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Can “De-Escalation” Training Help the LAPD Shoot Fewer People? by Joe Domanick

April 13th, 2016 by witnessla

The LAPD’s New Plan to Shoot Fewer People

by Joe Domanick

“Every second counts, and hesitation will kill you,” Jamie McBride told the Los Angeles Police Commission last month.

McBride, a director of the Police Protective League, the Los Angeles Police Department’s rank-and-file union, was testifying at a hearing called to discuss the commission’s proposal to establish new guidelines for officers’ use of force—and he didn’t mince words.

The guidelines, he said “will get officers killed, plain and simple.”

The union director went on to deliver a chilling warning to the five civilians who sit on the commission: “Make no mistake, if an officer is killed as a result …. [his] blood will be on your hands.”

McBride’s comments weren’t unexpected. They reflected the traditional distrust of cops for rules set by outsiders that limit officers’ ability to maneuver in fast-moving and often dangerous situations.

But McBride’s testimony was overshadowed by a just-released report on officer-involved-shootings in Los Angeles during 2015. The commission, which sets Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) policy, could hardly avoid the alarming numbers spelled out in the report: 48 officer-involved shootings, 37 of which hit suspects, 22 of them fatally.

The eleven that hit no one were not warning shots: cops had simply missed their target.

It’s not just LA’s problem of course.

Since 2014, caught-on-camera police killings have fueled a national movement for change, which only seems to grow stronger each month.

But no one listening to McBride that day could have avoided a stark comparison with some other big-city police departments. In Chicago, with a population that’s somewhat smaller than that of LA, and where gun violence seems to set new records each year, officers shot 22 people in 2015, killing eight. In New York, with roughly three times as many police officers and a population about twice as large as LA’s, officers shot 32 people last year, nine fatally.

The proposal by LA’s Police Commission, which so angered McBride, was far from radical. It focused on training cops to avoid the kinds of confrontations that lead to officers shooting unarmed civilians—-many of whom, as critics point out, are stopped on the flimsiest of pretexts.

The strategy is called “de-escalation.”

The force behind LA’s new strategy is commission president Matthew Johnson, who was named to the post only last year. Johnson, whose day job is managing partner of an entertainment law firm of 30 attorneys, is an African-American native of New Jersey. A graduate of New York University Law School, he moved to LA “literally three weeks,” as he put it, after the 1992 LA riots.

In formulating the strategy, Johnson took a lawyer’s careful approach. He first ordered a ten-year review of LAPD shootings. At the same time, the review examined a wide range of training policies that guide officer behavior and ultimately influence tactics, including procedures for handling the mentally ill, as well as alternatives to using deadly-force weapons.

Based on that review, the commission concluded that the department’s previous approach, which called on officers to demonstrate “a reverence for human life,” was far too vague. Instead, it called for a new approach that was not just aimed at minimizing shootings, but would train and reward officers who used de-escalation tactics to avoid them—and hold accountable cops who did not.

In its revised policy guidelines, the commission said that, henceforth, shooting a suspect would be considered “in-policy” only if it occurred as a last resort.

A key component of the stricter accountability called for in the guidelines was already in place. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the commission had instituted a requirement that all patrol officers wear body cameras, and that every patrol car be equipped with a camera.

Outside critics were already unhappy with some elements of the camera policy, namely providing the right to review any use-of-force tapes before an officer made a sworn shooting statement, thus allowing the officer to present his account in the best possible light, given the hard evidence represented by the video recordings.

Nevertheless, the support of Beck, and the grudging acceptance of the union for the cameras, gave the commission what it considered a crucial new oversight tool in adjudicating use-of-force incidents.

“The cameras,” Johnson said in a conversation with me, “have made a huge difference [in determining accountability.] At the end of the day the video is what the video is. You can only explain so much, but the video is going to stand on its own.”

Beck and the commission had already begun reviewing officer-involved shootings to consider not just whether the shooting was in or out-of-policy, but whether the tactics leading up to the shooting were appropriate. So some elements of the revised guidelines weren’t new.

What is different, however, is that, as a result of the commission’s decision, de-escalation will be written into official policy, mandating that officers be trained in de-escalation techniques that they must use in their interactions with citizens.

Failure to do so will now be cause to declare a shooting “out-of-policy,” even if the officer, because of his failure, had placed himself in a position where he felt he had to fire his weapon to protect himself. An out-of-policy finding has become a serious matter in the LAPD, one that can result in anything from required retraining, to a reprimand, loss of promotion, or firing.

Some of the de-escalation training is also already in place. Shooting scenarios are now performed with actors playing suspects. The scenarios graphically demonstrate how to avoid the need to shoot, focusing on when a trainee might have used de-escalation but didn’t.

“They learn how the right way of talking to a suspect, and the right display of empathy and body language [that] can de-escalate a situation,” said Beck.

Indeed, despite the union’s objections, some experts outside the LAPD do believe a well-executed de-escalation training regime can make officers—and the public—safer.

According to Michael Gennaco, who oversaw reform efforts for the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department, officers can slow down an escalating situation by taking cover, and calling for back-up or specialized units. They can also try to calm individuals, being careful not to get so close to a suspect that a mere gesture might cause the officer to lose his or her cool.

Clearly, as Gennaco says, “Some shootings are unavoidable; you’ll never get to zero.”

But he adds, “You can strive to get the number as low as possible, and avoid the ‘lawful but awful’ kinds of deadly force incidents that we have seen too many times.”

But is following de-escalation policy sufficient by itself?

Training in avoiding interactions that can quickly spin out of control is obviously critical—-but only if it’s built into community policing strategy. Successful police-citizen interaction ultimately has to be based on efforts to gain the acceptance and respect of the public. De-escalation of volatile incidents is only a first step.

Whether they fall “in” or “out” of the new policy guidelines, police shootings will continue to shock the public conscience unless law enforcement departments establish a clear goal of establishing legitimacy in the communities they serve.

Near the end of my interview with Matt Johnson, I asked him how the LA Police Commission would monitor compliance with the new policy, which is scheduled to be implemented within the next 30 days.

“We have an inspector general with a staff of 40 auditors and investigators who will insure the policy is complied with,” he said.

“And if this policy doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report. This column is being published in partnership with VICE and The Crime Report. Joe welcomes comments from readers.

Photo by Chris Yarzeb courtesy of Creative Commons

Posted in LAPD | 9 Comments »

LA County Supes Vote to Track Fiscal Impact of Prop. 47 and Devote 50% of Savings to Prevention Programs

April 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

At last week’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Auditor-Controller John Naimo informed the Supes—-via an 18-page report—that the county had no way to come up with an accurate estimate of savings (or increased costs) from Proposition 47.

Prop. 47 reclassified six low-level drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state more than $100 million each year. Money saved by Prop. 47 is earmarked for community mental health and rehabilitation services, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services.

None of the eight county departments included in Naimo’s review had methods in place for gathering and tracking the financial impact of Prop. 47 in Los Angeles County.

“It’s worrisome that many county departments aren’t keeping track of the information they need to understand how Prop 47 is changing their operations,” said John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project.

The problem isn’t unique to Los Angeles. “We contacted the counties of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego to identify best practices, and noted that all four counties did not track and quantify Prop 47 cost savings and/or increases at the time of our revÍew,” Naimo wrote in the report.

The Auditor-Controller did come up with a rough estimate (for fiscal year 2015-2016) of $9.2 million in net savings from the voter-approved 2014 law.

On Tuesday, the board approved two important motions from Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The first motion will split the savings, sending 50% to community-based mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and victims services, and 50% will go to Prop. 47 task forces, which among other duties, will ensure the Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office have enough resources to get all Prop. 47 petitions processed before the November 2017 deadline.

“Investing 50% of Prop. 47 savings in community prevention is a big step forward and moves savings upstream, into prevention. But we are only halfway there,” said the LA Coalition for Safety and Justice in a statement released Tuesday. “One hundred percent of the savings should be invested into community based programs that reduce recidivism, increase neighborhood safety, and get residents the appropriate care they need, such as substance abuse treatment and youth development.”

Drug Policy Alliance’s Eunisses Hernandez stressed the importance of the money allocated for local legal resources to get all Prop. 47-eligible petitions processed. “I think this motion is really great,” said Hernandez. “I just want to ensure that we include some of that funding to go into the community-based legal service providers…that are working on implementing Prop. 47, and helping people remove the barriers to employment, housing, and other things that can lead to recidivism.”

At the state level, CA Governor Jerry Brown’s budget has calculated that savings to be $29.3 million. And the ACLU and other advocates have criticized Gov. Brown for putting Prop. 47 money back into the prison system by subtracting certain supervision and court costs from the Prop. 47 savings total. A report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million.

The second motion will have the eight county departments—which include the LASD, Probation, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender, the DA, Dept. of Health Services, and Dept. of Mental Health—track and analyze work and productivity data in a manner that will clarify Prop. 47 savings and better inform the budget.

“Already tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles County have applied for a change in their criminal record under Prop. 47, allowing them to escape the burden of a felony that for too long has precluded them from accessing jobs, housing, and other things that are key to maintaining stability,” said Danny Montes of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Our county’s justice system needs to adapt to changes in the law. Prop. 47 requires new approaches, and everyone in our county’s justice system needs to be committed to that.”

We at WLA will be keeping an eye on these issues.

This post was updated April 13, at 2:20p.m. to include quotes from the board’s meeting.

Posted in Propositions, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

Use-of-Force Policies, Immigrant Kids Held Indefinitely, the Healing Power of Art, WLA on Deadline LA

April 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Sean Van Leeuwen, vice president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, says that so-called “paper policies” (like the recently released recommendations by the Police Executive Research Forum) intended to reduce use-of-force incidents, fall flat when law enforcement agencies fail to provide officers with the appropriate training and equipment for the policies already in place.

Leeuwen points to, for instance, San Francisco police commissioners refusal to equip officers with Tasers in 2010, setting the city apart as one of only two big cities nationwide that did not give cops the (mostly) less-than-lethal weapon. (Detroit was the other city.) This led to a shooting situation in which, an officer reportedly fatally shot a knife-wielding suspect because he had no valuable alternative to deadly force.

Leeuwen says that if Los Angeles County wants to reduce how often officers use force, it must remedy the fact that there’s not enough money in the sheriff’s department’s budget for the necessary equipment and ongoing training in mental health crisis de-escalation, use-of-force, ethics, search and seizure, and other important areas.

Here’s a clip:

Currently, the Sheriff’s budget has been stretched to the breaking point, making even the most vital training and equipment scarce commodities. If Los Angeles County’s leaders want to have a positive impact and reduce use of force incidents, they can start by providing the adequate funding needed to equip properly and continuously train deputies on the best tactics and procedures, not criticize and second-guess deputies’ actions given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

In the area of training, we are in continual contact with our members who are the rank-and-file deputies of this department and are well aware of how many hours of training they receive on average each year. We know that in many areas, including dealing with the mentally ill, use of force, search and seizure, and ethics that the hours of training received on a yearly basis have substantial room to be increased.

In the area of equipment, the County can and should do much more. Every deputy sheriff whose primary duty is law enforcement should have a Taser. Why in 2016 do we put deputy sheriffs on the street without a Taser? Some stations have resorted to relying on “shared” Tasers, designating certain deputies or sergeants to carry them. It doesn’t do a deputy sheriff or the community we are sworn to protect any good if the first responding deputy sheriff to a violent subject happens to be the deputy who doesn’t have a Taser. Every time a deputy is forced to discharge a firearm, it creates a risk, whether someone is hit or not. I once told a high-ranking department executive a Taser is always cheaper than a bullet, meaning that Tasers not only give deputies viable force options, they reduce the risk of loss of life and possible civil liability whether or not they are deployed. Tasers have their place, but we recognize from the recent Los Angeles Times article that Tasers are not a panacea. In split seconds when a deputy’s life is at risk, deadly force may be the only option.

While training is a Department responsibility, it is the Board of Supervisors who needs to fund the Sheriff’s Department to ensure complete training cycles can be offered to all deputies every year. That training needs to be relevant, continuous and ongoing to be effective. Yes, that means that there may be deputy sheriffs removed from patrol duties for several days or more to attend this training, which has a fiscal impact since someone else will be filling their place on patrol. The County and cities who contract with the Sheriff’s Department need to embrace the concept of funding training which will enable deputies to effectively employ tactics and measures required by our 103-page use of force policy . If we could reduce even one deputy involved shooting by providing deputies with the necessary equipment and training, it will be money well spent.


More than 200,000 unaccompanied immigrant kids and teens—many of them seeking asylum from gang violence in Central America—have been detained at the border US-Mexico in the last five years.

The Department of Homeland Security deals with adults caught at the border, but the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) takes custody of kids traveling without parents that are picked up at the border. Most children are held for month or so in a shelter before ORR places them with a relative during immigration court proceedings.

There are, however, between 500-700 unaccompanied kids that are locked up in secure group homes and detention centers each year, usually for two or three months, but sometimes for much longer. And these warehoused kids, that are essentially forgotten, according to advocates, don’t often have legal representation.

One such teen, Pablo, has been locked up for 21 months. After his older brother was taken by a gang and never seen again, Pablo—then 14 years old—fled his country trying to follow his mother, Evelyn, who had moved to Los Angeles to build a housekeeping buisiness to support her children. Now, Evelyn drives six hours from Los Angeles to Yolo County Juvenile Hall to visit her son every three weeks.

ORR has transferred Pablo all over the country, despite requests that the teen be released to his mother or to a less-restrictive shelter near Evelyn. But ORR makes decisions behind closed doors without an oversight system, and doesn’t recognize the court system as a place for kids to contest their detention and seek release.

KQED’s Tyche Hendricks has more on the issue, as well as Pablo and Evelyn’s story.

Pablo is one of more than 200,000 migrant kids traveling without their parents who have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past five years. He’s part of a wave of Central American children fleeing violence, as criminal gangs in El Salvador and neighboring countries have come to wield terrifying power with impunity, and weak governments struggle to respond. That violence is a legacy of the civil wars of the 1980s, subsequent migrations to the United States and the deportation of gang members back to their home countries in the 1990s.

When adults are picked up at the border, they are dealt with by the Department of Homeland Security. But unaccompanied children are turned over to a different agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As the number of migrant kids has multiplied, ORR’s job has grown. In 2011, the agency took custody of 7,000 children. In 2014 it was 57,000.

The majority of those kids spend about a month in a licensed ORR-funded shelter, and then they’re placed with a relative or another sponsor while they await their day in immigration court. But a small fraction — roughly 500 to 700 in any given year — are placed in jail-like settings: locked group homes or juvenile detention facilities, as Pablo has been. Those kids are held for two to three months, on average, but, like Pablo, some are detained much longer. Advocates say they become practically invisible.

Lawyers for immigrant children say kids in ORR detention don’t have the legal protections they should. Many may be eligible for asylum or some other kind of protection. But half of them don’t even have a lawyer. And prolonged detention can be psychologically damaging, according to child advocates.

By law, children in immigration custody must be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. But they can be confined if their behavior is disruptive or dangerous, if they’re considered an escape risk, if they have a criminal or delinquent history or if they’re merely suspected of criminal activity. Often that information is provided by the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that is handing the child over to ORR. But advocates for immigrant kids say ORR makes placement decisions behind closed doors.

Evelyn says the government hasn’t told her why it won’t release her son.


Evelyn’s mind was back in El Salvador. She told me about how her boys grew up with their cousins, attended a good school and played soccer. But the area where they lived grew sketchier after she left and gangs operated openly. The police were either intimidated or corrupted, she said. And teenagers were frequent targets of gang recruitment and coercion. Four years ago, something happened to William.

“William was 16 when I lost him, the same age Pablo is now,” Evelyn said. “One weekend I was driving to work when my sister called and said she had something bad to tell me. … She said, ‘Here’s what happened to William. The gang took him.’ He was always trying to steer clear of them. But they forced him. They disappeared with him.”

In anguish, she added, “As a mother I have hope that one day someone will tell me if he’s alive or not. I’m still hoping.”

Pablo became physically sick after is brother disappeared, Evelyn told me. But she wasn’t there to take care of him. Two years later, when Pablo reached high school, Evelyn said her sister told her he was not safe. So the boy headed north to avoid his brother’s fate. But he never reached his mom.

So, in spite of her lack of immigration status, Evelyn walks right into the jail every three weeks in order to see her child and to finally have a chance to touch him.


In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Alex Johnson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California and board member of the LA County Board of Education, explains why the arts can be such a powerful disrupter of the school-to-prison pipeline, by healing trauma, empowering young people, and helping them connect with their culture. Here’s a clip:

I’m a firm believer in the transformative power of the arts to save lives and as part of a smart workforce-development and reentry strategy for incarcerated youth, particularly in Los Angeles County where arts related industries are one of the largest and the fastest growing sectors.

Investing in the arts and arts education however must begin well before a young person enters into incarceration. It must begin with early childhood education as it is one of the core building blocks of child development. Every child, regardless of zip code, should be exposed to the arts in order to receive a well-rounded education. As a board member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, I am excited that the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) is one of the premier public arts high schools in the nation.

The arts can take shape in many ways and many forms - but the bottom line is that for young people we know it will improve their achievement in school and is a critical strategy to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline while addressing trauma. Giving children and youth strategies to express their pain, and cope with the stress, prepares them for a strong future. As we learn more about the brain and the effects of trauma on youth, our system, policies, programs and allocation of resources must change to reflect this new knowledge. Healing the effects of trauma builds hope and resiliency; and, resilient children grow up to live healthy productive lives.


On Monday, WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, was on KPFK’s Deadline LA with host, Howard Blume, discussing last week’s conviction of former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and what the conviction means for the sheriff’s department and the county.

Here’s a link to the podcast. (The air date was Monday, April 11.)

Posted in LASD | 9 Comments »

Crime, Justice & Redemption….at the LA Times Festival of Books

April 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


This past weekend, the University of Southern California hosted the annual LA Times Festival of Books and, amazingly, the weekend rain didn’t discourage the crowds that showed up by the thousands on the USC Campus, drawn by this stupendous yearly event that celebrates books.

I was on a Sunday morning panel called Crime, Justice & Redemption, with authors Joe Domanick, Shaka Senghor, & Sam Quinones (plus O.C Registor reporter, Margot Roosevelt, as the excellent moderator).

LAist kindly named our event as one of the weekend’s twelve “Can’t Miss” panels.

And, indeed, the combination of personalities and the enthusiastically interactive crowd produced a very dynamic, informative, and occasionally creatively quarrelsome conversation.

Among other topics, the panel discussed a personal experience of solitary confinement, the relationship between childhood trauma and crime, an unusual form of marketing heroin in the heartland, the challenge of post-incarceration reentry, the art of reforming the Los Angeles Police Department—and more.

Since I can’t magically transport you to the audience of Sunday’s event, I can at least strongly recommend the very good books of my fellow panelists, all of which will likely be of interest to those who care about, or work in and around, crime and justice-related issues.


Solitary confinement and post prison reentry are both matters with which author Shaka Senghor has had personal experience.

Senghor is a very warm, very intelligent man whom the audience liked right away. He also is a man with a complicated history. Seignior is a former prison inmate who shot killed a man when he was an angry and frightened 19-year-old, after he’d been shot four times himself a few months before.

Senghor spent 19 years in prison, four-and-a-half of those years in solitary confinement, where he was on lockdown in his cell for 22 or 23 hours a day, he said. During his time behind bars, he educated himself by reading voraciously. He also struggled to come to terms with the terrible fact that he’d taken someone else’s life.

Now Senghor has become a leader in the world of justice reform, and the author of an unforgettable book that inspires as it educates.

On the panel, Senghor spoke about the real life effects—and related subjects— with emotional precision and authority.

His book, Writing My Wrong, Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison, is very much worth your time.

His TED talk, which you can find here, is wildly popular for good reason.


On Sunday, Sam Quinones talked about, among other things, how in certain areas of the country, the magnitude of the heroin problem was initially masked because of the way white parents managed to keep their kids’ heroin deaths from becoming public.

Quinones’ intensely researched Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opium Epidemic, was on a bunch of 10 Best lists from last year, and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Awards—all for good reason. It paints very personal pictures of drug traffickers who pioneered a new business model for dealing heroin to America’s heartland, of law enforcement officers trying to deal with the fast-spreading epidemic, and of families devastated by addictions that, in many cases began with prescription opiates that were overprescribed by doctors who believed the preposterous lies of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies who claimed medical that such drugs were non-addictive and safe.

Dreamland is a page-turner that makes for very engaging reading, whether you think this topic is for you or not. Here’s an interview with Quinones by the PBS Newshour that will give you an idea of what you missed on Sunday.


We’ve already written here about Joe Domanick’s highly-praised and wonderful book about the Los Angeles Police Department, Blue: the LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. Blue was also, very deservedly, a finalist for this years LA Times Book Awards.

Last year we pointed to BLUE’s “page-turning narrative borne aloft by a string of vivid nonfiction characters,” including, of course, the agency’s most recent chiefs, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck.

But, while the heart of the book is a grand tale of the multi-layered struggle to reform the LAPD, Domanick also uses LA’s police department as a lens through which to examine the state of U.S. policing in general, and the crossroads at which it has presently arrived.

So, for LA residents interested in policing and criminal justice, this is an obvious must read.

On the panel, Domanick talked about the value and challenges of community policing, new ways of approaching use of force by officers and more.

And here’s an interview with Domanick from December 2015, in which he explains what has so fascinated him about the LAPD and its recent history. (Joe’s interview starts at about the 32 minute mark.)


One last thing: While we’re on the subject of the LA Times Festival of Books, on Saturday night, the winners of the LA Times Book were announced.

(You can find the winners here.) I have often been privileged to be a judge for the awards, and this year I judged in the Mystery/Thriller category.

You can find our four fabulous finalists below, and they are all books I can recommend without hesitation to those of you who, like me, sometimes choose to relax by reading about fictional murder and mayhem.

In no particular order, they are:

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Whites by Richard Price

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Our winner, however, was a book that my fellow-judges and I chose with almost instant unanimity.

It is The Cartel by Don Winslow, a novelistic depiction of the blood-soaked and hallucinatory disaster that is the war on drugs and, although Winslow’s tale, that is Tolstoy-esque in scope, is present as a mystery thriller it has the informative urgency of the best narrative nonfiction.

(Back in July of last year we wrote about The Whites and its importance here.)

So there you have it. Go, books and book lovers!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted in American artists, writers and writing | No Comments »

Four Social Workers Charged After Boy’s Death, a New Courtroom to Help Aging-Out Foster Kids, and LA County to Explore Ways to Fix Juvenile Defense

April 8th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against four social workers in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and fatally beaten in 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite numerous reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused.

Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including broken ribs, a fractured skull, and burns all over his body.

The four social workers—Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, and their supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt—have all been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records.

Between the day the child welfare case was opened on October 31, 2012, and the day Gabriel was murdered in 2013, relatives, Gabriel’s elementary school teacher, a therapist, and others reported to authorities that Gabriel was being repeatedly abused.

Patricia Clement, the main social worker on Fernandez’s case, allegedly never spoke to Gabriel alone. Any conversation the child and social worker had was within earshot of his abusers. Clement reportedly also had a history of not performing required checks to ensure the safety of the kids under her watch.

“By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental, and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused,” DA Lacey said in her announcement.

Rodriguez and Clement have been charged with falsifying reports by omitting documentation of the continued abuse. Bom and Merritt are accused of approving those false reports, which were in conflict with the evidence in Gabriel’s case file.

“We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being,” Lacey said.

The accused each face up to 10 years behind bars.

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Garrett Therolf, who has been following Gabriel’s story for the LA Times, and USC Professor of Social Work, Eugenia Weiss, talked with host Larry Mantle about the charges against the social workers and what comes next.

It’s highly unusual for charges to be brought against social workers in the death of a child. “It’s extraordinarily rare,” said Therolf. “Child welfare officials and prosecutors can’t recall another case of its kind anywhere in California.” Such cases are also exceedingly rare elsewhere in the nation.

Here’s a clip from the story accompanying the radio show:

“In the case of Gabriel, it was so horrendous, what, I guess you could say fell through the cracks, but I think what the DA is saying, it didn’t just fall through the cracks, because this crime has to be intentional,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told KPCC.

The DA contends the four social workers had a legal duty to protect Gabriel.

Rodriguez and Clement are specifically accused of “falsifying reports that should have documented signs of Gabriel’s escalating physical abuse and the family’s lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to provide help to maintain the family.”

“One of the ways you can show intention that the negligence was so egregious that it must have been intended because no reasonable person would have been that negligent,” Kuehl said. “Now that’s an uphill battle for the DA, because to say something is a crime is different from an offense for which I’d let you go from your job.”

Bom and Merritt, as supervisors, should have been aware the reports conflicted with evidence from Gabriel’s case file that his physical well-being was deteriorating, and they shouldn’t have allowed him to remain at home, prosecutors contend.

Kuehl said that reforms have already been made to the Department of Children and Family Services in the three years since the crime was committed.

She said that the agency hired 1,000 new social workers to help manage the 25,000 kids in the system.


During dependency hearings in a first-of-its-kind courtroom in Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park, young adults between the ages of 18-21 receive specialized support and guidance as they age out of the foster care system and into adulthood.

And foster kids, who rarely have the same circle of familial support as their peers outside the foster care system, need all the help they can get with the process. Less than 50% of Los Angeles teens in the foster care system graduate from high school, and only 3% graduate from college, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And 50% of young adults who have aged out of LA’s foster care system wind up either homeless or incarcerated.

Many foster youth don’t attend their dependency court hearings. The specialized courtroom, which opened for the first time on Tuesday, aims to help the kids that do attend their hearings, in part, by helping them create action plans for housing, work, education, and other looming responsibilities, and by connecting them with services and resources right in the courtroom.

The new courtroom is a collaboration between the Superior Courts, the Children’s Law Center, and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

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

Under the federal Fostering Connections to Success Act, transition-age youth are supposed to have a plan in place about where they will live, work and attend school, if possible. But many older foster youth lack these plans, putting them at higher risks of homelessness, unemployment and even incarceration.

The non-minor dependency courtroom, a collaboration between the Superior Courts, the Children’s Law Center and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), aims to ensure that transition-age foster youth have access to supportive services that can help guide their transition to adulthood.

On the court’s first day, Judge Henry made sure that Roger was getting the help he needed from his social worker to prepare for the driver’s license exam and asked if he was checking in regularly with his mentor.

Henry also made sure that Roger was moving forward on his plans to leave the group home where he now lives. Last month, Roger had an interview for an apartment through a transitional housing program, an opportunity to live on his own for the first time.

Access to supports like a mentor and affordable housing is a critical aspect of helping transition-age foster youth avoid struggles that last long after they’ve left the care of the state. Though the population is often transient and hard to track, one estimate suggested that 25 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness within two to fours years after exiting foster care. Another much-cited survey of outcomes for youth after emancipation put unemployment at 51 percent for youth within four years of aging out.

In 2010, California extended benefits for foster youth from age 18 to 21 by passing the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, also known as AB 12. Under this law — and several successor bills — older California foster youth are able to receive benefits and services of extended foster care as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

For example, youth must actively be pursuing educational or vocational opportunities, working, or have a medical condition that prevents their involvement in those activities.

About 1,100 older youth aged out of the system in Los Angeles County last year. The county currently has more than 2,400 transition-age foster youth, nearly a third of all such youth in the state. About 2,200 of them cycle through the Edelman Courthouse, according to staff at the Children’s Law Center (CLC), the organization that represents children and youth in Los Angeles County’s child-welfare system.

“I don’t know any other place that has anything or could have anything like this because no one has our numbers,” Henry said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.


On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors voted to look into a number of possible reforms to the way poor juveniles are represented in Los Angeles, in light of a report brought by CEO Sachi Hamai illuminating inequalities in representation for kids who are given by private panel attorneys, rather than the county’s public defenders. If you are unfamiliar with the issue, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (often because of a conflict of interest), the kids are assigned panel attorneys, who are paid a small flat-fee stipend for each case. (Read about the specific problems with the panel attorney system in our previous post: here.)

The reform areas to be studied by the CEO’s Office and County Council include the creation of an oversight unit for panel attorneys run by the LA County Bar Association, elimination of the problematic flat-fee structure for panel attorneys, merging the Public Defender’s Office with the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and increasing use of alternate public defenders in juvenile cases.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue as well as reactions to the report and the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip:

“There is no more important decision that this county makes about a child, no more far-reaching impact on a child’s life than to put them into the adult system,” [Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch] said. “It’s an important decision that deserves important resources.”

Several advocates spoke in favor of handing off the panel attorneys’ duties to the alternate public defender, including Carol Chodroff. A former public defender and juvenile defense and policy attorney, Chodroff said the current system “falls woefully short of our constitutional obligation to provide children with competent legal counsel.”

The private attorneys, many of whom agreed that the current pay structure puts them at a disadvantage, took umbrage at the idea that the kids they represent get worse service.

“Over 25 years ago, when I applied to law school, my reasoning for becoming a lawyer was to defend and protect the rights of children,” Pamela DiBello, who heads the panel of attorneys representing youths at the Pomona courthouse, told the board. “That has been a passion of mine for over 25 years.”

DiBello said afterward that panel attorneys are often assigned the more serious and complex cases and had repeatedly asked for and been denied more resources. She said she had put in unpaid time to advocate for the youths assigned to her, even after they were no longer her clients.

“Do I think that things could be improved? Absolutely,” she said. “Get rid of the flat fee, give us access to investigators, give us social workers in every courtroom. … These are things we’ve asked the county to do for years, and we’ve been told no every time.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who called for the overhaul of the system along with Sheila Kuehl, said the proposal was not meant as a “personal attack on panel attorneys.”

“We see this as a structural issue,” he said.

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The Trial of Paul Tanaka Part 6: The Verdict & the Jury

April 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


It was around 9:20 a.m. on Wednesday, when U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson got a note from the jury in the federal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka, once the second most powerful person in the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

The jurors had, by that time, been deliberating for less than three hours. So when word came down about the note, most of the attorneys and trial watchers figured the jury panel merely wanted some kind of clarification, or perhaps a read back of testimony.

But the jurors needed no additional information. They had a verdict.

The seven-woman, five-man federal jury found Paul Tanaka guilty on both counts of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to disrupt an FBI investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, that began in 2010.

Specifically, the prosecution contended that, from mid-August 2011 through September 26, 2011, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction, devised a scheme to hide a jail inmate turned-confidential informant from his FBI handlers through a complicated strategy of multiple name changes that made the federal informant, Anthony Brown, appear to vanish from the LA County jail system by making his name and distinguishing details vanish from the jail database.

The government also alleged that department members under Tanaka’s command attempted to intimidate potential witnesses, who had information on deputy wrongdoing, into refusing to cooperate with the FBI. Then the same group falsely threatened an FBI agent with arrest in an unsuccessful attempt to intimidate her into giving them information about the ongoing federal investigation.

Tanaka and company began their efforts to obstruct, according to Assistant United States Attorney Brandon Fox, and fellow prosecutors, Assistant U. S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, when by accident a deputy discovered a contraband cell phone among informant Brown’s belongings, and it came to light that Brown acquired phone by bribing a corrupt deputy, as part of an FBI sting.

The idea that the feds were not only investigating inside the jail system that department higher-ups considered “our house,” but that much of the investigation was an undercover operation, made Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka livid.

For the first week and a half of the trial, the prosecution presented a carefully constructed case that included a dozen witnesses to demonstrate that the result of that anger was the series of actions that came to be known, unofficially, Operation Pandora’s Box, and that Paul Tanaka was the operation’s undisputed leader, a leader who the said already had a long record of protecting deputies who stepped over the line of legality in the name of the kind of aggressive policing Tanaka favored. They brought in multiple witness who testified that Tanaka called that law enforcement style “working the gray,” and that anyone who in any way opposed the former undersheriff’s brand of leadership faced swift retaliation.

“He was running the show,” said prosecutor Fox of Tanaka. “We knew that from the beginning.”

When it was their turn, the defense worked to tell a very different story of a brilliant and demanding but scrupulously ethical lawman who did what his boss, the sheriff, lawfully ordered him to do, but who certainly was not the author of the actions underlying the charges he was facing. The primary form of evidence the defense used to tell their counter narrative, was the testimony of their client Paul Tanaka.

The jury didn’t buy the message or the messenger, whom they found “devious.”

When the guilty verdict was read aloud in court, Tanaka sat silently, his expression unmoving. His wife, an LASD detective began crying softly. Tanaka and his wife fled through a side door of the federal court building on Spring street in downtown Los Angeles. But his brother and sister and other family and extended family came out one of the court’s main doors, in spite of the mob of press. Tanaka’s brother, a municipal court judge, chatted briefly with reporters, his expression one of melancholy that he only partially masked. Tanaka’s sister, Cindy, a pretty, very slender woman, was sobbing. “Nobody gets it,” she sobbed. “My brother is the kindest man I know. I’m not kidding, the kindest man I know.”


Corrine Zemliak, the jury forewoman said that she and her fellow jurors were close to announcing a verdict on Tuesday afternoon after talking for a little over an hour.

“The evidence was really strong. But we wanted to do our due diligence,” Zemliak said. “We wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.”

“We realized the enormity of it,” added juror Mark Nolan. “And nobody wants to send somebody to prison.”

But jurors said that they became convinced early on that Tanaka was the man in charge. “The defense kept saying that Tanaka was a proactive leader,” said Zemliak, “and so he acted like a proactive leader.”

Jurors said this idea was strengthened by several of the witnesses who said that when Tanaka was assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, “he still was involved on the custody side,” telling people what to do, said Zemliak. And the lieutenants involved in moving Anthony Brown kept calling Tanaka, rather than “going through the normal chain of command,” she said. “Why would the lieutenants call the undersheriff if he wasn’t involved?”


According to several jurors we spoke with, there was a list of things that tipped the scales early for the panel.

Among the most potent pieces of evidence, said juror Theresa Cisneros, was an audio recording of a call involving former LASD sergeants, Maricela Long and Scott Craig, who were the two department members that cornered FBI special agent Leah Marx outside her apartment. (Marx is now Leah Tanner, as the FBI agent recently got married.)

The audio is of a recording made by Long and Craig of a phone call they received from Marx’s boss at the FBI after the agent reported her encounter with the two sergeants who told her that a warrant was being sworn out for her arrest.

When he called, the boss got Long on the phone and he asked her if there was really a warrant and, if so, when it would be sworn out.

“It could be tomorrow, sir,” Long replied. “You’re going to have to talk to the undersheriff.”

Long repeated the instruction to call the undersheriff then, after ringing off, she clearly did not realize that she was still recording, so chuckled and said, “They’re scared! They’re like, do you know when– is the warrant….”

“You’re still rolling,” Craig warned her, and the recording ends there.

The jurors said they were similarly disturbed by the video taken by investigators from the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB) of Marx being accosted by Long and Craig.

“It was bullying,” said Cisneros and juror Belinda Becerra of the encounter. “They are the law and they thought they could act above the law.”


Another of the prosecution’s most powerful pieces of evidence, according to the jurors, was a labor-intensive series of phone call charts that FBI investigators put together for the trial. The charts tracked all phone activity between Mr. Tanaka and some of the main department members involved in the alleged obstruction activities—namely former Lt. Greg Thompson, former Lt. Steve Leavins, former Cpt. Tom Carey and others—during the crucial time period of August 18 through September 26, 2011. The charts also showed any phone activity between the former sheriff, Lee Baca, and the same department members during that same period.

The phone records were impressive, said jurors. Not only did they show relatively constant contact between the alleged co-conspirators. (Thompson, Leavins, and five others have already been convicted for obstruction of justice, with their cases on appeal. Carey, who was originally Tanaka’s co-defendant, took a plea deal last year, but he has yet to be sentenced. And, of course, Lee Baca pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about his roll in events, although his deal will not be finalized until he is sentenced in May.)

According to the charts, the calls, along with flurries of emails, clustered around various significant events in the obstruction plan, such as the launch of the name-changing strategy to obscure the whereabouts of informant Brown, the confrontation with FBI agent Leah Marx in front of her apartment and, tellingly, August 23, after Marx and two of her FBI agent colleagues managed to get into the jail unimpeded to visit their informant, against Tanaka’s wishes. After the rash of phone calls, the hide-the-ball plan kicked in that same afternoon.

Tanaka and his attorneys, Jerome Haig and Dean Steward, still maintain it was Baca, not Tanaka, who was obsessed with the actions of the FBI and their covert investigation into departmental wrongdoing, and who directed the actions that became the basis for the government’s criminal charges against Mr. Tanaka.

Yet to the jurors, the phone charts suggested muscularly otherwise.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Steward claimed that the government had manipulated the phone records to falsely strengthen their theory of the case, but the defense presented nothing with which to back-up the accusation, and the jury—which was provided with the charts, and the phone lists—didn’t believe him.

Jurors said they kept coming back to the phone call lists, and the pattern of calls from the main players “after every event. And none were with Lee Baca.”

The jurors also said they were surprised by the fact that they were never bored for a minute of this complicated trial that began on the afternoon of March 24, nearly three weeks ago.

“We understood a lot was at stake,” a juror said, and we really wanted to do our civic duty.


“Mr. Tanaka created a culture of corruption seen only in the movies, and certainly nothing that anyone would expect from the nation’s largest Sheriff’s department,” said David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office when he and United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker spoke on the steps of the courthouse after the verdict was announced.

Decker herself talked about what the jury said with its verdict. “Another jury has spoken and sent a clear message that the former leaders of the Sheriff’s Department who abused their positions by encouraging, and then concealing, a corrupt culture, must be held accountable.”

After the verdict was announced, George Hofstetter, President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), put the sentiments in similar but even stronger terms.

“The era of corruption which characterized the upper management in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has ended with the conviction of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka,” Hofstetter said in an official release from the union. “The Department can move forward now that the truth about the failed leadership of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been revealed through the judicial process.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who defeated Mr. Tanaka in the 2014 political race to succeed Lee Baca as head of the scandal scarred department, was more conciliatory.

“We look forward to closing this particularly troubling chapter in the Sheriff’s Department’s otherwise long history of providing essential public services in a professional and caring manner.”

Yet, when I asked members of the jury what, if anything, they learned through the trial regarding the allegations of corruption and brutality that the FBI had been investigating, and that Tanaka and those under his direction seemed intent on sweeping out of sight, they were much less upbeat.

“It was very concerning,” said forewoman Corrine Zemliak as several her fellow jurors murmured agreement. “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work.”


United States District Judge Percy Anderson will sentence Paul Tanaka, who is 57, on June 20. Tanaka faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

According to attorney Jerome Haig, Tanaka will certainly appeal the verdict. Among the points Tanaka and his team will make in their pitch for an appeal will be the court’s unwillingness to grant Baca immunity and compel him to testify as they did for one of the prosecution’s start witnesses, convicted former LASD deputy, Mickey Manzo.

“If there is a guilty party, Lee Baca is that guilty party,” said Haig. We wanted Lee Baca to testify, but he wouldn’t testify and we couldn’t force him to testify. We asked the court to force him to testify. The court denied that request.”

Mr. Haig also mentioned what he called former sheriff Baca’s “sweetheart deal” plea bargain, which suggests only a sentence of from 0 to 6 months in federal prison. Judge Anderson will sentence Leroy Baca in May.

In addition to the now ten former department members, Baca and Tanaka included, who have now been convicted of or pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges (or in Baca’s case, lying about the obstruction issue), another nine deputies who held various ranks have been convicted on charges related to the illegal use of force, illegal firearms and bribery. Two additional deputies are scheduled to go on trial May 3 in a case alleging an illegal use of force at the Twin Towers jail.

Posted in LASD | 147 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka: GUILTY!!!

April 6th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

There is much to say. The jurors’ comments were most telling. Back soon.

Posted in LASD | 50 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 5: The Former Undersheriff and the Vikings

April 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


When the federal trial of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka continued on Monday morning at 8 a.m., at first it appeared that U.S District Court Judge Percy Anderson had nixed any discussion of The Vikings, the notorious deputy gang of which Tanaka was a member.

But then later in the morning, when the jury came back at 10:05 a.m. from its first 15-minute break of the day, everything seemed to have changed.

On Friday, as we noted in our last report, after a week and a half of testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses, Tanaka took the stand in his own defense for nearly three hours, and defense attorney Jerome Haig spent much of the time guiding his client through the process of building a portrait of himself as a man with a stellar career in law enforcement, and a deep sense of morality and ethics.

Then the defendant and his attorneys moved on to dispute the prosecution’s criminal case, claiming that, in those matters, Tanaka was a peripheral player who, at most carried directed others to carry out Lee Baca’s lawful orders having to do with such actions as causing inmate/informant Anthony Brown to vanish from the jails’ computer system and threatening FBI Special Agent Leah Marx with arrest after LASD sergeants accosted her outside her apartment and she declined to answer questions.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox got up for cross on Friday, he too began with Tanaka’s career and character. But he addressed the part of Tanaka’s career that the defense left carefully out of their chronology, namely the mid-80’s and early 1990’s when the former undersheriff was a sergeant at the Lynwood station, home of the infamous deputy clique, the Vikings.

As we described earlier, however, before Fox got the word Viking fully out of his mouth, the defense objected, and Judge Anderson called a side bar. Then, after hearing verbal arguments from the defense and the prosecution, Anderson told both sides to deliver briefs to him on Sunday, for a decision Monday morning.

Yet, on Monday, after another nearly 20-minute sidebar it appeared that Anderson had decided in the negative. Thus, when Fox took-up cross-examination again, he went in another direction, not back to Lynwood station.

Then, after the break, everything changed one more time. Suddenly, the Vikings were on the table.

Tanaka, who had managed a genial, even humble demeanor in earlier questioning, began to stiffen

The Vikings were not a “clique,” he said. “There was no reference to it as a “clique,”

Fox tried other terms: “Subset of deputies,” deputy “group.”

Tanaka tersely rejected each. No, you didn’t have to be invited into the group, he said. In fact, “there was not a group.”

“Were there requirements” for membership? asked Fox.

“No,” Tanaka said.

“When were you invited into the group?”

There was no inviting, said Tanaka. “The mascot of the station was the Lynwood Vikings. The Vikings were like the mascot of an intermural sports team, he said.

Fox shifted gears. Well was Mr. Tanaka “aware of a finding in a 1991 civil lawsuit that found the Vikings to be a deputy gang?

“I’ve never looked at the lawsuit. I wasn’t part of it.”

Fox asked if Tanaka was aware that the judge found the Vikings to have engaged in widespread civil rights violations and “other acts of lawlessness?”

(It should be noted that violations are listed in vivid detail in the complaint.)

Many of those named were deputies that Tanaka supervised when he was a Sergeant at Lynwood, Fox said.

(Greg Thompson, who is one of the nine other department members who have been either already convicted of obstruction of justice, or taken a deal, was named several times in the 1991 lawsuit, although Fox didn’t point that out.)

The back and forth continued, with Tanaka denying that the Vikings were any sort of membership organization, and Fox advancing evidence that they were a membership organization with a shadow-fraught history.

And then Fox brought up the Viking tattoo.

“At the time that I received that tattoo,” said Tanaka, his voice turning brittle, “nothing in the Vikings was evil.

“I was not a Viking in the way you’re trying to infer,” he said. “There was nothing sinister about it when I got the tattoo.”

So did he have it still? “As you sit here today, you have that tattoo,” said Fox. It was a statement, not a question.

Tanaka’s expression grew dark as he seemed to struggle to control fury.

“I have the tattoo, sir.”


Eventually, the cross examination returned to the matter of Anthony Brown and other topics related to the charges against Tanaka. The prosecutor continued to hammer Tanaka with facts that made it difficult for him to continue to claim non involvement, naming times that the former undersheriff was briefed, describing a meeting he had in a parking lot with an undercover deputy who was reportedly going to pose as an inmate in the cell next to Brown to try to get Brown to talk about his FBI relationships.

“I don’t know why I was there,” Tanaka said of the parking lot meeting. “It could have been a coincidence. I probably just told the deputy to be careful,” Tanaka said of his talk with the undercover officer.

In answer to other questions, he frequently said he didn’t recall.

Perhaps the most oddly effective series of questions during the prosecution’s cross examination came when Fox showed Tanaka page after individual page of lists of phone calls made during the main days of the Anthony Brown/alleged FBI obstruction period from August 18, 2011, to September 26, 2011.

There are many calls to and from Tanaka to the main players, people like then Captain Tom Carey, and former lieutenants Steve Leavins and Greg Thompson. On each page, Tanaka is urged to search to see if there are any calls to or from former sheriff Lee Baca.

Out of all the pages, Tanaka only finds one call. He says that Baca often made calls from the car, which sometimes meant that his driver would make the call from his own county issued cell phone, and hand the phone to the boss. It is a legitimate point, but likely not enough to counteract the pages of other calls.

Eventually Tanaka steps down from the stand, and various witnesses for the defense like Chuck Antuna, Ed Medrano, the Chief of the Gardena Police Department, a woman who is a Gardena activist, and a newish deputy sheriff who had been fired from the Gardena PD, whom Tanaka help get hired at the LASD.

All of the witnesses describe Paul Tanaka as an exceptionally honest and warm person.

Former U.S. Attorney, now federal judge Andre Birotte is called to give his version of a meeting between Baca, Tanaka, and other LASD members, and Birotte and a cluster from the U. S. Attorney’s office, where Baca complains about the way the FBI’s undercover investigation was handled.

The way he viewed the meeting said Judge Birotte, “This was [Baca’s] opportunity to express his displeasure. He was letting us know he didn’t like it.”

By the end of Birotte’s testimony he seems to have helped the prosecution more than the defense.


So did Tanaka’s testimony primarily help or harm? Did he damage the prosecution’s case, or his own?

We’ll know soon enough.

On Tuesday the defense has two more witnesses: Paul Yoshinaga and Kevin Hebert.

The prosecution will call two rebuttal witnesses. Then closing arguments….and the case will go to the jury.

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

Inadequacies in Education for CA’s Incarcerated Kids…Alt. Public Defenders for LA’s Juvie Defendants…Missing: Childcare for Foster Families…and a San Diego Reentry Job Center

April 5th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Juvenile court schools, which provide public education to kids in California’s county probation-run camps, are failing to provide locked-up students with a quality education in accordance with state and federal laws, according to a report by the Youth Law Center, a national public interest law firm in San Francisco.

The report found that some court schools struggled to get incarcerated kids into class and keep them there, leading to alarmingly high truancy and suspension rates during the 2013-2014 school year. In comparison, some schools reported no truancy or suspensions during the same time period. Los Angeles court schools ranked among the highest for suspension rates, and a large percentage of those suspensions were for willful defiance (a catchall term for most anything that can pass as disruptive behavior).

Eight of Los Angeles County’s court schools had suspension rates at or above 50%, compared to the state average of 10%. And while LA was suspending already locked-up kids left and right, there were plenty of other court schools serving incarcerated youth in other counties that did not suspend anyone.

“Fundamentally, court schools evince a crisis of low expectations,” explained Jennifer Rodriguez, Youth Law Center’s Executive Director. “In myriad ways, instead of giving youth cause for hope and the resources and supports to realize their full potential, the system too often primes them for a downward trajectory.”

Another serious problem is that the kids, who must learn from worksheets rather than stimulating class discussions and lectures, often don’t improve their math and reading skills. In fact, some kids’ proficiency levels were even found to have declined under this system. And when researchers analyzed data from the 2013-2014 school year, they found kids leaving the juvenile justice system struggled to re-enroll in local schools, and without support, often dropped out.

LA County’s court schools had a dropout rate of 30%. Some counties, like Alameda, Fresno, Sacramento, and Marin had dropout rates double that of Los Angeles.

(Note: These numbers may have improved during the last school year thanks to a bill that went into effect January 1, 2015, which is supposed to address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities are immediately enrolled in school.)

The report points to several promising education reform-minded programs, including the Roads to Success Academy, which is being expanded to all of LA’s juvenile probation camps. RTSA uses project-based learning, focuses on keeping kids a path to higher education, and coordinates with probation staff to minimize interruptions to the kids’ education. LA’s program was inspired, in part, by Washington DC’s Maya Angelou Academy. The DC program uses the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) model, rather than harsh classroom discipline, and focuses on kids’ transition back into their communities, providing supportive services to kids for 90 days after their release.

“These programs show us there is so much more our youth can achieve and very real possibilities for supporting them in reaching their goals,” said Maria Ramiu, YLC’s Managing Director. “We should not give up so easily on the promise our juvenile justice system makes to these youth for their future.”

The report points out that more data must be collected on locked up young Californians, the quality of the education they receive, and their post-incarceration outcomes.


Last week, LA County CEO Sachi Hamai released a report illuminating serious inequalities in representation for low-income juveniles who are represented by private panel attorneys, rather than attorneys from the county’s Public Defender’s Office, when there is a conflict of interest. (Read about the specific problems with the panel attorney system in our previous post: here.)

A motion the LA County Board of Supervisors are slated to consider today (Tuesday) would direct the CEO and County Counsel to look into a number of possible reforms to the way poor juveniles are represented in Los Angeles, including the creation of an oversight unit for panel attorneys run by the LA County Bar Association, elimination of the problematic flat-fee structure for panel attorneys, merging the Public Defender’s Office with the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and increasing use of alternate public defenders in juvenile cases.

Currently, only Lancaster uses alternate public defenders for juvenile defense when public defenders are unavailable or have a conflict of interest. Panel attorneys are used less often under this structure, which is similar to the way adult indigent defense is set up in LA County.

In advance of the board’s consideration of the motion, an LA Times editorial calls for the Alternate Public Defender model, which is already successfully used for adults (and for kids in Lancaster), to be extended to juvenile defendants. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County created the first-ever Public Defender’s Office more than a century ago to provide indigent defendants with high-quality, salaried lawyers who are part of an office that can pool resources, keep up with trends and training and create efficiencies by sharing caseloads.

But the public defender often has a conflict of interest. Consider, for example, when two people are accused of stealing a bike. Each might blame the other for the crime, so they can’t have the same lawyer. One gets the public defender. For many years, the second one got a private lawyer from a county-approved panel, who was paid by the hour and — county officials argued — had too little incentive to keep costs down.

In the 1990s, when the county was effectively broke, supervisors needed to save money and considered — but rejected — converting from an hourly rate to a flat rate for conflict lawyers in adult cases because of the opposite incentive: Flat fees encouraged attorneys to gather up as many cases as possible and perform as little work on each of them as possible. Even to people who don’t care about criminal defendants, it should be clear that unconstitutionally inadequate assistance of counsel would wind up costing county taxpayers more than it saved due to reversals and liability lawsuits.

For adult defendants, the county’s solution was to create a second, separate public defender’s office: the Alternate Public Defender, whose legal work over more than two decades has been widely lauded for cost effectiveness and high quality. Its reputation among L.A. judges and lawyers is superb. It’s a model county department.

But, back in the 1990s, the Board of Supervisors went a different way with defendants under age 18. For their lawyers, the board said, a flat fee of less than $300 per case — and all the perverse incentives that went with it — was just fine, even though adequate defense often requires many weeks of work.

The fee, which has inched up over the years, has yielded results that should have been predictable. More juvenile defendants represented by those flat-fee panel lawyers get sentenced to “camps” — juvenile jails — than their counterparts represented by the public defender. That means a higher cost to taxpayers, who foot the bill for each of those jailed teenagers, even though the outcomes (criminal recidivism, homelessness, employment) are far better for those whose sentences are served in community and school settings.

The county’s contracts with these attorneys expire Oct. 31, and the board simply must ensure that the current unconscionable system of defense is not renewed.


Over the last ten years, the number of people applying to become foster parents has dropped by a whopping 50%. Part of the problem, says LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, is the state’s backlogged and underfunded subsidized child care system. The lack of available childcare has proven a substantial barrier to finding foster families to care for the county’s most vulnerable population. Many would-be foster parents can’t get around the fact that they have to go to work, and thus, would need someone to watch their foster children while they were away.

Two-thirds of foster family agencies that participated in a 2015 survey reported that an absence of childcare options kept potential foster parents from applying, and more than two-thirds of current foster parents said the childcare issues kept them from accepting kids.

Supervisor Kuehl has put forth a statewide budget proposal to reinvest $31 million into childcare for the foster parents. The proposed millions would fund six-month emergency childcare vouchers for foster parents caring for babies and toddlers. Kuehl’s budget proposal would also make trauma-informed training available to childcare providers.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

As the state struggles to provide enough foster homes, California advocates and policymakers say one major challenge has been a lack of childcare for foster parents.

For first-time foster parents Irene Barraza and Amy Saucier of Oakland, adding a new child to their home forced them to come up with creative solutions to balancing childcare with work.

One evening last July, only weeks after becoming certified as foster parents, Barraza and Saucier got the call they had been waiting for. Could they take in a three-day old baby girl, an Alameda County social worker asked.

An hour later, after a last-minute dash to Walmart to pick up a car seat, formula, diapers and a set of onesies, the couple returned home from the county’s assessment center with their new daughter.

Even after adjusting to the all-hours demands of a new baby, childcare has proven the most difficult challenge for Barraza, 39, and Saucier, 38. For a while, they juggled sick days, parental leave and help from friends.

Because it’s a publicly subsidized childcare system that is already underfunded and at constant capacity, one thing that has not been available to them is a slot with providers like Early Head Start.

“The last couple weeks that I was off of work I was very stressed out,” Saucier said. “We knew [the girl] was going to go back to her grandparents soon, but we didn’t have a definitive date, and I knew I had to get back to work without childcare.”


In the months leading up to their release from jail, inmates at San Diego’s East Mesa Reentry Facility attend job readiness and life skills classes, participate in practice interviews, and learn vital computer skills at the facility’s newly opened job center.

The employment center also connects participants with housing and substance abuse treatment, provides bus passes, and holds job fairs for the soon-to-be-released inmates.

The center was created with federal funding as part of the Reentry Works San Diego program, a partnership between San Diego Workforce Partnership, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s Probation Department, and the non-profit Second Chance.

Nadine Ono at CA FWD has more on the job center. Here’s a clip:

The job center is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Linking to Employment Activities Pre-release (LEAP) initiative, which funds jail-based employment centers in 20 communities across the country with the goal of reducing recidivism.

SDWP enlisted the services of Second Chance as the on-site service provider. Second Chance is a non-profit that helps people transform their lives through programs that provide job readiness and life skills training along with job placement, mental health and prisoner re-entry services, relapse prevention and sober-living housing for adults and youth in need.

Before opening the center, Second Chance held focus groups within the reentry facility to find out how to best serve the population. As a result, the career center has a computer lab with career pathway information and employment resources. Participants will also receive case management services, attend workshops and have access to business attire for inmates to wear during mock interviews with their peers and actual interviews at employer job fairs within the facility.

“I think the workforce partnership really reflects a philosophy in meeting people where they are and not expecting that our hardest-to-reach customers are always going to come through the doors of our job centers, but really targeting our job training programs to meet individuals most in need, like the justice-involved, where they’re at, so we can see more successful outcomes,” said [SDWP’s Director of Adult Programs Andrew] Picard.

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The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand, and the Prosecution Uses the “V” Word

April 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Midmorning on Friday, after a week and a half of witness testimony, the prosecution rested its case in the criminal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

But the main event of the day in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, was when the defense began their case and called their first witness at 9:53 a.m.

“We call Paul Tanaka,” said defense attorney Jerome Haig.

Paul Tanaka, for those just joining us, was the second in command at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and, for many years, the man whom it was assumed was would succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca when Baca stepped down. Instead Tanaka has been charged by U.S. Government with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Specifically, the charges allege that Tanaka oversaw and directed deliberate efforts to get in the way of an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails that began in 2010. To do so, the feds contend that, from mid-August 2011 through much of September, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction devised a scheme to hide an inmate-turned-confidential-informant from his FBI handlers; that they attempted to intimidate potential witnesses into refusing to cooperate with the FBI; and that they falsely threatened a federal agent with arrest (among other allegedly problematic actions).

Using a string of two-dozen witnesses, plus piles of telling emails, records of interestingly-timed phone calls between relevant parties, audio recordings of Brown and other potential witnesses being interviewed by department members, and more, government prosecutors have painstakingly built what they hope is an impregnable case against the former undersheriff.

During his three hours of testimony, Tanaka and Jerome Haig, one of his two attorneys, attempted to smash as many pieces of the prosecution’s case as they possible could.

Tanaka began his testimony by painting a picture of himself as an accomplished, and scrupulously honest and hardworking lawman. He told about his graduation from Loyola Marymount University, his background as a Certified Public Accountant, the fact that he is now in his twelfth year as the mayor of the city of Gardena, and his speedy rise through ranks of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Tanaka then spent time telling the jury about his management style and his ethics.

He described himself as someone with an “unwavering sense of right or wrong,” who attempted to impart that ethic to those working under him.

For instance, he said that when he visited the department’s various stations, he always told deputies to “make sure that you’re as smart as you can be, know all the laws, know the lines of right and wrong, and do your job,” but do it in “the right way because that’s our obligation as peace officers.”

Tanaka also portrayed himself as a hard worker who demanded the same from other supervisors, noting that when was the assistant sheriff he often “had difficulty” finding chiefs, commander and captains who often seemed to ditch work for part of the day. So, he said, he ordered that supervisors “have to be at work,” Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

Tanaka implied that some of the prosecution’s witnesses who alleged negative things about him were, in reality, disgruntled slackers whose feet Tanaka had held to the figurative fire.


Several prosecution witnesses quoted instances of Tanaka reportedly dropping the F-bomb with impressive frequency in meetings. Tanaka and his lawyer addressed this issue as well.

“Have you ever use language not suitable for television?” Haig asked his client.

“In administrative sessions? No,” Tanaka said.

Well, did he ever say, “Fuck the FBI?

Tanaka hedged this more specific question with the classic, non-denial denial. “I have no recollection of making that comment,” he said.

About the testimony of witnesses who said he told deputies to police in the “gray area, or by crossing “the blue line”—meaning crossing over the line of legality, Tanka was more definitive.

No, said Tanaka, he did not ever talk about “the blue line.” As for the gray area, he explained that this term in no way suggested illegality. To illustrate, the former undersheriff held his hands out in front of his chest, but far enough apart that he could have been holding a long sourdough baguette between his palms.

Yes, he had told deputies to work the gray area, but that was the area between legality (he gestured with one hand) and department policy (he gestured with the other hand).

In general, Tanaka worked to dispatch the testimony by such government witnesses as Bob Olmsted, Al Gomez, John Clark, Pat Maxwell and Steve Roller by implying—or stating conclusively—that what those men said happened, in fact, never occurred.

(See our story on those witnesses’ testimonies here)


Of necessity, much of Tanaka’s testimony addressed the issue of whether or not he gave the orders that precipitated the various actions that are the basis of the government’s criminal allegations.

Tanaka insisted that any orders that were given were “lawful” and came from then sheriff Baca, who Tanaka said was “consumed” by the issue of federal informant Anthony Brown, and the contraband cell phone that Brown had paid an LASD deputy to bring to him in return for a bribe, as part of an FBI sting.

When Haig asked his client if he issued “any orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?” Tanaka answered with a firm no. He also said he did not give orders to ignore a federal grand jury subpoena. Nor did he give orders to confront a federal agent, or keep the FBI from seeing inmates.

Tanaka said he didn’t remember personally giving ICIB Captain Tom Carey any kind of instructions about investigating the matter of Brown and the contraband cell phone.

“I didn’t have any investigative experience,” Tanaka told the jury reasonably.


Friday’s most dramatic moment came just after Tanaka had finished testifying. The court day was nearly over but, with ten minutes remaining, Judge Anderson called the prosecution to begin its cross-examination.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox walked quickly to the lectern.

“Mr. Tanka,” he said, “Mr. Haig took you back through your career, and your experience as a CPA. However, Fox noted, Tanaka’s attorney did not ask him about certain other periods in his long career. For instance, Fox said, “Mr. Haig didn’t you ask about your experience as a supervisor at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“He did not,” answered Tanaka.

“And when you were a sergeant at the Lynwood Station, you learned that there was a deputy clique at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“Yeah,” Tanaka replied cautiously.

“And that deputy clique was known as the Vi…..”

It had been a long and strenuous day and it appeared to take a couple of seconds past the word “clique” for the defense to grasp where this was going.

Then they got it.

Fox did not fully get out the first syllable of the word “Vikings,” before Tanaka’s attorneys bounced from their chairs like spring-loaded jacks-in-the-box, shouting “objection, your honor!”

The Vikings is, of course, the tattoo-wearing, sign-throwing deputy clique that was most active in the department from the mid-1980’s into the 1990’s, and was the focus of a huge class action lawsuit—Thomas v. the County of Los Angeles—that alleged a wide variety of brutal and illegal actions by deputies toward community members. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Lynwood Vikings, “…regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.”

More relevantly here, it was the group of which Mr. Tanaka was/is famously a member.

Even Judge Anderson’s eyes appeared to be pin wheeling as he hastily called for a sidebar.

When finally the two groups of attorneys returned to their seats, neither the prosecution nor the defense team looked particularly cheerful so it was impossible to guess which side might have prevailed at the sidebar.

“I believe we’ve done about as much as we can do for today,” Anderson said noncommittally from the bench and then told the jury that the court was going to break until Monday, and delivered the usual admonition to jurors about not talking to anyone, or reading or watching anything pertaining to the trial.

“As for the issue we discussed at sidebar,” Anderson said, then he asked for short briefs by both sides by Sunday, as to why the court should allow this line of questioning “or why we should not.”

And so the day ended with a cliffhanger.

Monday should be interesting.

So stay tuned!

POST SCRIPT: For your reading pleasure, you can find the government’s brief here.

And the defense’s brief here.

Plus the defense is trying one more time to get the judge to grant Lee Baca limited immunity and to compel his testimony—or at the very least, allow in snippets of previous interviews with him by the feds. You can find that motion here.


On Friday afternoon, I was on KPPC FM with Nick Roman for a quick story talking about the trial, Paul Tanaka’s testimony and what is to come. You can find the podcast and a web summary of the story here.

Here’s a clip:

…Tanaka testified for nearly three hours in what was the main event of the day, according to Celeste Fremon of Witness L.A., who’s been following the trial. The prosecution rested Friday morning after a week and a half of testimony on Tanaka’s alleged crimes.

Tanaka answered questions trying to dismantle the structure of the prosecution’s arguments Friday, Fremon said. The judge began to allow cross-examination, but when prosecutor Brandon Fox started to ask about Tanaka’s involvement with the deputy gang known as the Vikings, the defense objected. The judge ultimately told everyone to come back Sunday with briefs on why that line of questioning should be allowed.

While the Vikings aren’t directly related to this case, Tanaka has allegedly been a member for many years of the deputy gang that made news in the 1990s and was part of a class-action lawsuit, Fremon said. The reason for the question, Fremon said, was that it speaks to what the government is calling the context of Tanaka’s alleged style of supervision as undersheriff.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

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