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LA County Supervisors Ban Solitary for Kids (And, Yes, This is a Big Deal)

May 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that bans
the use of solitary confinement—in all but the most exceptional circumstances—in any and all of the county’s juvenile detention facilities. The change is ordered to be accomplished by the end of September of this year.

Los Angeles County oversees the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Thus this decision could, with any luck, have a contagious effect on other counties and their juvenile justice systems, in California and beyond. At least that’s what everyone seems to hope.

Last year, a bill that attempted to do on a statewide basis what Tuesday’s motion will accomplish, was killed in committee after seeming headed toward passage. A revamped version has been reintroduced by Senator Mark Leno again this year. Several people in the public comment period mentioned that perhaps LA County’s action will inspire the state legislature to finally get with the program.

Two camps—Camp Scott and Camp Challenger, along with Central Juvenile hall—will do away with solitary by the end of May. Then those three facilities will serve as models for the rest of system, which must institute the same reforms by September 30 of this year, said interim Probation Chief Cal Remington.

The LA County Probation Department currently operates three juvenile halls and thirteen juvenile camps, that house approximately 1200 youth.

The motion, co-authored by Board Chair Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, instructs the CEO and the L.A. County Probation Department to create “new procedures, enforcement mechanisms, and reporting structures” to provide the right context for the ban.

Kuehl explained the importance of the motion by pointing to what we now know, based on research, about the practice of juvenile solitary. “It doesn’t improve behavior,” she said. “it doesn’t secure public safety. It doesn’t promote rehabilitation. And, indeed, those who have experienced solitary confinement recidivate in higher numbers. And the Office of Juvenile Justice Prevention found that 50 percent of our young people who commit suicide were in room confinement at the time of their suicide. 60 percent of them had a history of punitive solitary confinement.”

The motion, she said, not only “ratifies’ the direction that probation was going,” she said. “…It says, ‘and we really mean it.’”

“This is a very important moment for us,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.”We can’t treat these youngsters in this manner and think that, when they get out, they’re going to be oaky.

Remington spoke after Kuehl and Solis, and attempted to answer questions posed by some of the other Supes. In general, however, Remington said he and the department are “committed to ending solitary confinement and reducing our usage of restrictive housing situations where other interventions have been exhausted.” He did caution that kids “may be separated as a short-term response when their behavior poses a serious risk to themselves and others.”

Remington also described how the environments in which a young person might be placed for such a cool down, would be very different than the previous, cell-like environments that had previously been used. “We want the situation to be a calming experience,” he said and mentioned changes in furniture, lighting, window treatment, and wall colors as part of the necessary psychological change necessary. “We want a place where the minor and the staff member can sit down and talk” comfortably. “It’s important to change the environment. We talking about cultural change.” Remington added that the kids out at the Challenger camp want to renamed the repurposed SHU. “They want to call it HOPE Center,” he said.

Remington also said that staff training will be very important to the new plan. “The staff have to feel safe” he said. “I just wanted to mention there are challenges with this,” Remington added. “But they’re challenges we’re willing to take on. We’ll get there.”



NO LONGER “STUCK ON STUPID”

Although there was no mystery about whether the motion would pass, only whether it would be unanimous, the decision had a surprisingly emotional effect on many of the juvenile advocates who spoke in favor of the historic decision.

Kirn Kim, who has a teenager spent 15 months, in solitary confinement, from the age of 16 to 18, was a member of a panel of experts who spoke about the motion during the hearing, and was one of those who spoke with particular passion.

“Study after study has shown that solitary confinement can have devastating mental-health effects on adults,” said Kim. “So I ask, how can its use ever be justified for juveniles? The teenage brain is still developing. Youth have a lesser capacity to cope with stress than adults. To force that level of stress on a young person, especially those who have already been traumatized, only leads to further problems which we, as a society, will ultimately have to deal with,” he said. “As any parent can attest, children act out. These kids have been traumatized, they are put in solitary confinement, and they act out further.”

Attorney Jo Kaplan, who is a member of the Probation Commission and a longtime child advocate, made clear that getting rid of juvenile solitary was overdue. “For close to two decades we’ve had the Department of Justice monitoring probation,” Kaplan said. “This solitary confinement motion is symbolic of [a department] that, in the past, “was stuck on stupid. This motion …is the right thing to do. And it needs to be unanimous,” she said. “This county should be a leader. We should no longer be behind the curve. Don’t let this opportunity go away. Start by doing the right thing now.”

Probation Commissioner Sal Martinez, who with Kaplin and Kim was part of a panel of invited speakers, talked about when he’d been in juvenile hall and camp during his past as gang members as an adolescent, and about what kids tell him when he makes site visits to the camps and halls now, as a commissioner.

Several other young people in the audience, who had signed up to address the board, talked about their own experiences in solitary. “It was horrible,” said Francisco Martinez, who was from the Youth Justice Coalition. “An animal in a cage.”

When the vote was finally called, it was indeed unanimous.

Martinez and I spoke later in the day, and I asked him whether the passage of the motion banning juvenile solitary felt like a turning point, he answered right away.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. It’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal.”


$1.5 MILLION CONTRACT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES GIVEN GO-AHEAD

On Tuesday, the board of supervisors passed a motion triggering the writing of a one-year $1.5 million contract with Homeboy Industries, which will essentially pay the organization to do the work it does anyway, helping hundreds of former gang members and formerly incarcerated men and women per year reboot their lives.

The motion passed with four yes votes. (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

The contract is designate as a pilot program that it is hoped will lead to more such contracts with other programs that, like Homeboy, have been demonstrably effective working with clients in a variety of ways over time, rather than simply providing a set of quantifiable services.

(You can find additional details about the motion in this story.)

Once written, the contract will have to be again approved by the board.



The solitary photos are, from top to bottom, a shot of solitary at Las Padrinos Juvenile Hall, by Sal Martinez; of an individual solitary room at Camp Kilpatrick before it was torn down by WLA; and an additional solitary hallway with multiple solitary rooms, in one of LA County’s juvenile facilities, Sal martinez.

The fourth photo of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting was taken by David Tepper.

Homeboy photo, WLA.

Posted in solitary | 4 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Consider Funding Homeboy Industries to Do the Job It’s Been Doing for Free for the County for Years – UPDATED

May 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors
passed the motion described below, with four of the board members voting yes. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.


On Tuesday the board of supervisors will vote on an unusual motion, which proposes offer a yearlong, $1.5 million contract to Homeboy Industries to do the work that they’ve been doing anyway for the county, which is helping formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women in LA County by giving them the tools and support to allow them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community—instead of cycling in and out of jail or prison or both.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the details of what Homeboy does, you can find it here.)

The motion is co sponsored by Supervisor Don Knabe, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. You can find the text here, but it amounts to this:

LA County Probation is sitting on an absurd pile of unused state money that is mandated to be used on programs that do exactly what Homeboy provides.

Here’s the deal.

As we’ve reported in the past, LA County receives a yearly bunch of cash from California’s SB 678 fund, which is a performance-based program that shares with California’s counties some of the money saved by the state through AB 109 prison realignment. The counties are, in turn, supposed to spend their SB 678 dollars on “evidence-based” programs to help adult probationers restart their lives and to avoid future visits to jail or prison, thus saving the state and county additional money.

LA County probation began receiving SB 678 funds in FY 2011-2012. But, while they took the money, they did almost nothing at all with it. Thus by May 2015, a county audit discovered that department had amassed an astonishing $140.5 million in SB 678 funds—which former probation chief, Jerry Powers and company reportedly failed to mention to the board of supervisors or anyone else. Meanwhile, instead of spending the funds on much-needed programs, either of probation’s own creation or on existing community-based programs, they simply sat on the cash, which—according to our sources—has now grown to $145 million or more.

Now, as AB 109/prison realignment moves into its 5th year of operation, and Prop. 47 moves is one and 1/3 years old, it’s in everyone’s best interest that the county takes some of those SB 678 bucks that its been stuffing under the mattress, and use it on evidence-based programs aimed at the people for which it was intended—programs like Homeboy Industries provides to hundreds of men and women every year.

(By the way, did I mention that the $140 plus million has been languishing all this time in a non-interest bearing account? Who in the world was overseeing these decisions? Oh, yeah, right. Never mind.)

Which brings us back to the motion pertaining to Homeboy.

According to Nick Ippolito, Assistant Chief of Staff for Supervisor Knabe, the motion accomplishes a couple of things. First of all it would allow the county to start funding a program, and then over time, multiple programs, that work with the population that the county is most interested in working with—namely former and current offenders released from jail or prison who, if they can be prevented from recidivating, while save the county and the state a bunch of money, and will contribute greatly to the cause of public safety..

With this in mind, “we’ve been trying to form a strategic relationship with Homeboy for some time,” Ippolito said. “I don’t know of any other organization that works with their documented level of success with individuals who have been hardcore gang members.” But, he said, “Homeboy industries clients aren’t sent to them by a judge or a probation officer, they come in on their own, when they’re ready.”

There are plenty of organizations “who work well with non-violent AB 109-ers,” Ippolito continued, “but not with this population. And we want to figure out the best service model to help this population. But we want to do that without trying to turn Homeboy into a fee-for-service agency,” which are the kind of programs that probation generally contracts with, Ippolito said. “But that’s not how Homeboy turns lives around.”

Yet, despite the fact that Homeboy has been helping the men and women that the county most wants to reach, the county has rarely given the organization even the smallest about of funding.

“Homeboy has done their work almost exclusively through private donations, and through their enterprises like their bakery” said Ippolito, not government money. “So how do we support them without screwing up their model?”

Enter Tuesday’s motion—which, if it passes, would allow the board to take a small portion of that hoarded 678 money and enter into an agreement with Homeboy for 12 months, a contract that would establish a pilot that will allow the county, according to Ippolito, to figure out how to work with Homeboy and other “innovative organizations whose work the county should be funding,” but whose model doesn’t fit into the county’s neat little funding boxes.

Or, as the motion says, Homeboy offers “a service template that doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional, referral-based models the County is accustomed to administering.”

According to both Ippolito and Supervisor Knabe, the sort of “sole source” funding the motion proposes, where a contract is offered to one program specifically, with no competitive bidding, is also not usually the kind of thing the supervisors the county does. But, this situation warrants it, they say.

And in the next round, according to the motion, after a year of the pilot program with Homeboy, the county would open the opportunity, through a conventional competative bidding process, to other programs that, like Homeboy, utilize “the elements of research based, best practice models to address behavior change in previously incarcerated men, women and high-risk youth seeking reentry services.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

We’ll let you know what happens.


JUVENILE SOLITARY

We will also be closely tracking the vote on another very important motion proposed by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to “end juvenile solitary confinement in LA County.” More on that after we see how the vote goes. (It is expected to pass.)


EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of transparency, I need to disclose, for those who don’t already know, that I have a strong bias in the direction of Homeboy Industries, mainly because I wrote a book about Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder, and have been reporting on him, and the organization that he built, and the homeboys and homegirls who’ve come in and out of Homeboy, since 1990.

But this also means, I’ve had a front row seat to watch hundreds of people manage, with Fr. Greg’s and Homeboy’s help, to reroute the trajectory of their lives against staggering odds. In a bunch of cases, I’ve tracked those same people over time—which means sometimes, I’ve seen them backslide, occasionally tragically. But most of the time, the stutter-step back was just a normal part of the complicated and very human task of making one’s way into a transformed and hopeful future. To put it another way, in more than a quarter century of observing Homeboy Industries, I’ve gotten to witness a whole lot of real, no-kidding miracles.

So, yes, speaking personally, I really hope this motion passes.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Probation | 7 Comments »

Kamala Harris’ Justice Reform History, Live Streaming CA’s High Court, and SCOTUS Won’t Consider Constitutionality of Death Penalty

May 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A LOOK AT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM HISTORY OF CA DISTRICT ATTORNEY (AND US SENATE HOPEFUL) KAMALA HARRIS

When Kamala Harris was elected California’s Attorney General in 2010, her past achievements as San Francisco’s District Attorney, and the ideas in her 2009 book, Smart on Crime, led many to believe she would use her position as top prosecutor to make “bold” steps toward reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

But critics say Harris—who is favored to win outgoing US Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat—as Attorney General hasn’t stepped far enough outside of her comfort zone to make the hoped-for changes to California’s justice system.

In an effort to increase law enforcement transparency and accountability, Harris has implemented use-of-force training procedures, police body-worn camera policies, and an open data website that includes city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. As Attorney General, Harris also launched Back On Track LA, which built on her earlier San Francisco program, connecting inmates with wraparound services including therapy, education, employment training, and other programs to help participants while they’re behind bars and once they return to their communities.

Harris has disappointed civil rights activists by opposing efforts to have special prosecutors, rather than local district attorneys, investigate when cops shoot civilians.

And on both sides of the reform debate, both reform advocates and law enforcement officials have criticized Harris for not picking a side in the debate over Prop. 47, the 2014 voter-approved law that reduced certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.

The Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Once she became attorney general, I didn’t see the transition from those initiatives: her writings and her overall philosophy,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. Harris, he said, could have been “a more vigorous advocate for full criminal justice reform.”

“She’s been confined to (her) comfort zone and unwilling to be big and bold.”

Harris’ reluctance to use the state’s top law enforcement office as a megaphone to advance her earlier work has disappointed allies in the fight, some of whom question whether she’s strategically avoided topics that put her at loggerheads with the law enforcement community she worked hard to bring around since taking office.

[SNIP]

“To look at where the dialogue was in the country before, and where it has gone on criminal justice reform, in many ways it is catching up to what she has been saying since before it was even popular,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.

Last year, Harris initiated a web-based public portal showing years of arrest and crime rates, and deaths in custody, among other data sets, by department.

She helped develop statewide policies regulating the use of body-worn cameras, saying she favors the technology, and new training on racial profiling, implicit bias and procedural justice, also known as officer communication, which advocates say builds trust, noted Anderson, Harris’ chief of policy when she was district attorney.

“I think it would be impossible for anyone to conclude that the attorney general has been shy about what she thinks on criminal justice,” Anderson said. “This has been a major theme of her tenure as an elected official, both local and statewide.”

Harris touts her career as a prosecutor as preparation for the U.S. Senate, an office she said she’ll use to speak up for society’s voiceless, reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and take questions about criminal backgrounds off job applications. In California, she’s worked to prevent sexual assault, eliminate the rape kit backlog in state labs, fight cyberexploitation and protect sensitive immigrant communities.

Harris said there’s an extensive amount she’s done in cases in which she didn’t invite the media, or politicians, into the room.

“In order for a lot of this stuff to work, law enforcement has to understand the viability and appropriateness so that they will actively participate and cooperate,” she said.

“True, I haven’t been engaged in a lot of grandstanding,” Harris added. “I haven’t sought a lot of publicity on it. But the work has happened. These are things that did not occur before.”


CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT TO INCREASE TRANSPARENCY BY TELEVISING ORAL ARGUMENTS

Starting today, The California Supreme Court will provide a live webcast of oral arguments with English and Spanish subtitles, in a move by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to increase public access to the state’s court system.

“The court’s decision to live-stream its regular oral argument sessions is a logical progression for its outreach efforts—using technology to open the courtroom doors to students, practitioners, and the public throughout the state and the nation,” said Frank McGuire, Court Administrator and Clerk of the Supreme Court of California. “It promises to create a greater understanding of the integral role of the court in our constitutional democracy, deciding matters of statewide importance and maintaining uniformity in the law.“

In addition to the webcast, the high court’s website will include a document that identifies the justices, attorneys, the cases and issues before the court, and the cases’ dockets and briefs.


AND SPEAKING OF SUPREME COURTS…THE US SUPREME COURT TURNED DOWN A CHALLENGE TO DEATH PENALTY IN CALIFORNIA

The US Supreme Court Justices rejected a challenge to California’s death penalty system and its decades-long delays as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The rejected appeal was brought by Richard Boyer, an Orange County man sentenced to die 32 years ago after murdering an elderly couple. Boyer says the years spent waiting to die were psychologically damaging.

Lone dissenter Justice Stephen Breyer said capital punishment in California suffers from “serious unreliability, arbitrariness in application, and unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.” Breyer also pointed out that California’s death row inmates more often die from suicide than execution.

While Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Breyer in a previous 46-page dissent calling on the court to consider whether the death penalty is constitutional, surprisingly, Ginsburg did not sign Breyer’s two-page dissent, which was a condensed version of his earlier opinion.

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

The case was brought by Richard D. Boyer, who has cited the stress of his long wait on death row after being sentenced in 1984 for the murders of an elderly couple in Fullerton, Calif. Referring to the conclusions of a state commission in 2008, Justice Breyer said the delays in Mr. Boyer’s case were the product of a dysfunctional system.

“More California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the state,” he wrote. “Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed. A vast and growing majority remained incarcerated, like Boyer, on death row under a threat of execution for ever longer periods of time.”

Justice Breyer has emerged as the court’s leading critic of the death penalty. In a sweeping 46-page dissent last June, he urged the court to take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the death penalty.

“It is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” he wrote, referring to the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Justice Breyer said that death row exonerations were frequent, that evidence showed innocent people had been executed, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily, and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.

Posted in Kamala Harris | No Comments »

How LA Kids are Being Recruited for Sex Trafficking & What LA Law Enforcement is Doing About It – by Kristy Plaza and Alana Victor

May 2nd, 2016 by witnessla


LOS ANGELES COUNTY’S CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING CRISIS & HOW LA LEADERSHIP HAS BEEN ATTEMPTING TO SOLVE IT

by Kristy Plaza and Alana Victor

LOS ANGELES — Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles, where she lived in 14 different group homes, most of which featured various levels of abuse. Her experience showed her how children, in a system built to protect them, often face life-endangering risks that, for the most part, go unnoticed by the public.

Pettigrew and others have seen how these cases of abuse in the foster care system can drive children out of their group homes in search of someone who can fill the painful void left in their lives by the lack of family, or any other kind of caring adult.

“At the age of 10, I met a man that said he was going to love me, care for me, everything that I wanted someone to do, because I had no one,” Pettigrew said. But “love” and “care” turned out to come with some very large and awful strings attached. “From the age of 10 to 17, I was employed here in California, from San Diego all the way up to Washington.”

By “employed” Pettigrew means the years when she was sexually abused for money as a victim of child sex trafficking.

“I cannot remember my 10th through 13th birthdays. My 14th birthday I was in Las Vegas. My 15th birthday I was in San Diego. My 16th I was on a break home coming back from Washington. And my 17th I was in juvenile hall.”

The grim fact of Pettigrew’s recruitment out of a group home in LA’s foster care system was not unique.

“Seventy percent of the kids involved [in sex trafficking we find locally are from foster care,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “They are kids who didn’t have much of a chance from an early age and now are revictimized by pimps.”

The California Child Welfare Council has similar numbers for the state, reporting that 50 percent to 80 percent of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children---or CSEC---have had child welfare involvement.

Charity Chandler-Cole, who is now on the board of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said she became aware of the issue of sex trafficking while living in her group home as a teenager. She watched as other children in the home would be released by staff to their pimp at night and let back into the group home hours later for a small fee. Other forms of prostitution, such as some girls being used in pornographic videos, also took place, she said. All too soon, Chandler-Cole was introduced to those pimps and was propositioned. She became a victim of sex trafficking.

“During my stay there, I was exploited in such a manner by the very people that were supposed to protect me,” she said. “I had no one to run to. I had nowhere to go because the system was the one violating me and so many others.”

Each year in the United States, more than 1,000 children are arrested as “child prostitutes,” even though they are not legally old enough to consent to sex. African-American children make up 59 percent of all prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18.

Los Angeles County is considered to be both a major hub and a transit route for sex trafficked youth.

With all this in mind, last year, the LA County Sheriff's Department, the LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Probation, plus the U.S. Justice Department and others, launched a series of new strategies to address the disturbing problem of LA's sex trafficked children.

So what progress has been made?


THE NATURE OF THE CRIME

According to McDonnell, sex-trafficking minors is a very profitable business. If a pimp has five girls operating every day, said the sheriff, he can make between $600,000 and $800,000 a year.

“You sell dope once and it's gone. You can sell a person over and over again,” McDonnell said, his expression grim.

Girls are forced into horrific conditions and experiences so they can make the quota their pimps require for the day.

Prior to his election as Los Angeles County Sheriff in 2014, McDonnell served as the second in command at the LAPD, and then the Chief of the Long Beach Police Department. During his time as chief in Long Beach, in particular, McDonnell saw that pimps were typically local gang members, 18 to 28 years old.

Unlike drug sales, this high-profit margin work is relatively low risk because of the Internet, cellphones and the network of people involved, according to McDonnell..

Child sex trafficking isn’t an easy crime to spot, thus many people still believe that this is an international problem, he said. But “we found that the more we looked the more we found, very sadly.”

Sex trafficking has to occur somewhere, and often, McDonnell said, that “somewhere” is right next door, just out of sight, on the side of the road in an RV, in a motel room, hotel room or a vacant house.




CHANGING LANGUAGE TO CHANGE MINDS

One of the problems with previous law enforcement strategies, said McDonnell and others, was the fact that victims of trafficking were those most likely to be arrested, not the traffickers or the customers who make the crime of trafficking children for sex profitable.

To help combat the re-victimizing of trafficked children, the No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute campaign was introduced by the Rights4Girls organization. The mission is to stop labeling the victims of child sex trafficking as prostitutes; they are survivors of child rape.

McDonnell and the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors quickly embraced the strategy. LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl explained at the launch of the No Such Thing campaign on Oct. 21 of last year that, until very recently, she was told that arrest and incarceration were the only effective means of stabilizing a commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC).

“Fortunately, it’s not those experts we are listening to anymore,” Kuehl said. “Now we’re listening to the real experts, the people who have created the movement, the children themselves who have spoken and said, ‘No, it is not what we need to be locked behind bars, to be protected from exploiters and predators. That is not what we need for protection.’”

Listen here to an audio clip of the No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute press conference last October, featuring LA County Supervisor Don Knabe, Malika Saada Saar, former executive director of Rights4Girls, and Kim Biddle, the executive director of Saving Innocence.

Through the insight the survivors provided, the existing approach was reformed to become victim- or child-centered.

Typically when CSEC victims were caught in the past, they were arrested and treated as criminals because California does not have safe harbor laws, [legislation that clearly states how sexually exploited children should be treated as victims, not prostitutes, under the law], an approach that victim advocates have opposed.

Michelle Guymon, who is in charge of providing health and mentoring services for child sex trafficking victims as director of placement administration services for Los Angeles County Probation, said that the absence of such laws may be seen in a different light with a shift in protocol.

“I think what happens when you don’t have safe harbor is that people are motivated and passionate about doing the work and you can still make things happen,” Guymon said.

She explained that legislation is not a magical solution. In fact, some of the states with safe harbor laws continue to arrest children for prostitution.

“I’m in meetings all the time with people from some of those states that have safe harbor. They still detain kids and they’ve learned other ways around it,” Guymon said. “What came with safe harbor is no money for resources so they’re kind of stuck and are seeing some unintended consequences by not having programs set up.”

According to Guymon, Los Angeles has started rolling out programs so that, when California does pass safe harbor legislation, the funding is secured and it builds on what has already been started.



A “THREE-PRONGED” SOLUTION

In September of last year, the LA Sheriff’s Department was able to take a big step forward in its strategy to combat the sex trafficking of children when it received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the establishment of a multi-agency Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force. The task force is a partnership of multiple federal, state and county agencies as well as community-based organizations, and is designed to target the CSEC problem by using a three-pronged approach that is also victim-centered.

The first of the three prongs involves going after the pimps and traffickers, using appropriate laws to identify, arrest and prosecute them.

With the second prong, the LASD and the task force aim to go after the demand side, “the johns,” the classic term used for buyers. McDonnell explained that, rather than citing the johns with prostitution charges for a small fine, as was the norm, the task force intends to slap them with charges of child molestation, statutory rape or conspiracy to commit either.

“So by doing that and publicizing what we are doing, we hope to create a disincentive so that people don’t engage in this behavior,” McDonnell said. “And we knock down the demand side so that there isn’t the tremendous profit that was fueling this all along.”

With the third prong, the task force identifies the victims, not as suspects, but as kids in need of rescue from their forced prostitution.

This third prong is being newly defined through the use of the Law Enforcement First Responder Protocol for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, a system designed to identify victims of sexual exploitation at the first point of contact. Then law enforcement works collaboratively with county agencies and community-based organizations to avoid arresting the victim and to provide him or her with the services and resources they need to escape exploitation.

The new law enforcement protocol first began to be used on Aug. 15, 2014, by the Long Beach Police Department and the Compton Sheriff’s Station.

One year before the rollout, there were 94 arrests in Long Beach and Compton, according to Guymon. Since the use of the protocol began, only two arrests for child prostitution have been made in this region.

The new alternatives to arrest have allowed for the proper treatment of these victims.

“[With the new approach] law enforcement has more options and avenues for responding so they aren’t stuck with what to do,” Guymon said. “All the knowledge and training, all the things we’ve done coming together has us doing things differently.”

Because of the regional success, she said, the LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to take the plan countywide.

“This task force is an opportunity to change the terrain and create a national model in how children should never be criminalized for being subject to repeated commercial rape,” said Malika Saada Saar, former executive director of the Rights4Girls. “But naming it, responding to it, as a form of child rape, is absolutely needed,”

Responders provide victims with counseling and wraparound services to get them out of the life. However, some victims were arrested for this type of crime before this program began. For them, there is still hope in the form of a unique court system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Sex trafficking | 2 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Department Chief of Staff Tom Angel Resigns Over Racist and Anti-Muslim Email Controversy

May 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Tom Angel, who is the chief of staff for LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, has just resigned his post, according to a statement released on Sunday afternoon by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The resignation comes after news broke last week via the LA Times about racist, sexist, and anti-muslim emails Angel forwarded between 2012 and 2013 when he worked for the Burbank Police Department. Angel worked for the LASD for 33 years before retiring and taking a position as second in command at the Burbank PD. Then after Sheriff McDonnell took office in December 2014, he recruited Angel to be his right hand.

In the statement released Sunday, McDonell said the following:

“Very recently I learned that three to four years ago LASD Chief Tom Angel shared inappropriate and unprofessional e-mails with others, during his service as Burbank Police Department Assistant Chief. This incident is one that I find deeply troubling. Chief Angel has offered his resignation, and I have accepted it. I thank him for his many years of service, and wish him and his family well.

“Despite the Sheriff’s Department’s many recent efforts to fortify public trust and enhance internal and external accountability and transparency, this incident reminds us that we and other law enforcement agencies still have work to do. I intend to turn this situation into a learning opportunity for all LASD personnel.”

While Angel was reportedly well liked in the department, and the emails were sent several years ago when he was no longer with the LASD, many in and around the department expressed concern when news of the emails became public, and the sheriff said he did not plan to discipline Angel. Critics argued that, if a higher-up such as Angel was not in some significant way held responsible for forwarding email “jokes” on a work computer that were racist and derogatory about Muslims, it sent a problematic message to the rank-and-file and to the communities policed by the LASD, especially since this administration was elected with a reformist mandate.

Justice advocates expressed even stronger objections to the idea that Angel’s actions were being given what appeared to be a pass by the sheriff.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, wrote a letter late last week saying that the So Cal ACLU felt that “the only appropriate response is Angel’s resignation or dismissal.”

Like others, Villagra pointed to the fact that McDonnell ran for office “vowing to clean up a department plagued by decades of corruption, violence and impunity. He has pledged to seek out ‘the right people with the right moral compass in hiring, promotions, training, mentoring and supervising our people.’ Yet here, he has chosen to ignore behavior that is contrary to those goals…”

Advocates also found it disturbing that, as Villagra noted, “Angel’s attempt to apologize was couched in a denunciation of the Public Records Act. ‘I apologize if I offended anybody,’ he told the Los Angeles Times, ‘but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.’”

For a person serving near to the top of a public agency not to understand that all of his or her workplace activity is rightly subject to public scrutiny was….startling.

In Sunday’s statement, McDonnell also said he would be “meeting with constituent groups throughout the county to share thoughts and ideas about improving our understanding of the varied cultures and orientations and deepening our appreciation of the many ethnicities and religions that are part of the vibrant fabric of the population we serve.”

He said the department would also assess existing policies and training to ensure “accountability” on such issues. McDonnell added that the department would implement a new system of random audits of the e-mail accounts of LASD personnel.

LA County Supervisor had this to say after the news broke about Angel’s resignation: “..While I support the deputy’s decision, there is still much work to be done. We must move forward and strive for a law enforcement work culture that values diversity and promotes tolerance.”

Posted in LASD | 56 Comments »

NO SAFE PLACE: A Troubling Suicide at a California Women’s Prison & a Report Pointing to Chronic Failures in the Facility’s Suicide Prevention Practices

April 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Erica Rocha was 35 years old when she committed suicide on April 14 of this year,
in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Women (CIW).

Rocha had been locked up for 21 years, since she was 14 years old. But there was a real possibility that her life was on the verge of a large change for the better.

The day after she killed herself, Rocha had been scheduled to attend what is called an SB 260 parole hearing, a special kind of legal procedure for people who were given lengthy sentences in adult court when they were juveniles. Rocha was serving a sentence of 19-to-life for an incident that occurred in a Los Angeles foster care group home, involving a group of kids who hurt another kid. Rocha was the youngest of the group, but reportedly was also the one whom the police and prosecutor were able to most successfully lean on to take a deal.

Rocha’s friends at the prison said she was optimistic about the hearing. But she was also scared. “She talked about whether she could do it,” said Colby Lenz, who is a legal advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “She was nervous about whether she could make it on the outside.”

In the weeks before Rocha’s death, she had been on and off suicide watch multiple times. And she had made at least one serious attempt at suicide in the past, when another potential parole hearing loomed. So the risk was very real. Still, the day immediately before her death, when her feelings about the upcoming hearing would be running particularly high, Rocha was unaccountably transferred off suicide watch and into a mental health unit where she managed to hang herself.

“It makes me very angry,” said Lenz, who had gotten to know Rocha in the year she’d been working with her on her case. “She was actively suicidal. She’d just been released from suicide watch. It sounds like they didn’t do what they were supposed to do to prevent her death.”


“A PROBLEMATIC INSTITUTION”

Lenz is not the only person to express serious concern about whether or not the suicide prevention practices at CIW are adequate.

In January 2014, suicide expert Lindsey M. Hayes delivered a report that was the result of Hayes’ eight-month examination of suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He found CIW, in particular, to be “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

Hayes’ report, which was court ordered in response to a massive class action lawsuit (Coleman v. Brown) in behalf of the state’s mentally ill inmates, contained lengthy and detailed descriptions of the ways in which CIW was failing to keep its most vulnerable women safe.

It also came after 4 women at CIW had killed themselves in an 18 month period, along with a rash of 20 suicide attempts in addition, according to state records, giving CIW by far the highest suicide rate in the CDCR. Specifically, in 2015, the suicide rate at CIW was more than eight times the national rate for women’s prisons, and more than five times the rate for all California prisons.

The list of issues Hayes found were many and varied. For instance, according to the report, the agreed upon practice when someone is put into a “crisis bed,” for suicidality is for those crisis bed inmates to be checked either on an ongoing basis, or every 15 minutes.

At CIW, however, according to Hayes, inmates were being observed at 30 minute or 60 minute intervals, which was asking for trouble.

And when he toured the solitary confinement units, where the observations are less frequent, but still rigorous, Hayes found that even the supervising lieutenant was “unaware” that the inmates were supposed to be subject to 30 minute welfare checks—in other words, they were supposed to be eyeballed every half hour to make sure they weren’t harming themselves.

Hayes also found that many staff thought that women were faking when they claimed to be considering suicide, and their actions reflected that belief.

In response to Hayes’ report, and the court’s concern, the CIW administration agreed to make specific improvements.

Hayes returned to CIW in 2015 for a re-audit, to see what improvements had been made. He presented the court with the results of his re-audit in January of this year. Some issues had gotten marginally better, according to Hayes’s second report. For example, a grand total of 49 percent of the mental health staff had completed suicide training—as opposed to zero, which was the case the last time. However, 49 percent was nothing close to compliance.

In other categories he audited, Hayes found that the CIW staff had either not improved or they had lost ground.

In addition to looking at the institution’s general practices, Hayes reviewed two suicides in particular as part of his report, and was particularly alarmed by the second of the two.

Dismayed, he wrote in his conclusion, “As perhaps best symbolized by the…inmate suicide on March 6, 2015, this reviewer found that CIW continued to be a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention, including extremely low completion of required SREs [suicide risk evaluations] based upon emergency mental health referrals for SI [suicidal ideation], several cases in which inmates were discharged from alternative housing without completion of suicide risk evaluations, inadequate treatment planning, low compliance rates for annual suicide prevention training, and multiple inmate suicides during the calendar year.”

“Some of this is extremely, extremely concerning,” said Jane Kahn, a lead attorney for the Coleman lawsuit. “For instance,” Kahn said, “at one point in the report he said that CIW’s compliance is the worst of any of the CDCR’s facilities.”

Kahn then noted various specifics in the body of Hayes report, like the fact Hayes reviewed 38 health records “in which a suicide risk evaluation should have been done because the client said, ‘I’m thinking about suicide.’” said Kahn. “But the mental health clinicians completed a suicide risk evaluation in only 68 percent of the cases. And when Hayes was there the year before, he found the clinicians did them in 76 percent of the cases. So it got worse. It actually got worse.

Then, of course, as if in tragic illustration of his points, on April 14, a few months after Hayes delivered his second report, Erika Rocha killed herself. Then, less than a week after that, another CIW woman made a serious suicide attempt that reportedly landed her in a coma.

Last week’s suicide attempt is its own disturbing story…


We’ll have more on Erika Rochas’ suicide and the serious problems with inmate safety at CIR in Part 2 of NO SAFE PLACE.

So stay tuned.


Photograph of Erika Rocha courtesy of Linda Reza.

Posted in CDCR | 4 Comments »

A Top LASD Official’s Racist and Sexist Emails

April 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S CHIEF OF STAFF, TOM ANGEL, FORWARDED RASIST CHAIN EMAILS

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s chief of staff, Tom Angel, forwarded emails filled with racist, anti-Muslim, and sexist “jokes,” during his time as second in command at the Burbank Police Department between 2012-2013, according to city records obtained by the LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Alene Tchekmedyian. (As it happens, Angel was hired to help reform the Burbank PD, which had been mired in allegations of racism, abuse, and sexual harassment.)

One of the emails lists 20 reasons Muslim terrorists “are so quick to commit suicide.” The reasons include: no nude women, rags for clothes, towels for hats, constant wailing from some idiot in a tower, you can’t wash off the smell of donkey, your wife smells worse than your donkey, and you cook over burning camel shit.

In another email forwarded by Angel, one “joke” reads, “I took my Biology exam last Friday. I was asked to name two things commonly found in cells. Apparently, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Mexicans’ were NOT the correct answers.”

Another reads, “As I went into my bank, I walked past a black kid sitting at a bus stop. When I came out, he looked at me and said, ‘Any change, sir?’ I said, ‘Nope, you’re still black.’”

When asked about the matter, Angel told the LA Times that “anybody” will forward emails they shouldn’t in the workplace, now and then. “I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”

Angel was a member of the LASD for 33 years. After his retirement, Angel then spent five years with the Burbank PD, during which time the racist emails were sent. In 2015, Sheriff McDonnell brought back to the LASD as chief of staff as an at-will employee, which. according to an LASD spokesman, means that Angel can be fired or demoted without the protection of civil service rules.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), told WitnessLA that more is called for to address the email revelations. Moriguchi suggested that the sheriff and Angel should immediately visit community groups affected by the offensive emails and apologize. Angel has only visited one Muslim group, according to the LA Times, and the sheriff has reportedly scheduled meetings with community groups that will take place next week.

“The other big concern is whether the sheriff is going to treat Tom Angel differently than the rest of his employees,” said Moriguchi. With this in mind, he said that Angel might send a video message to the department members apologizing for “bringing disgrace on the department.” Some kind of action is needed, Moriguchi said.

Sheriff McDonnell told the LA Times that the released emails are a “teaching moment,” and that all who are familiar with Angel would characterize him as “professional and respectful of everyone” he comes into contact with.

“Chief Angel’s decision-making and actions in his long prior career with the Sheriff’s Department and since his return in 2015 reveal more about his actual character and typical good judgment than the instances from four years prior currently reported in the media,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Although there is no doubt that such instances, if occurring within the Sheriff’s Department, would result in disciplinary action, there is also no doubt that Chief Angel understands and respects that fact.”

Another well-placed department member, who asked not to be named, said that, from what he is hearing, the Angel emails are a very big deal indeed.

“Everyone working patrol is watching to see what the sheriff will do.” They want to know, he said, if there is one set of rules for those close to Sheriff McDonnell and a completely different set for the rank and file.

In addition, the source said, those on patrol are the one’s who have to deal with anger from the communities who feel that the department will tolerate these kinds of “jokes.”

You can find all of the emails that the Times obtained: here.


WILLIE WILLIAMS, FIRST BLACK LAPD CHIEF, DIES AT 72

Willie Williams, who took over as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, has died. Williams was the first African American to serve as LAPD Chief.

Williams died in Fayetteville, GA, after battling pancreatic cancer.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has more on Willie’s life and legacy in Los Angeles. Here’s a clip:

The challenge facing Williams was all the more daunting given his predecessor, Daryl F. Gates, a deeply polarizing figure who had won fierce loyalty from rank-and-file officers but had long been criticized as running the LAPD like a brutish, occupying quasi-military force that mistreated blacks and other minorities.

“Willie Williams was appointed to do some healing, and in many ways he succeeded, building and rebuilding positive, constructive relationships between the African American community and the police,” said John Mack, a longtime civil rights leader who served on the city’s civilian Police Commission. “But the deck was stacked against him from the start. The Los Angeles Police Department was not ready to accept him for two reasons: He was an outsider and he was African American.”

Chosen by then-Mayor Tom Bradley to replace Gates over several high-ranking LAPD officials, Williams arrived promising to follow the same blueprint he had used to run the Philadelphia department. At the heart of the plan was his belief in community policing, a relatively novel idea at the time that emphasized the need for police to integrate themselves closely into the communities they serve in order to build trust.

It was a message that resonated with residents, as polls showed Williams enjoyed strong approval ratings among residents throughout the city. City officials praised him for stabilizing the department and repairing its reputation.

Williams showed a willingness to fight for changes. He pushed for increased hiring of female officers and spoke out about the need to address rampant sexual harassment and discrimination within the ranks. He increased the size of the department and advocated for reforms drawn up in 1991 by the Christopher Commission, which had been formed by Bradley after the King beating to review LAPD training, discipline and complaint systems.

But doubts and resistance to Williams’ leadership soon took root…

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 72 Comments »

Restorative Justice in Action…and Poetry Healing Trauma in Watts

April 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

CENTINELA YOUTH SERVICES AND THE CASE FOR COMMUNITY-BASED RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, RATHER THAN LOCK-UP, FOR KIDS

Part one of two-part series from Brave New Films explores Centinela Youth Services’ restorative justice program, which uses victim-offender mediation, therapy, and education services to reduce recidivism among Los Angeles’ juvenile offenders and to keep kids in their communities and out of lock-up.

Kids and teens who are locked up in juvenile halls and camps are 60% more likely to reoffend. Kids who participate in CYS’ program have a much lower recidivism rate—between 8%-11%—than their locked-up peers (around 30%).

Watch the mini documentary above.

In February, Jeremy Loudenback reported for WitnessLA about CYS and its unique juvenile diversion program.


WATTS TEENS PROCESS TRAUMA THROUGH “GET LIT” POETRY PROGRAM

At College Bridge Academy, a Watts charter school for kids who struggled in—or dropped out of—traditional schools, a spoken word poetry team is practicing for a competition between 50 schools called the Get Lit Classic Slam.

Over 10 years, 50,000 kids have gone through the Get Lit program. At College Bridge Academy, the program has been expanded into a full-fledged class, and uses poetry to boost literacy and help kids—many of whom have been involved in the foster care system, been abused, or witnessed violence in their community—process trauma.

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

…in Watts, a neighborhood still struggling to recover from riots more than 50 years ago, Valles says kids have the chance to be modern-day griots, storytellers in their communities.

“A lot of our kids, they get sent the message that they’re not valuable or their voices don’t matter,” Valles said. “And a venue like this that tells you, ‘Hey what do you think? What’s your story?’

“Like for a while there’s almost this disbelief.”

Get Lit has 75 schools – mostly in Southern California – that use their curriculum. Most of the time English and drama teachers incorporate it into their classes with occasional lessons or units. Teams have practice after school.

But at College Bridge, Valles has expanded it into a semester-long class of its own – it’s all about analyzing poetry, hip hop and spoken word and writing new work.

She’s been teaching it for more than three years and said that for many students it’s been transformative.

“They realize that their story is something that needs to be shared, that needs to be said out loud, and that, once they say that story out loud, truly changes not only them but the audience,” Valles said.

Valles says she can usually put her poets in two categories: Students like Winston, who feel passionate about writing to uplift and inspire others, and those who use poetry as a way to process trauma.

Sophomore Elvira Rodriguez, 15, is in that latter category. The classic poem she’s reciting is “Royal Heart” by Andrea Gibson.

Her original response is a deeply personal poem. In it, she’s making a tragic confession to her boyfriend:

Afraid that you couldn’t understand it
Afraid that I couldn’t stand it
The memory of my own brother molesting me
You see, I can’t be in my body all the time
Feeling everyone’s eyes on me
Feeling the heaviness on my shoulders
Feeling the waves of sadness starting to destroy me

The abuse she writes about happened ten years ago. But she didn’t tell anyone until this school year.

“Instead of holding it in and being depressed all the time,” Rodriguez said. “I decided to just put it in my poem and finally said it out loud.”

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

Taking a Closer Look at an Anti-Gang Program, More SFPD Racist Texts, and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald’s Retirement

April 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

COUNTY OFFICIALS TO RE-EVALUATE A 1990s ANTI-GANG PROGRAM AND ITS EFFECTIVENESS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to re-evaluate the county’s participation in a multi-agency anti-gang program launched two decades ago, during a much different time in Los Angeles’ gang history.

According to early LAPD data, the gang suppression-focused Community Law Enforcement and Recovery Program (CLEAR) appeared to be working as intended. But in light of Los Angeles’ recent uptick in gang-related violence, the County Supervisors are concerned that the program relies on outdated strategies in a time when the national (and local) focus is shifting away from suppression and the lock-em-up approach, and toward intervention and rehabilitation.

“LAPD data showed nearly 60% of the homicides in [the city of Los Angeles] were either gang-related or gang-motivated,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “So I think this is really important and timely, but I also think there has to be a reassessment of the effectiveness of gang strategies that we aim to deploy. Some are old, crusty, unimaginative, and we keep doing the same things over and over again and getting the same results.”

CLEAR was launched in November of 1996 through the President’s Anti-Gang Initiative (AGI) with funding from the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and runs on a combination of the yearly federal dollars, along with local general fund money.

When CLEAR came into being, although gang violence had dropped considerably from the awful high point of the early 1990’s, both gangs and gang enforcement were still very much in the news. Los Angeles was less than two years away from the unfolding of the LAPD’s Rampart scandal. The LAPD’s Rampart-tarnished gang units, known as CRASH—or Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums—would be disbanded in 2000. But, the year before CLEAR was launched, in September of 1995, the high profile death in a gang shooting of a pretty three-year-old girl named Stephanie Kuhen inflamed public sentiment. And pressure was placed on public officials and law enforcement to take action.

CLEAR was—and still is—run as a collaboration between the LAPD, the LA County District Attorney’s Office, LA County Probation, the LA City Attorney’s Office, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Parole Operations. (The sheriff’s department does not participate.)

The LAPD would deploy officers to CLEAR target areas, the first of which was the department’s Northeast Division. Since 1996, CLEAR units were activated in eight more LAPD divisions: Foothill, Newton, Hollenbeck, Southeast, Southwest, Ramona Gardens, Rampart, and 77th Divisions. Along with the LAPD officers, armed probation officers participate in special operations, police ride-alongs, compliance sweeps, and search and seizures.

The LA City Attorney’s Office and LA County District Attorney’s Office prosecute resulting cases.

Now, the Supes want to know if these are really the best methods for LA’s present day gang problems. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl described the need to examine the outcomes produced by any program, pointing to the recent past when ticketing truant students was thought to be effective, until research proved otherwise.

The motion, from Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis directs the County CEO, in consultation with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney to report back to the board with an evaluation of the county’s role in the CLEAR program, its outcomes and other data, whether CLEAR’s strategies are up-to-date with the most current research on successful gang intervention, and how the county—if it chooses to continue participating in CLEAR—can regularly evaluate the program’s value and effectiveness.

“The default is not prevention. The default is not intervention. The default is not re-entry. The default is suppression,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “So the question that CLEAR has to answer is how the resources are being used along those lines, in terms of suppression of gang violence versus activities that promote intervention and prevention.”


DOZENS MORE RACIST, HOMOPHOBIC TEXT MESSAGES SURFACE IN SFPD’S ONGOING TEXT MESSAGE SCANDAL

San Francisco city officials will have to re-evaluate 207 criminal cases—including three murders—following the public release of more than 100 disturbingly racist and homophobic text messages between four SFPD officers in 2014 and 2015.

The text messages were found during an investigation into rape allegations against former San Francisco police officer, Jason Lai. The messages were exchanged between Lai and two other officers, Curtis Liu and Keith Ybarreta.

Here’s a small sampling of Lai’s alarming messages:

“Indian ppl are disgusting.”

“I hate that beaner, but I think that nig is worse.”

Lai reportedly also referred to one of his incident reports as “a story I wrote today.”

The Guardian’s Channing Joseph has the story. Here’s a clip:

…Jason Lai, repeatedly used racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs like “nigga”, “fag” and “tranny” to refer to San Francisco residents. He also makes offensive remarks about president Barack Obama and NBA player LeBron James.

“Do you know what Obama coffee is?” Lai wrote in an apparent joke. “Black and weak!”

[SNIP]

The revelation of the contents of the text messages is just the latest blow for the embattled police department, which has faced ongoing protests since the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods last winter.

Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s public defender, made the announcement after the district attorney’s office sent him Lai’s text messages last Friday as part of the discovery process for a robbery case that Lai had been called to investigate.

“It would be naive to believe these officers’ bigotry was reserved solely for text messages,” Adachi said in a statement. “It is a window into the biases they harbored. It likely influenced who they stopped, who they searched, who they arrested, and how they testified in criminal trials.”

He added: “It is chilling how casually former officer Lai dehumanizes the citizens he was sworn to serve. He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in.”

CNN’s Scott Glover and Dan Simon also reported on this latest development in the text message scandal.


A LOOK BACK AT ASSISTANT SHERIFF TERRI MCDONALD’S TIME WITH THE LASD

As Terri McDonald prepares to retire from her post as LA County’s Assistant Sheriff overseeing the Custody Division, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang has tells the story of McDonald’s history and hiring, her efforts to eradicate systemic abuse and improve conditions in the jails, for both inmates and deputies, during her three years with the LASD. Here’s a clip:

In a department where jailers were accused of adopting an “us versus them” attitude, McDonald brought a gentler approach, taking time to chat with inmates about their concerns. She sought to revamp a culture in which deputies viewed the jails as an unsavory assignment before moving to patrol.

In 2013, the year she arrived, there were 10 jail suicides. Last year there was one.

The most severe injuries caused by deputies — resulting in broken bones or worse — have decreased to a handful each year. Agreements McDonald helped negotiate with federal authorities and the ACLU now govern how mentally ill inmates are treated and when deputies can use physical force.

But hundreds of inmates still are injured in confrontations with deputies each year — although most incidents are minor — and the number has been climbing. And deputies are being assaulted with increasing frequency, with some complaining that the reforms have given inmates too much power.

Still, McDonald deserves credit for curtailing the worst abuses and making the jails a more humane place with her hands-on management, said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California and a frequent critic of the jails.

“I don’t think everything’s perfect,” Eliasberg said. “But there’s been a dramatic decrease in the brutal beatings that were quite commonplace prior to her arrival.”

In late 2012, a blue-ribbon citizens’ commission placed much of the blame for the endemic violence on the Sheriff’s Department’s top brass — and recommended that the jails be led by a corrections professional familiar with how facilities in the rest of the country are run.

Then-Sheriff Lee Baca responded by hiring McDonald as an assistant sheriff in charge of the jails. It was a major shift for an agency that always had cycled its jailers in and out of street patrol.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WitnessLA are grateful for what Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald accomplished in her tenure. We understand there are still problems in LA County’s jail system, and they are not trivial. One does not reverse a toxic culture overnight. And we are also concerned by the rise in assaults on deputies. But we appreciate the no-nonsense, hardworking intelligence with which McDonald approached the work, and the unfailing decency with which she approached inmates, demanding respect, but also giving it. She has made a large difference at a crucial time in the life of our jails. And we truly thank her for it.

Posted in Gangs, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

White House Recognizes LASD, Reentry Week, LASD Deputy Cleared of Felony Charges in Inmate Beatings, Tackling Bail

April 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

WHITE HOUSE HONORS LA COUNTY FOR IMPLEMENTING ONE OF THREE MODELS FOR TRANSPARENT POLICING

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is among 53 jurisdictions participating in the Obama Administration’s Police Data Initiative (PDI), which focuses on data as a means to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community trust.

At a PDI event, the White House honored three jurisdictions with model programs, including LA County, which was was recognized for its data sharing project.

The county’s open data program publishes detailed information on deputy-involved shootings, including incident date and location, suspect’s age, race, mental health concerns, criminal history, whether the suspect was wounded or killed, on probation or parole, under the influence, weapons involved, the number of involved deputies, whether force and tactics were within policy, and whether the deputy received training or discipline.

The other California jurisdictions involved in the initiative are the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Oakland, Richmond, Menlo Park, and Chula Vista.


MORE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: HUNDREDS OF EVENTS IN LOS ANGELES AND ACROSS THE NATION MARK NATIONAL REENTRY WEEK

The US Department of Justice has designated this week (April 24-30) National Reentry Week. The 94 United States Attorney’s Offices and Bureau of Prison facilities are holding more than 570 events across the country aimed at improving outcomes for people touched by the criminal justice system.

As part of National Reentry Week, the DOJ and Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a pot of $1.75 million to go to Public Housing Authorities teamed up with non-profits to help youthful offenders successfully return to their communities, by helping them with housing and employment.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles in collaboration with the non-profit Public Counsel, was selected as one of the 18 grant recipients, and was awarded $100,000. LA’s project will be bolstered by an in-kind match of $1,390,650 ($1.3M of that funding will come from the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development), which will provide case management for hundreds of youth. (Read more on the individual local efforts: here.)

“The future of our nation depends upon the future of our young people – including young people who have become involved with our justice system,” said Attorney General Lynch. “By helping justice-involved youth find decent jobs and stable housing after they return home, these critical grants provide a foundation for a fresh start and offer a path towards productivity and purpose.”


LASD DEPUTY CLEARED ON FELONY ASSAULT, CONVICTED OF MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT, IN JAIL BEATINGS

On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jermaine Jackson, accused of beating three jail inmates—Cesar Campana, Derek Griscavage and Jonathan Murray—in separate incidents between 2009-2011, was acquitted of the final felony charge in a string of charges against him.

Jackson was acquitted of three felony counts of assault likely to cause great bodily injury, three felony counts of assault by a public officer, and three felony counts of filing a false report, but was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of simple assault.

Jackson says he punched Murray in the eye after the inmate kicked him in the groin. He also says he punched Campana in the ear and kicked him in the head while trying to gain control.

During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Ann Marie Wise said that Jackson “solves problems in the jail with his fists,” and then covers up his actions with falsified incident reports. But defense attorney Richard Hirsch said LASD officials made Jackson a scapegoat.

Jackson, who is relieved of duty without pay, is scheduled to be sentenced June 6.

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

“We feel that Jermaine Jackson was sort of made a scapegoat for all of the failings of the Sheriff’s Department,” defense attorney Richard Hirsch told City News Service outside court.

“Because of a lack of training” and because of approvals he received from superiors, “he was led to believe that certain ways of dealing with inmates were OK,” Hirsch said…

Hirsch said the three misdemeanor convictions were “inconsistent” with jurors’ other findings and that he planned to file a motion for a new trial.

Wise focused on the acquittals, saying, “Despite the increase in public awareness of police abuse, this shows just how difficult it can be to secure a conviction against a member of law enforcement.”

Jackson was accused of assaulting three inmates — Cesar Campana, Derek Griscavage and Jonathan Murray — in separate incidents between 2009 and 2011.

During the trial, Jackson took the stand and admitted to punching Murray in the eye when “he tried to kick me in the groin.”

Jackson also agreed that he punched Campana in the ear and kicked him in the head, saying that was the only way he could control the inmate.

Griscavage head-butted the deputy during a physical encounter, Jackson said.

[SNIP]

“Deputy Jackson solves problems in the jail with his fists” and then “filed false reports … to justify his actions,” Wise argued.


SF PUBLIC DEFENDER JEFF ADACHI TAKES ON BAIL IN SAN FRANCISCO WITH INNOVATIVE PRE-TRIAL INTERVENTION TEAM

While black defendants in San Francisco are more likely than their white counterparts to be qualified for pre-trial release, judges were far less likely to allow black defendants to await trial at home instead of jail, according to a report commissioned by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in 2015.

The cash bail—punishment-until-proven-innocent—system has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in jails.

(John Oliver has an excellent segment on the horrors of the cash bail system.)

To address this issue, Adachi established a Bail Unit to help more defendants win pre-trial release. Of the 220 cases handled by the team of two lawyers, two paralegals, and a few interns, 70 defendants have either had their bail reduced or eliminated altogether.

Kamala Kelkar has more on the issue for PBS NewsHour. Here’s a clip:

“This is often the most important decision that can be made in the case,” Adachi said. “If the client is not released, the chances of them pleading guilty, the chances of them losing their housing and their job and everything else are much higher.”

In San Francisco, only about six percent of the population is black, according to the U.S. Census, yet an analysis commissioned by Adachi found nearly half of the city’s inmates are black. Nationally, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 37.6 percent of its inmates are black while the U.S. Census reports that black people encompass about 13.2 percent of the national population.

[SNIP]

“Part of what we’re trying to do is get the court to acknowledge that there is an implicit bias,” Adachi said.

In Adachi’s view, many defendants behind bars may not pose a public safety or flight risk, but are awaiting trial in jail because they cannot afford to post bail, the monetary deposit levied to ensure a defendant will be present at trial. In San Francisco, bail is set by a judge during a quick hearing within 72 hours of the arrest and it is based on a predetermined fee schedule that is weighted by the severity of the charges.

Bail fees in general are intended to incentivize a defendant to return to court when needed, preserving public safety. Under California law, every defendant in the state has the right to a hearing to reevaluate his or her initial bail. But public defense lawyers rarely have enough time to do the vigorous work of collecting evidence that might merit an inmate’s release. That’s where Adachi’s team comes in.

Since September, almost all of the public defender’s cases have been sent to the Bail Unit for investigation.

District Attorney George Gascón has also been in favor of restructuring the city’s bail system, but is engaged in a different approach.

In May, San Francisco will start using an automated survey called the Public Safety Assessment. It uses nine factors that predict on a scale of one to six whether the defendant will flee or offend before the trial. The results will be given to the judge for consideration.

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