for the Office of Justice Programs of the U.S Department of Justice
shows that, while there’s not nearly enough research on the effects of body worn cameras on law enforcement officers, the results that we have from five studies (conducted in Rialto CA, Phoenix, AZ, Mesa, AZ, and two sites in Britain) show that the advent of body cameras produced fewer reports of use of force, fewer citizen complaints, and fewer attacks by citizens on officers. That’s the very good news.

The bad news, if you can call it that, is the fact that it’s not clear what’s causing those lowered numbers. In other words, we’re not sure why the officers and citizens seem to behave better in the presence of cameras. (Well, duh! Perhaps people are more afraid of being caught if they behave badly or report falsely!)

In any case, while we wait for more sophisticated sudies with further controls, if the stats show that that results are better, that’s an excellent step forward and we’re cheered.

By the way, the studies also show that officers have less paperwork to complete when they wear cameras, also a good thing.

You’ll find more details here with the study itself.

NOTE: The LAPD tested body cams earlier this year and they are reportedly still under discussion.


SOLANO WOMEN GRADUATE FROM PRISON INTO A NEW LIFE WITH THE AID OF “TRAUMA INFORMED” RE-ENTRY PROGRAM

Solano County just graduated a group of women from its Women’s Reentry Achievement Program-–or WRAP

The program came about in 2010 as a result of the grant from the DOJ through the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in 2008 in response to the need to reduce recidivism and promote safe and healthy families and communities.

In Solano, WRAP was done as a smart partnership between county agencies, state agencies and advocates, which included Solano County Health & Social Services, the County Sheriff’s Office, Probation, plus other partners like the state’s Adult Parole Operations.

Melissa Murphy writing for the Vacaville Reporter has more on the program and its most recent group of graduates.

Here’s a clip:

“I am accepting the new me.”

“The new me is not scared or afraid of taking on new challenges,” said Ashland Timberlake, 25, after graduating form Solano County’s Women’s Re-entry Achievement Program.

It was an emotional day for Timberlake as she accepted her certificate and wish from case managers Pat Nicodemus and Patty Ayala. While she has accomplished a lot, she was also reminded that her mother, who passed away, was not there to see her accomplishment.

“I thank God and I appreciate the program that helped me change my life,” she said while she accepted her certificate.

Still, she’s moving forward and changing her life and stopping the cycle she’s been on since she was 18 years old going in and out of jail.

“It’s been about finding yourself, bettering yourself and healing,” she said and added that the next goal is to get her high school diploma.

WRAP is designed to help women while they are in jail and after they are released to deal with the trauma in their lives, avoid the obstacles that can lead to re-offending and help them make a successful transition back into society.

WRAP is a unique model that uses gender-based risk assessments and trauma-informed case management. It works as a partnership between Health and Social Services, the Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office of Family Violence Prevention, Public Defender, the Re-entry Council and community partners, including Mission Solano, to assist the women who have a moderate to high risk of returning to the system. The county received a grant to fund the program through 2015.

Shonna Tibbetts, 29, was on the verge of losing her daughter after being involved in an armed robbery. After surviving domestic violence, Tibbetts explained that her life spun out of control.

“I couldn’t handle it,” she said. “I started to use (drugs) and with that lifestyle comes other things.”

She said Nicodemus and Ayala advocated for her to be a part of WRAP, which changed her life. Thursday she was proud to be wearing a pink shirt and jeans instead of a jail jumpsuit with stripes.

Read the rest about the model program here.

Amy Maginnis-Honey also has a good story on the WRAP graduation for the Daily Republic.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LAPD, law enforcement, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Trauma | 13 Comments »

LAPD Chief Gets Five More Years, LA’s Child Dependency Courts Reopened, an Uncommon Public Defense Approach, and Michael Brown

August 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECEIVES SECOND TERM FROM POLICE COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted 4-1 in favor of giving Chief Charlie Beck a second five-year term. Commissioner Robert Saltzman was the lone dissenter, calling for increased transparency and more evenhanded discipline of officers.

Here’s a clip from police commission president Steve Soboroff’s statement regarding Beck’s reappointment:

This process lasted approximately three months and included numerous interviews with Chief Beck. During those interviews, my fellow Commissioners and I drilled down on every issue facing the Los Angeles Police Department. No subject was off-limits, and I can tell you, at times, the questioning was intense. In the end, we knew we had to be thoroughly confident that Chief Beck is not a good leader for the Los Angeles Police Department, but a great leader.

How did we judge Chief Beck? We looked at everything at LAPD. Chief Beck is the chief executive officer at LAPD, and at the end of the day, he is responsible for this large law enforcement agency. We looked at his ability to keep this City safe and reduce crime, his ability lead approximately 12,600 sworn and civilian employees effectively, and his ability to plan for the future.

Chief Beck demonstrated to the majority of the Commission and proved during the last five years that he is a leader who understands law enforcement and the unique needs of every part of this City. Yes, law enforcement is law enforcement, but Mar Vista is not El Sereno, and Athens Park is not Canoga Park. Chief Beck understands that better than anyone…and he knows what works in each unique community. He is the right person for this job, even though he recognizes that improvements must be made.

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez said that while Chief Beck was deserving of a second term, he must improve transparency and consistency moving forward. Here’s how it opens:

Did LAPD Chief Charlie Beck deserve the new five-year contract he got Tuesday morning?

Yes.

Did he gracefully sprint across the finish line with hands held high?

No, he stumbled and staggered, with a series of dubious disciplinary moves topped off by a Times expose Sunday on inaccurate crime statistics.

Appropriately, along with the many hard-earned pats on the back given to him by commissioners, Beck got a well-deserved kick in the pants. And so his second term won’t be a victory lap, but a test of whether he can become the leader both the department and the city need him to be.

The four commissioners who voted in support of Beck — Steve Soboroff, Paula Madison, Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Kathleen Kim — touched on areas where improvement is needed, but spent most of their time praising the chief for declining crime rates and the building of community ties and trust.

And Beck does deserve a lot of credit. But it’s worth noting that all four of those commissioners were appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a vocal supporter of Beck. And so you are left wondering precisely how independent Garcetti’s appointees really are, no matter their claims or his.

The lone vote against a second term came from Rob Saltzman, the longest-serving commissioner and the only one to have been on the job through Beck’s entire first five-year term as chief. Saltzman was appointed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and on Tuesday — with Beck seated several feet away — he offered anything but a ringing endorsement of the chief.

Saltzman said that despite Beck’s many extraordinary achievements, he had decided the LAPD would be better served “with new executive leadership.”

The most important area where “significant improvement is needed,” Saltzman said, is “in ensuring fairness and consistency in discipline and transparency and respect for civilian oversight.”


JUDGE NASH THANKFULLY REOPENS CHILD CUSTODY COURT PROCEEDINGS TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued an order to reopen child dependency court proceedings to the press, five months after a California appeals court struck down Nash’s earlier order to open the courts.

The new order requires judicial officers to identify those present in the courtroom. Attorneys then have the option of objecting to media presence, if there’s reasonable likelihood that press access will harm a child.

Metropolitan News-Enterprise’s Kenneth Ofgang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new order, each judicial officer will, at the outset of a hearing, determine who is present in the courtroom and which of such persons have a mandatory statutory right to be present. If any person lacks such a right, her or she will be required to state why they are there, and it will then be up to the court to determine whether “that person has a direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court and, based on the record before it, there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

[SNIP]

Under Friday’s order, counsel for any party may object to presence of the media or members of the public, before or after the court makes the required findings regarding such presence.

“The party objecting shall produce evidence that harm to the child or family is reasonably likely to occur because access is allowed,” the order provides. “The person seeking access shall have the burden of persuading the Court that there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

Factors to be considered in determining whether to allow access include the age of the child, the nature of the allegations, and the likely impact on the child and the family, “consistent with the overriding purpose of the proceeding to protect the child and advance his or best interests.”

After balancing the interests involved, the order says, a person who lacks a mandatory right to attend may be excluded only if the person lacks “a legitimate interest in the case of the work or the court,” or if the person’s legitimate interest in viewing the proceedings is outweighed by the other interests addressed by the order, based on the evidence and arguments presented.


FLORIDA PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE’S UNIQUE APPROACH: HIRING FORMER COPS TO INVESTIGATE POLICE AND PROSECUTORIAL ERRORS

A public defender’s office in Florida is employing former police officers to investigate things like complaints against prosecutors and cops for racial profiling and bad police work—things that public defenders with hundreds of cases could never look into. These ex-cops back up overloaded public defenders to give indigent defendants a fairer chance in the criminal justice system.

Jason Fagone has the story for Mother Jones. Here are some clips:

During his 26 years as a cop, [Allen E.] Smith thought he saw things clearly. There were good guys and there were bad guys, and he dealt with some of the worst. But then something changed.

In 1997, Smith retired from the police force. He needed a job to help cover his two daughters’ college expenses, so he signed up as an investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. He had little idea that he’d end up a key player in a bold experiment in criminal justice, one that aims to give tens of thousands of people who can’t afford lawyers a fighting chance in a system stacked against them. It’s an effort that suggests new ways for court-appointed attorneys to get at the truth, despite their insane caseloads. And a big part of it is getting former cops to police the police.

At the public defender’s office, Smith supervises 11 other investigators, 9 of whom are retired officers like him. Every day, they deploy technology, public records, and good old-fashioned legwork to dig into the sorts of complaints against cops and prosecutors that they used to brush off. In the process, they’re not only turning up evidence of sloppy police work and racial profiling. They’re also finding what they never would have guessed in their previous careers—that some of the sketchy characters they cross paths with are actually innocent.

[SNIP]

When Smith arrived at the public defender’s office in 1997, he wasn’t even sure he could do the job. A few of his cop buddies had asked why he had gone over to the “other side.” He didn’t know what to tell them. The investigative staff was smaller then and included a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, a former Dolphins running back, a city commissioner, and a judge’s wife. The public defender, a Democratic Party stalwart who’d been in office since 1976, liked to call himself “the Boss Man.” He later came under fire for asking his employees to pony up $100 each to help his daughter’s boyfriend join the Hooters pro golf tour.

Smith kept his head down and started working cases. One involved a young woman charged with writing a counterfeit check in the amount of $4,200. She told a convoluted tale. The gist was that she had recently become unemployed and had gotten the check via FedEx from a company that was offering her a job and had asked her to cash it. As a cop, Smith would have pegged her as a grifter and never given her story a second thought. But he started digging. He traced the FedEx envelope back to a retired fire chief, the kind of guy he was inclined to trust; the chief’s wife explained that her shipping account had been hacked, and fraudsters had used it to send more than 200 bad checks to job seekers all over the country.

It wasn’t the most dramatic case, but at the moment when Smith realized his client was a victim, not a perpetrator, he experienced “a complete change of life.” The ideal of innocent until proven guilty had always struck him as a scam invented by defense attorneys. “Now, on the desk in front of me, lay the key to setting free a totally innocent person,” he later wrote in Florida Defender magazine. “It is hard to describe my exact feelings at that point.” He persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges.


KILLING MICHAEL BROWN

On Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, MO, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old who was running away with his hands in the air. There are still many questions yet unanswered regarding the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death. Ferguson residents have been rioting, and the FBI has launched a civil rights inquiry into the death of Brown, who was a well-liked teenager two weeks away from starting college.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has an essay on the issue that’s worth reading. Here are some clips:

Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling. The next morning, Jon Belmar, the police chief of St. Louis County, which covers Ferguson, was asked, at a press conference, how many times Brown had been shot. Belmar said that he wasn’t sure: “more than just a couple of times, but not much more.” When counting bullets, “just” and “not much more” are odd words to choose.

[SNIP]

How does the choreography of Michael Brown’s afternoon form a story that makes sense? It cannot, or must not, be easier for the police to shoot at an eighteen-year-old who is running—away from the officer, not toward him—with his empty hands showing, than to chase him, drive after him, do anything other than kill him. Teen-agers may not always be prudent; there is no death penalty for that, or shouldn’t be. Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Foster Care, LAPD, Public Defender, racial justice | 2 Comments »

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