On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.
“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.
And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.
When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.
“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.
All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.
FORMER DEFENDANTS, NOW WITNESSES
The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.
Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.
Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.
After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.
And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.
COALITION IN ALAMEDA COUNTY FOCUSES ON TRAUMA-INFORMED EFFORTS TO HELP AND PROTECT KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS
Nearly 80% of Alameda County jail inmates are parents or caregivers of kids under 25-years-old, according to a soon-to-be-released survey of 1100 inmates by the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP). (It is estimated that there are 2.7 million kids nationwide with parents behind bars.)
And out of a separate, smaller survey of 100 kids with incarcerated parents in San Francisco, nearly half had watched their parent get arrested. And more than half of those kids said they had witnessed officers rough up their parents during the arrest.
ACCIPP is comprised of advocate groups, government agencies, service providers, and others committed to bettering the lives of kids with locked-up parents, and reducing the effects of trauma. At the coalition’s fourth annual meeting in Oakland, attendees heard from kids with incarcerated parents, parents who had been locked up, as well as child welfare and law enforcement representatives.
The ACCIPP is calling on the Alameda County Police Department to implement a model policy from “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents,” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The report is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council justice initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.
The model policy is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in 1998, which shows the connection between adverse childhood experiences and health status in adulthood. Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the adverse childhood experiences that heighten a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood…
“Where possible,” the policy states, “officers shall determine whether any child is likely to be present at the location” when an arrest is planned. “When reasonably possible, officers may delay an arrest until the child is not likely to be present (e.g., at school or day care), or consider another time and place for making the arrest.”
If delaying the arrest is not possible, arrangements should be made to have child welfare services or a partner agency at the scene. The policy also calls for officers to directly ask arrestees if they are parents and whether or not a child is present.
Tim Birch, manager of research and planning for the Oakland Police Department, told the May 18 gathering that the department will incorporate as much of the model policy as is feasible for the department.
“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do a better job taking care of children when their parents are arrested even when the children are not present or it is not obvious that the arrestees are caretakers of children,” Birch said.
VERA AND JOHN JAY SEND CRIMINAL JUSTICE HEAVY HITTERS TO LEARN FROM THE GERMANS
The Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hand-selected a group of prison officials, prosecutors, researchers, and advocates from across the nation to send on a week-long tour of prisons in Germany.
On the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange tour, the 17 criminal justice field-trippers will have the opportunity to observe how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and more. And Germany has methods worth learning. Germany’s incarceration rates are almost 90% lower than the US.
Among those chosen to participate are Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at Charles Koch Institute (formerly of Right on Crime), and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movies and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah is also on the tour and will be providing updates along the way. Here’s a clip from his first story:
The Vera Institute has chosen these leaders in hopes that they’ll take the European lessons seriously, and that they have the clout and credibility to enact change once they return home.
The track record for this idea is short but promising. In 2013, Vera took a similar group on tours of prisons in the Netherlands and Germany. John Wetzel, who runs the prison system in Pennsylvania, adapted ideas from the trip as he revamped the way his state handles prisoners before they’re released. He learned how in Germany, correctional officers are more like therapists than guards, and when he returned, Wetzel told me, he increased training in communication skills for his employees, “shifting the whole focus around humanizing offenders and lifting the expectations for officers, to get every staff member to feel some ownership over outcomes.” Wetzel also increased mental health training because “when people understand the root cause of behavior, they are more likely to not interpret something as disrespectful.”
The point of all this, Wetzel added, is to figure out what’s causing prisoners to commit crimes so you can find out how to make sure they’re less likely to commit more once they leave prison, thereby protecting the public. “It almost smacked me in the face when they said that public safety is a logical consequence of a good corrections system, and not the other way around.”
Beyond policy, comparing American and German prisons will surely unearth some deeper undercurrents in the histories of both societies. Just as no study of American prisons is complete without looking at the history of race relations all the way back to slavery, German incarceration exists in the shadow of the 1940s and that decade’s unspeakable combination of prison, factory, and slaughterhouse.
“I’m interested in how contemporary German officials imagine the past in relation to their current practices,”f said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and will be on the trip. He has argued in the past that American public discourse is far more willing to examine the horrors of the Holocaust than to reckon with the legacy of slavery.
Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen is also a member of the group touring Germany prisons.
The group includes people from both ends of the political spectrum, from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Patrick “Dan” Malloy to a senior research fellow at the conservative Charles Koch Institute, Vikrant P. Reddy. Rosen, who also is a Democrat, was one of only three district attorneys in California to advocate easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, which had allowed life sentences even for nonviolent third felonies. He also supported Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for crimes such as petty theft.
Other members of the tour include Craig DeRoche, who helps run the largest prison ministry in the world and was once Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in Michigan, and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movie series and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.
The only other district attorney is Milwaukee’s John Chisholm, a Democrat profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker magazine recently for his uphill efforts to right the racial imbalance in American prisons.
The institute conducted a similar tour two years ago, but it was mostly for law enforcement and corrections officials.
“We wanted a broader range this time so we can reach more people,” Vera spokeswoman Mary Crowley said.
The eclecticism of the group reflects a sea change in the ranks of criminal justice reformers. An increasing number of tough-on-crime advocates now agree with social justice champions on the left that the prison-only approach for nonviolent offenders is failing and that there are more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars to make communities safe.
Rosen already has taken some steps to change the status quo. Among them: a pre-filing diversion program that allows about 1,500 people a year who trespass or commit other petty crimes to avoid having a criminal record by letting them take classes and make restitution.
“It’s saving tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Rosen said.
DCFS INVESTIGATES WHETHER A TODDLER’S TRAGIC BEATING COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY MORE PROACTIVE SOCIAL WORKERS
LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services officials are reviewing the actions of social workers leading up to the near-death beating of a 13-month-old by his mother’s boyfriend. Detectives said they did not expect the boy, Fernando Garcia, to survive. When LA deputies found Fernando last week in near Compton in his family’s home, the toddler was not breathing, and his body, covered with bruises and a burn, had gone cold.
Social workers chose to keep Fernando’s three sisters with their mother following the June 7th beating and the arrest of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez.
DCFS is investigating whether social workers should have paid more heed to callers to the child abuse hotline who gave reports of domestic violence involving men and Fernando’s mother.
DCFS has ordered the social workers to be retrained pending the investigation.
After a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended 163 important action items last year to reform the dysfunctional DCFS, county child welfare has seen some improvements, but there are still some major problem areas that need to be addressed. For instance, WLA reported recently on an audit that found, over a period of four months, at least $160,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens—but most likely $571,000 worth of those passes/tokens—were never given to foster kids in desperate need of them.
The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here are some clips:
Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy’s home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.
Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy’s mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.
In February 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hotline reported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be “unfounded” and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.
That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother’s back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations “inconclusive,” the DCFS records say.
The department closed the mother’s case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.
LAWSUIT BY FORMER OC SHERIFF’S COMMAND STAFF SAYS SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS USED BUDGET CUTS AS AN EXCUSE TO FIRE THEM, HUTCHENS SAYS THEY WERE LAID OFF TO SAVE MONEY
Former OC Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John Davis, and former captains Brian Cossairt, Deana Bergquist and Robert Eason are alleging that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens unfairly terminated them, using a $28 million budget shortfall as an excuse to get rid of them.
The plaintiffs say they were let go because of their affiliation with the former, scandal-plagued OC sheriff, Mike Carona, from whom Hutchens took over the department after Carona’s downward spiral for which he served time for witness tampering. The former command staff argue that Hutchens aimed to cleanse the department of top brass she considered to be involved in the corruption, and that she did not allow them the hearings they were entitled to. (But under Hutchens’ assertions that they were laid off to save the department millions, hearings would not be necessary.)
The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement and millions in combined damage.
Carona was in the midst of his downfall from being dubbed “America’s Sheriff” to serving time as a felon convicted of corruption charges. One of his closest allies, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, had already been convicted of tax evasion.
Hutchens, a veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, had been appointed by a tight 3-2 vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors with a mandate to reform the demoralized Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Among those Hutchens brought on to her newly created command staff were John Scott and Michael Hillmann, who she had worked with during her time with the LA County Sheriff’s. They joined high-level sheriff’s officials who remained with the department during the transition.
According to the lawsuit, Hutchens, Scott and Hillmann “made clear their belief” that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County was a “backwoods” territory that was still “rife with corruption,” even after Carona’s departure.
Joel W. Baruch, who is representing the five former sheriff’s officials, said Tuesday that the new leadership soon clashed with Anderson, who they accused of not informing them quickly enough about several incidents, including a reserve deputy acting inappropriately during an event involving presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and a deputy being arrested during a “peeping tom” incident.
“They told him ‘quit acting like the sheriff, there is a new sheriff in town,’ ” Baruch said.
LA COUNTY COUNSEL MARK SALADINO UNEXPECTEDLY ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION AFTER 8 MONTHS IN OFFICE
Late last week, just eight months after taking office, Los Angeles County Counsel Mark J. Saladino startled nearly everyone by announcing his resignation.
Saladino was hired last October on the recommendation of then-CEO William Fujioka, who some considered a controversial figure in the county.
Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas, the only board member who voted against hiring Saladino, said there had not been enough of a search for competitors, the board had not agreed to a list of requirements for candidates, and Saladino’s prior legal experience was in corporate finances, lending, taxation and related areas. In fact, in 2013, Saladino had not practiced law in approximately 15 years, since he had taken over the position of county treasurer-tax collector in 1998.
Saladino will be returning to the Department of Treasurer and Tax Collector.
LA County Board of Supervisors had a special meeting Monday, that included public comment, as a step toward appointing an interim County Counsel.
Saladino hadn’t practiced law since being appointed county treasurer-tax collector in 1998. State Bar records showed that he took inactive status in 2002 and returned to active status on June 27 of last year, eight days after then-County Counsel John Krattli made public his plans to retire.
Prior to becoming treasurer-tax collector, Saldino was a deputy county counsel, having joined the office in 1990. His prior experience was at large law firms in New York and Los Angeles, in the fields of public finance, corporate finance and securities, bank lending, real estate, taxation and other transactional matters for public and private clients.
A spokesperson for Board of Supervisors Chair Michael Antonovich said the supervisor had no prior notice of Saladino’s intent to resign. Requests for comment from the other four supervisors produced no responses, although longtime board employees said it was virtually unprecedented for a department head to resign without prior notice.
Saladino’s successor will be the ninth person to occupy the post of county counsel since DeWitt Clinton retired in 1998 after 15 years.
Los Angeles County and the Office of the County Counsel are also currently in the middle of a legal battle against the ACLU and civilian watchdog Eric Preven, who are demanding that County Counsel disclose exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel. (Read more about that: here.)
SAN FRANCISCO SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROGRAM HELPS ADDICTED KIDS GRADUALLY CURB DRUG USE THROUGH JUDGMENT-FREE, “HARM-REDUCTION” APPROACH
The Foundation’s program, Youth Moving Forward, provides counseling and substance abuse treatment to kids 13-17, using innovative “harm-reduction” strategies that focus on preventing harm that results from drug abuse, rather than specifically targeting the drug use.
The program provides a judgment-free, safe space for kids and connects them with free sports programs and other activities as alternatives to drug use.
“Our goal is for them to reduce their use,” said counselor Julia Barboza. “So instead of [their] smoking five times, we say, ‘How about you do it four times?’ We meet them where they are at so to not have them totally quit but to reduce their use. In the process, they are not aware that they are actually going to stop.”
Johnson agreed she did not even know she was in a substance abuse treatment program when she was going to talk to her counselor.
“They don’t call it a drug treatment program. They just tell us that they are there for us to talk to,” Johnson said. “It was just a safe space and seeing it that way helped because it doesn’t scare you away.”
For this reason, youth services program director James McElroy said the counselors make it a point to avoid calling Youth Moving Forward a drug treatment program.
“We don’t want these youth to walk around thinking something is wrong with them if they decide to take part in our services,” he said. “We aren’t here to judge. We are here to help them achieve what they are trying to achieve in life.”
To do so, the program also makes a point of referring youth to social activities such as sports, exercise and field trips as an alternative to drug use.
“A lot of the times, the youth’s substance abuse problem comes from the kid not having anything else to do,” McElroy said. “We want to make sure we promote activities a youth is interested in so they can do something productive with their time at no cost.”
The program’s five counselors serve approximately 80 clients per year. Barboza said their success is due to the bond each counselor shares with the youth.
“We call them our kids versus our clients because they spend most of their time with us,” Barboza said. “At a lot of agencies, you don’t see that, kids just come in and out. Here, we do more than counsel kids and just sit in an office to help them reduce their use. We cook for them when they are hungry, we clothe them when they need clothes, we shelter them when they need shelter.”
CHILD WELFARE CZAR HOLDS MEETING IN COMPTON TO GATHER INPUT FROM PUBLIC ON BOOSTING CHILD SAFETY
The Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection held a meeting in Compton for members of the public (72 in attendance) to brainstorm and give input on a strategic plan to boost child safety and welfare in LA County.
The strategic plan was one of 163 recommendations made by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart reform efforts in the county child welfare system.
Among the ideas submitted by community members was a child safety mobile app.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery has the story. Here’s a clip:
Attendees included employees and directors of numerous government agencies and local nonprofit organizations. The groups focused on the pantheon of child welfare goals: child maltreatment prevention, finding permanency for children in the system, safety and well-being. After they posted their objectives on the wall, attendees used stickers to vote on their favorites—the ones they would like to see in the strategic plan.
That strategic plan, itself, was one of the 163 recommendations made by the BRC in its 2014 report, which scored numerous headlines for decrying the county’s child welfare system as “in a state of emergency.”
But the Office of Child Protection wants more recommendations—ones that reflect the voices of people in locations throughout the county, according to Interim Child Protection Director Fesia Davenport.
“We know that the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations are going to pre-populate many areas of the strategic plan, so we’re looking for ideas for the gaps,” Davenport said.
STATE SEES RESULTS AFTER INVESTING IN REDUCING CRIME IN VIOLENCE-PLAGUED OAKLAND
The $2 million California spent on crime-reduction efforts in Oakland last year appears to have paid off. According to 2014 end of year crime reports, homicides in Oakland were down 11%, shootings down 13%, and burglaries and robberies dropped a combined 30%.
The $1.3 million of the state money has beefed up existing anti-recidivism programs, but a portion was also spent launching new pilot programs.
In a report recently submitted to the city council, Sara Bedford, director of Oakland Unite, said the funds have impacted a wide number of programs.
“It has augmented existing services and allowed for more individuals impacted directly by intense violence to receive important support services,” Bedford wrote.
The money was dispersed among a wide group of service providers and programs that include employment training for formerly incarcerated young adults, academic support for youth on probation, crisis counseling and legal help for domestic violence victims, street outreach and Ceasefire case management, among other programs, according to Beford’s report.
Though the lion’s share of the money went to existing programs, the grant required some funds — not to exceed $340,000 — be used to enter into agreements with new partners, according to Bedford’s report.
Halpern-Finnerty highlighted some of the pilot programs funded, like academic assistance for youth on probation through the East Bay Asian Youth Center.
“It got off to a good start and went well. This summer kids got interested, so we’re looking into something that is worth funding in the next cycle,” she said.
Halpern-Finnerty said the request for proposal funding process under the recently passed Measure Z encourages innovative new projects that may not have been situated to benefit from the one-time funding grant. On Friday, Oakland Unite submitted plans for a new innovation fund under Measure Z that would create a foothold for new ideas and innovation to reduce violence.
The state agreed that the development of the single drug would move forward, with a four-month time clock,just as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a lawsuit brought by three Oklahoma death row inmates after three American executions last year were horribly botched.
THE SUPREMES & THE MIDAZOLAM PROBLEM
Lawyers for the three have argued that all three inmates experienced severe enough pain as they died that the states’ actions crossed into the arena of unconstitutionality.
The primary culprit in the execution botching was reportedly one of the drugs that officials used as part of each state’s approved three drug cocktail, namely midazolam, a drug that has been used by four states as part of their capital punishment regimin, and that four more states propose using.
It seems that states have switched to midazolam because the companies that make the more trustable types of barbiturates, now refuse to allow their drugs to be used as part of anybody’s state cocktail to kill humans.
But, although it has been approved for use by various lower courts, the case before SCOTUS contends that it is simply not safe unless we’re willing to risk torturing our death row inmates.
In particular, according to the three Oklahoma plaintiffs, it was the execution of another Oklahoma death row inmate, Clayton Lockett, in 2014, that was truly cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Eighth Amendment, in that Lockett woke back up in the middle of everything, began trying to talk, and appeared to be suffering horribly.
As to how the outcome of the case could affect California, it is not the decision about the specific drug, midazolam, that matters, but rather the new standards a ruling could set by which courts should evaluate challenges to a particular method of execution. California officials are loath to set a new protocol only to have their chosen one-drug method tied up in years of court appeals.
The ruling is expected to come near the end of this month.
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL
So, okay, how bad was Lockett’s botched execution really?
Jeffrey E. Stern, writing for the June issue of the Atlantic, has a deeply researched longread that explains in elaborate detail what the state had to go through to get the drugs it intended to use to kill Lockett, the secrecy around the drugs the state was using, and the ghastly execution itself. It is a tale that is both fascinating and horrifying to read. And it is likely a necessary read for anyone who intends to engage knowledgeably on one side or the other of the capital punishment debate.
Here are a couple clips from Stern’s story:
First, this section below provides a look into the byzantine gyrations Oklahoma and other states had to go through simply to acquire the needed deadly potions.
….What many people don’t realize, however, is that choosing the specific drugs and doses involves as much guesswork as expertise. In many cases, the person responsible for selecting the drugs has no medical training. Sometimes that person is a lawyer—a state attorney general or an attorney for the prison. These officials base their confidence that a certain drug will work largely on the fact that it has seemed to work in the past. So naturally, they prefer not to experiment with new drugs. In recent years, however, they have been forced to do so.
The problems began at a pharmaceutical plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The Food and Drug Administration discovered that some of the drugs made there were contaminated and in April 2010 sent the manufacturer, Hospira, a warning letter. Hospira stopped producing, among other drugs, a barbiturate called sodium thiopental. No other company was approved by the FDA to make sodium thiopental, which was the anesthetic of choice for almost all of the states that carried out executions. (The death penalty is legal in 32 states; 17 of them have performed an execution in the past five years.)
With sodium thiopental suddenly unavailable, states scrambled to find alternatives. In June of that year, officials in Georgia discovered a work-around: a small-time businessman in London named Mehdi Alavi, who sold wholesale drugs through a company called Dream Pharma, would ship sodium thiopental to them. Georgia bought some from him, and then Arkansas did too. With Hospira offline, Alavi had the U.S. execution market cornered. Arizona bought sodium thiopental from him in late September and used it the next month to execute a convicted murderer named Jeffrey Landrigan. California placed an order as well.
Maya Foa, an anti-death-penalty advocate based in London, saw Dream Pharma mentioned in court documents related to Landrigan’s execution and decided to pay a visit. At the company’s address, she found a small building with peeling white paint and a placard that read Elgone Driving Academy. Inside she found two desks and, in the back of the room, a single cabinet. That was it: Dream Pharma. Alavi imported execution drugs from elsewhere in Europe and shipped them to the United States, using that cupboard in a driving school as his base of operations.
Reprieve, the human-rights organization where Foa worked, wrote to the British government, arguing that supplying drugs for executions violated British law, since the death penalty is illegal in Europe. The government balked. Stopping the shipment of a drug would hamper free trade and could be harmful to patients. Foa responded that the “patient” argument was erroneous—there was no trade of sodium thiopental between the U.S. and the U.K. for medicinal purposes. It was all for executions. This time, the government agreed. England announced tighter export restrictions, which effectively banned the sale of the drug for executions. Foa then persuaded the European Commission to follow suit by amending its torture regulation. U.S. states trying to carry out the death penalty were now blocked from buying drugs not just from England, but from all of Europe.
So they looked even farther afield. In late 2010, a company in Mumbai, Kayem Pharmaceuticals, received an e-mail from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Officials there wanted an anesthetic that Kayem made mostly for clients in Angola: sodium thiopental. Kayem sold Nebraska 500 vials, enough for more than 80 executions. Soon after, Foa’s boss wrote the company to explain how Nebraska planned to use its product. When South Dakota officials tried to place an order, Kayem jacked up the price 900 percent, to $20 a vial, hoping the cost would dissuade them. It didn’t. South Dakota bought 500 vials. Kayem stopped selling the drug to the U.S. immediately after that….
Then once Oklahoma officials had the required drugs and tried to go about executing their prisoner, things did not go well at all:
As Zellmer tried to get the needle into the jugular, the paramedic stuck Lockett three more times on his right arm, failing each time.
Zellmer got the needle into Lockett’s neck and saw flashback, but then saw blood spread under the skin—he thought the needle might have gone all the way through the vein. Zellmer decided to try a subclavian line, in a vein running beneath Lockett’s collarbone. The paramedic brought him a central-venous catheterization kit, and Zellmer numbed Lockett’s chest with lidocaine. The paramedic tried two different veins on Lockett’s right foot; both attempts failed.
Zellmer kept trying to get the needle into Lockett’s subclavian vein. He finally saw a little flashback, then lost the vein and couldn’t get the needle back in. After repeatedly sticking Lockett’s chest, he decided to try the femoral vein, in Lockett’s groin. The paramedic went to get a longer needle.
As the warden, Anita Trammell, watched the doctor and the paramedic work on Lockett, she felt a sliver of pride for the inmate. He’d now been stuck with needles more than a dozen times. She knew he was in pain, but she thought he was taking it like a man. Trammell tried to make conversation to help calm him. She knew he had been a drug user. “What was your drug of choice?” she asked him.
“I thought that was a white man’s drug,” she said, and he laughed.
The paramedic came back and said she had no needles longer than an inch and a quarter. That presented a problem. The femoral vein lies deeper in the body than other veins, so they would ideally use a needle at least twice that length. There were longer needles inside a second central-venous catheterization kit, like the one they’d just used on Lockett’s chest, but neither Zellmer nor the paramedic thought of it. Zellmer asked for an IO-infusion needle. IO stands for “intraosseous”—into the bone. It is, in effect, a power drill, used to bore a hole through bone and into the marrow, and therefore doesn’t require finding a vein.
The prison had no IO needle. Zellmer had only the absurdly short one-and-a-quarter-inch needle. “Well,” he told the paramedic, “we’ll just have to make it work…..”
AND BACK TO YOU, CALIFORNIA
So can California really do reliably better by using just one drug? What drug will officials propose using? Is that drug reliable? And will CA be able to get the drug that officials select, now that more and more manufacturers are declining to allow their medications to be use for state executions? All those questions have yet to be answered.
Around two hundred detainees at Eloy Detention Center outside Tucson, AZ, reportedly launched a hunger strike on Saturday in protest of an inmate’s death inside the facility, which hunger strikers claim occurred under questionable circumstances. According to immigration rights advocates at the Puente Human Rights Movement, the strikers sat down in the exercise yard at 9:45 AM and declared their protest.
The death in question occurred on May 20 when José de Jesús Deniz-Sahagún, 31 a Mexican national was found “unresponsive” in his cell at Eloy, prompting the controversy and the protest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials issued a press release after Deniz-Sahagún’s death, stating that the inmate had “no signs of apparent injury.”
SOUNDS OF A BEATING
However, according to immigration law expert, Daniel Kawalski, detainees who were part of the strike said guards beat the man badly prior to his death, and may have then locked him in solitary without care. Deniz-Sahagun had reportedly been in the immigration facility for only two days, after attempting to enter the US from Mexico on May 15. It was his third attempt to enter the U.S.
According to the Huffington Post, a related group of around 100 protesters demonstrated outside Eloy in support of the inmate/hunger protesters. One of the outside demonstrators, a woman named Sandra Ojeda, said that her husband, who is a detainee, plus some of the other detainees whom he spoken with, heard Deniz-Sahagun cry out for mercy.
The demonstrators also claim there was a second recent inmate death, although ICE has not released any such announcement.
According to advocates, the recent inmate death (or deaths) was not so much the cause of the protest as it was the final trigger that convinced detainees that they needed to take action. The deeper reasons, activists said, were poor conditions in the facility in general. They specifically named issues like getting needed medication and medical care, getting access to legal material, and the use of excessive force by guards.
Francisca Porchas, spokesperson for the Puente Movement, countered by stating, “While ICE’s official policy is to not acknowledge a hunger strike in its facilities until detainees have refused food for three days or more, people inside are risking their lives to fight against ongoing abuses and violence…” According to Porchas, strikers are not only known by the guards, but have been retaliated against.
Advocates say that hunger strikers are also calling on Vanita Gupta, the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, to visit Eloy “…and launch an immediate investigation into the recent deaths and ongoing abuse and and excessive use of force at this facility.”
STATES RELEASE INMATES FROM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BACK INTO THEIR COMMUNITIES, WHERE THEY STRUGGLE TO ACCLIMATE, AND OFTEN RETURN TO LOCK-UP
A new collaborative investigation released Thursday between the Marshal Project and NPR gathered and analyzed data from every state on inmates released from solitary confinement directly onto the streets.
Last year, 24 states dumped over 10,000 solitary confinement prisoners, who often need the most reentry assistant, right back into their communities. The other 26 states, along with the feds, either did not track or could not provide data on such releases.
The investigation has particular significance in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement, without a trial. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times before succeeding last Saturday.
These inmates who often need the most help, pre-release and post-release, get the least amount of help. For instance, inmates that remain in isolation until they are released, generally do not get to participate in re-entry classes. And in some states, including Texas, these inmates are often released without supervision. Due, in part to the mental deterioration that happens during prolonged isolation, and without much-needed help, inmates released directly from solitary often find themselves jobless, homeless, in mental hospitals, or back in prison.
The Marshall Project follows the story of Mark, young man with schizoaffective disorder and developmental disabilities who spent the majority of his teenage years in isolation, and lasted just four months on the outside, before he was locked up again. Here’s a clip:
In Mark’s home state of Texas, 1,174 prisoners were freed straight out of administrative segregation — prison jargon for solitary units housing suspected gang members or others deemed a threat to prison security — in fiscal year 2014. More than 60 percent of them emerged without any supervision, compared to only 14 percent of other prisoners released that year.
Prisoners who go straight to the street pose a danger to public safety. Analysts for the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that more than 60 percent of state prisoners released from solitary were rearrested within three years, compared with 49 percent of overall prison releases. Similar studies in Washington and California found people coming out of segregation cells had recidivism rates as much as 35 percent higher than those leaving the general population.
Dealing with the other kids at one of the juvenile facilities, Crockett State School, seemed to overwhelm him. He often retreated to his cell to pace, talk to himself, and cut his arms. His behavior was not new. In the year before his sentencing, Mark made nine trips to state mental hospitals in Austin and San Antonio for cutting and other psychotic episodes. Mark also picked up a new conviction for assaulting a guard, for which he was given three years to be served concurrently. After evaluating him three months before his 18th birthday, psychologists at Crockett concluded: “It is recommended that he be provided therapy….[and] would benefit from a program to learn independent/daily life skills.”
Instead, Mark was soon moved to a maximum-security adult prison, the Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas. And within six months, he landed in a segregation cell for allegedly threatening to escape.
Mark had told his mother that he was nervous around the older prisoners, particularly his cellmate. He had stopped taking his Seroquil and Abilify for schizophrenia, because he said they made him groggy and unable to stay alert and on guard. The other prisoners referred to him as “Crazy Boy.”
Mark was initially relieved when he was moved to solitary, thinking he would be safer. But as his mother observed, solitary was no place for people who “live in their mind.” Mark’s learning disabilities made it difficult for him to fill the time reading books or writing letters. So he paced his cell and listened to the radio. Without any other distractions, his anger and depression worsened. “You have nobody to talk to but yourself,” Mark said. “All I remember doing was just thinking about the people who hurt me.”
During their monthly, no-contact visits, Garcia saw Mark’s behavior change. He began swearing at her, flipping her off, and telling her not to come. “He wasn’t like that when he went in,” she said. She tried to pacify him by recalling happier times — their yearly trips to Disney World, the birthday parties she threw for him. But Mark could not remember any of it.
NPR focuses on Brian Nelson, a man who had similar experiences to Mark, but has managed—sometimes just barely—to rebuild his life on the outside. Nelson is now a paralegal and prisoner’s advocate at the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago. Here’s a clip:
When Nelson’s mother picked him up at the distant supermax prison in Tamms, Ill., he told her how he was given a television during his last year of solitary and kept seeing ads for a fast-food ice cream…
On the drive home, they stopped for a Blizzard at a Dairy Queen.
“And I’m standing there and a guy walked behind me. And I was not used to people being that close to me. And I started cussing. I turned around, I’m ready to fight because I thought I don’t know if he’s going to attack me,” Nelson recalls. “I have prison mentality in my mind. And then I looked up and saw my mom crying, like ‘Oh my God, what have they done to him?’ You know, because I couldn’t handle being around people.”
That was five years ago. It’s still hard for Nelson, 50, to be around people.
The Department of Justice estimates that about 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are in solitary confinement. The system drastically expanded in the past 30 years as the U.S. prison population grew. Corrections officials built supermax prisons and added other new programs to isolate the inmates who were considered the most dangerous.
“The United States is unique and this is a relatively new experiment,” says Alan Mills, who is Nelson’s boss at the Uptown People’s Law Center. “And now we’re dealing with people who have spent a decade in solitary and are getting out. Mental health professionals don’t know how to deal with it. And don’t have treatment for it yet. It’s a brand new world and unfortunately it’s one that we as a society have created for ourselves.”
Mills says, at the least, prisons need to take inmates out of solitary months before they leave prison and give them mental health treatment, job training and other help to get them ready to go back home.
A few states, and the federal prison system, have started doing that.
Unlike most prisoners who are given parole when they are released, inmates in solitary are less likely to get supervision. That’s because they “max out” their sentence and fall outside the parole system.
Be sure to listen to part two, which airs on Friday (today) on Morning Edition.
NEW US BILL TO UPDATE AND REAUTHORIZE JUVENILE JUSTICE DELINQUENCY AND PREVENTION ACT
On Thursday, US Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a bill that would revamp and reauthorize the aging Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act. The JJDPA was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002).
The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.
Scott’s new bill, the Youth Justice Act of 2015, is modeled after Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)’s bipartisan reauthorization bill introduced late last year.
The Youth Justice Act would strengthen the JJDPA’s objectives and add some new functions, including removing those exceptions to keeping kids away from adults in detention facilities, as well as the exceptions that allow kids who have committed certain status offenses to be isolated for up to 24 hours.
In addition, the bill would phase out various confinement practices that some consider dangerous, such as isolation that lasts longer than a few hours.
The measure would also create a new grant program for communities to plan and implement evidence-based prevention and intervention programs specifically designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.
“We have documented the power evidence-based policies have in both reducing crime and saving money, and we have realized the role that trauma plays in the lives of our disengaged youth and what it takes to get them back on the right track,” said Scott. “The Youth Justice Act builds on the strong framework of our colleagues in the Senate, and takes suggestions from our nation’s leading juvenile justice advocates on how we can make our system even safer and more responsive to our youth.”
US DISTRICT JUDGE SETS DATE FOR TANAKA – CAREY TRIAL
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson has set the date for November in the federal trial of former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and ex-captain Tom Carey. Defense attorneys originally agreed on January.
The federal prosecutors are scheduled to try several other use-of-force cases in advance of the two former LASD leaders. The Tanaka/Carey trial is expected to take around two weeks.
The case was initially set for trial next month, but Anderson ordered attorneys for both sides to meet and agree on a later date. Federal prosecutors in the Tanaka/Carey case are scheduled in the coming months to try three separate use-of-force cases involving current or former sheriff’s deputies, along with the trial of a deputy U.S. marshal facing civil rights homicide and obstruction of justice charges.
The Tanaka/Carey case is expected to take at least two weeks, lawyers said.
Evidence to be delivered to the defense includes a Web-searchable database and 4,000 pages of transcripts from a previous related trial, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter.
Tanaka — who is on a leave of absence as mayor of Gardena — and Carey, who oversaw an internal sheriff’s criminal investigations unit, have denied the charges contained in a five-count indictment returned May 13 by a federal grand jury.
LAPD CHIEF RECORDS VIDEO THAT COMMISSION FINDS UPSETTING AFTER THEIR DECISION REGARDING THE DEATH OF EZELL FORD
On Wednesday, after the LA Police Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recorded a video message to express his support for the rank and file…
The video riled the LA Police Commission because in it, Chief Beck tells officers that they have the support of their chief, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and “the vast majority of the people of Los Angeles.” The Police Commission was not included in the list of supporters. The LA Times interviewed the president of the commission, Steve Soboroff, and Chief Beck about the video. Here’s a small clip:
Soboroff bristled at any suggestion that the commission didn’t support officers. “To intimate that I don’t care or don’t have the best interests of officers — it’s hurtful but it’s so untrue,” Soboroff said. “It’s so outrageous and so against anything that I feel or that I’ve ever displayed.”
Beck told Soboroff that it was not his intention to suggest that commissioners didn’t back the officers.
“It was not intended to infer lack of support by the Police Commission,” Beck later told The Times. “I have viewed it [the video] several times and I don’t believe it is reasonable to come to that conclusion based on the content.”
The LA Police Protective League (LAPPL) issued a statement Thursday in support of Chief Beck, calling the commission’s decision “self-serving” and “irresponsible.” Here’s a clip:
Surprisingly, the Police Commission, who was privy to the same facts as Chief Beck, came away with a different conclusion. It unanimously reached a finding that left many, including the LAPPL, scratching their heads and wondering how the Commission could let the usual protesters and external political forces influence their decision on this extremely important matter. Beyond being self-serving, the decision was downright irresponsible and has the potential to put the officers that protect this city at risk by signaling to criminals that it is OK to reach for an officer’s weapon depending on the situation.
The Commission got this wrong. Instead of focusing on the multiple forms of hard evidence, including the fact that Ford was a known gang member with a lengthy criminal history of violent crimes, the Commission cited and stretched thin the “objectively reasonable” standard established in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. A standard that the court later noted should not be the primary driver determination, noting that “reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
LAPPL President Craig Lally also spoke to the Times about the video, saying that if Chief Beck had included the commission in the list of supporters, it would have discredited the entire video. “You can’t say that you support the cops and make a decision like that,” said Lally.
We will continue to track this story, which is clearly far from over.
JUDGE RECOMMENDS CHARGING CLEVELAND OFFICERS IN THE DEATH OF 12-YEAR-OLD TAMIR RICE
On Thursday, nearly 200 days after the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to prosecute the two officers involved in the 12-year-old’s death. (If you need a refresher: Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun outside of a recreation center with his sister when he was shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann.)
A group of activists and clergy filed affidavits asking the court to arrest Loehmann and another officer, Frank Garmback. The ruling is essentially a recommendation to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and city prosecutors, as the case will automatically go before a grand jury, according to Ohio law. Judge Adrine recommended charging Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, and Garmback of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.
In response to a petition from citizens, under an obscure and little-used provision of Ohio law, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine agreed that Officer Timothy Loehmann should be charged with several crimes, the most serious of them being murder but also including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Adrine also found probable cause to charge another officer, Frank Garmback, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. He rejected aggravated murder charges against both officers. (The Guardian has the full order here.) Referring to the “notorious” video of Rice’s death, the judge wrote, “This court is still thunderstruck at how quickly this event turned deadly.”
But Adrine did not order the two men to be arrested. He stated that because the law under which the affidavits were filed had been amended in 2006, judges no longer have the authority to issue warrants themselves in such cases.
Instead, Adrine forwarded his opinion to city prosecutors and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who says he is currently investigating the case. And he took pains to note that prosecutors are required to apply a different standard before filing charges, determining that it is more probable than not that a reasonable “trier of fact” would hold the officers accountable for any alleged crimes.
The affidavit filed Monday was intended to jumpstart the process of prosecution; it’s been more than 200 days since Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot and killed in a city park. Adrine’s finding of probable cause may increase pressure on McGinty. But since all murder prosecutions have to go through a grand jury under Ohio law, Adrine’s order just funnels the case back to where it was before—waiting for McGinty to act.
It’s been 199 days since Tamir Rice was shot to death by a Cleveland police officer. And for a group of community leaders in the Forest City, that’s too long to wait for prosecutors to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Instead, they went to a municipal court judge Tuesday morning and asked him to issue a warrant for the officers on charges of murder, aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.
If that sounds confusing, it’s not just you. The activists made the request under an obscure provision of Ohio law that entitles citizens to file an affidavit demanding an arrest.
Bail in America is a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and contributes to overcrowding in jails and prisons.
One man protesting in Boston after the death of Freddie Gray was locked up with $250,000 bail—the same bail amount set for real estate mogul (and accused murderer) Robert Durst. Dominick Torrence spent a month in jail before the disorderly conduct and rioting charges against him were dropped.
According to a Vera Institute of Justice study, in 2013 in New York City, more than half of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, remained behind bars solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates had been charged with misdemeanor offenses.
The New York Times’ Shaila Dewan has more on the issue and what municipalities are doing to reverse the trend. Here’s a clip:
No amount of money, they say, should buy the freedom of someone who is truly dangerous. By the same token, the inability to pay should not keep defendants who pose little risk locked up. Instead, they should be released using a range of nonfinancial conditions like GPS monitors, pretrial supervision (similar to probation), or even unsecured bonds. With unsecured bonds, a defendant is released without having to pay but owes money if he or she fails to appear in court.
The critics say risk should be evaluated not in a quick, subjective hearing, but rather through a scientifically validated assessment that weighs such factors as the defendant’s age, lifestyle and previous record. The use of risk assessments is also supported by law enforcement groups that include the National Sheriffs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
As an example of a model system, advocates for change point to Washington, D.C., where money bail was effectively eliminated in the 1990s. About 15 percent of defendants are deemed too risky to release and are held on what is called “preventive detention.” Of the rest, very few fail to appear in court or are arrested on a new charge.
New Jersey is phasing in a system modeled on Washington’s, but elsewhere, change has been blocked. In Maryland last year, a pretrial reform committee appointed by the governor at the time, Martin O’Malley, issued a host of recommendations, including the use of risk assessments and the elimination of money bail. None have been adopted — in part, said Mr. DeWolfe, the public defender, because of opposition from the powerful bail bond industry.
Equal Justice Under Law, a civil-rights group based in Washington, has been trying a novel legal tactic to dismantle money bail: going after jurisdictions that use bail fee schedules, in which the amount of bail is fixed based on the offense instead of the flight risk or public safety concerns resulting in the unconstitutional imprisonment of people solely because they cannot pay.
In one of the suits, against the town of Clanton, Ala., the federal Department of Justice filed a rare supporting brief, writing that setting bail in this fashion, and without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay, “not only violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.”
In fact, the Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo points out, 22-year-old Kalief Browder’s tragic story would have likely turned out much differently, if his family had been able to pay $3000 to bail him out when he was first locked up. (In case you missed it, Kalief Browder spent three years on Rikers Island—around 800 days of which were spent in solitary confinement—without a trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack, charges that the prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Saturday, just a few years after his release, Browder committed suicide.)
Browder, who insisted on his innocence, sat in jail initially because his family could not afford to post bail. About two-thirds of America’s jail population — 450,000 people — are behind bars awaiting trial. And five out of six of those people are in jail because they could not afford bail or because a bail agent declined to post a bond.
Stuck in jail and without easy access to his lawyer, Browder was at a disadvantage in preparing a defense. He was also at the mercy of prosecutors, who offered to reduce his jail time or release him, but only if he pleaded guilty, an option he refused.
Such circumstances aren’t uncommon at Rikers, said Bryanne Hammill, a member of the Board of Correction who leads its committee on adolescents. “With regards to the adolescent and young adults I talk to and meet, many of them are in on low-level charges but with bail set,” said Hamill. “And bail essentially results in an incarceration because they nor their family have the financial wherewithal to post any bail.
“Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Browder case on Monday, in response to a question at an unrelated news conference.
“There’s just no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can’t pay bail,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Observer. “[W]e need some type of bail reform,” de Blasio said, but he wasn’t specific about what type of reform, according to the Observer. “I deeply wish we hadn’t lost him — but he did not die in vain.”
On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales. Watch his segment above.
THREE NEWSPAPERS FILE MOTION TO RELEASE VIDEO OF GARDENA OFFICERS’ FATAL SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN
In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, eight times, because he allegedly appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release video of the shooting, because of privacy concerns. Gardena officials also argued that making the videos available to the public might bring down unnecessary speculation.
Three news outlets submitted a federal court motion on Monday to release footage of the shooting, while Gardena still stonewalled.
The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg say the city is withholding the video to evade criticism and accountability.
It’s worth noting that former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was elected to his third term as mayor of Gardena in 2013, and two years later, indicted on obstruction of justice and other charges. The jury selection for his trial and that of former LASD captain Tom Carey is to begin on November 3. Tanaka has taken a leave of absence from his duties as mayor.
The Associated Press’ Amanda Lee Myers has the story. Here’s a clip:
…there’s profound public interest in the release against the backdrop of fatal police shootings around the country, the media outlets contend.
“Access to the videos is critical for the public to have a full and accurate account of the proceedings that occurred before this court, and the circumstances that led to the city defendants’ payment of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to settle allegations of alleged police misconduct,” the news organizations argued in their motion.
Videos of such interactions often prompt institutional change, it said.
The city in Southern California argued in February for sealing the videos, citing privacy concerns and saying release could cause unfounded speculation.
“This is a particularly legitimate concern given the anti-police sentiment which has recently become so prevalent,” according to the city’s arguments.
A judge granted the request before the case was settled.
MONEY TO RELATIVE CAREGIVERS “CHUMP CHANGE” WHEN COMPARED TO LA COUNTY’S SPENDING ON JAIL PLANS?
A motion by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl requests DCFS allocate $1.25 million to bolster services for relative caregivers, who are often overlooked, and thus, underserved.
That money would be split up: $250,000 would go to each district. That number may not seem like much, especially when compared with the approximately $6 million to contractor AECOM for work on the jail plan, to-date.
The county has already paid out several millions to Vanir Construction Management, Inc. just for coming up with the various high-priced jail construction strategies, of which the supervisors chose one that came it at approximately $2 billion. The county has approved $30 million in funding just for these jail plans.
One community member who spoke to the board about the kinship caregiver support funding, noted that $250,000 for 17 or 18 cities in a district is “chump change.”
Supe. Sheila Kuehl responded by saying that while it may not be a whole lot of money, “I don’t think that there’s one person in here who would say, ‘No, that’s okay. It’s only $250,000 for our district. We don’t need it.’ …It’s not much as a whole, but I’ll tell you what, it’s something.”
REACTIONS TO LAPD COMMISSION’S EZELL FORD DECISION
The Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally slammed the LAPD Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified. Lally said the ruling will make cops scared to do their jobs and make those split second decisions.
The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Joel Ruben have the story. Here’s a clip:
Lally said the commission’s ruling would probably make officers hesitant to patrol proactively. He said the decision, along with the impending department-wide rollout of body cameras, has prompted concerns that officers will be unfairly scrutinized for doing even routine police work.
“It’s going to be a different way of life,” he said. “They’re scared. They’re worried. What is an officer supposed to do?”
Although Officer Sharlton Wampler may have been in a fight for his life with Ford, the commission decided Tuesday that he did not have a reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, the commission concluded, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.
The decision marked a significant departure for the commission, which for decades when evaluating police shootings has looked only at whether an officer faced a threat at the moment deadly forced was used.
The commission instead relied for the first time on a small but significant change it made last year to its policy on shootings, requiring the panel to take a broader view of incidents. On Tuesday, the commission said it based its ruling on “the totality of the circumstances, and not just the moment in which the force was used.”
Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, is calling on LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to press charges. And the SoCal ACLU called the commission’s decision an important step in the right direction.
In a statement that called for Beck to go beyond a “slap on the wrist,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the commission’s decision marked an “encouraging step” towards the panel “reinforcing its independence.”
Ford’s mother said her first reaction was, “hallelujah.”
“I didn’t believe God would allow my son’s life to be taken in vain,” Tritobia Ford said.
The ruling, “strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” she said.
However, Tritobia Ford said she was disappointed the second officer was most found not to have acted against policy, adding that she hoped Beck would do more than give the officers a “slap on the wrist.”
Lacey was also called upon to file charges.
“You need to step up,” Tritobia Ford said, addressing Lacey. “She needs to press charges and the court needs to figure it out.”
STUDY: EXPOSURE TO WEAPONS, VIOLENCE LINKED TO TRAUMA, NEGATIVE OUTCOMES
In the US, one-in-four kids between the ages of 2-17–a “disturbingly” high number—have been exposed, either as a victim or a witness, to weapon-related violence, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers collected data from 2011 on 4114 kids from the Second National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.
One in 33 kids have been personally assaulted with a gun or a knife. Children who had experienced weapon-involved violence were more likely to have more than one instance of victimization in the past year. Kids were also faced with more adversity in that year, and severe symptoms of trauma in just the past month.
The study calls for more rigorous data research on the effects of weapon exposure on kids, including the role it plays in kids’ mental health and wellbeing:
…there is still much we do not know about youth weapon exposure and firearm exposure in particular. For example, firearm factors may play into the victimization accumulation cycle in various, yet undetermined, ways. Negative firearm exposures, for example, may make particularly salient or traumatizing contributions to the cycle. Firearm fascination, acquisition, and carrying may be a response among highly exposed children and youth, which may in turn aggravate the cycle. Positive firearm experiences, on the other hand, for some youth may moderate or buffer the effects of victimization exposure. Findings from the current study suggest the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the range of firearm exposures for youth and the contexts that increase risk of harm and victimization.
LAPD COMMISSION ISSUES DECISION ON EZELL FORD FATAL SHOOTING
On Tuesday the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford last August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.
For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.
The commission used two reports—one from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who found the officers to have acted within department policy, and one from the Inspector General, who said the shooting was justified, but that the officers should have approached Ford differently.
The commissioners made their decision after hearing emotional, and sometimes heated, public testimony, including from Ford’s mother, who begged for the cops to be disciplined in the name of justice.
Now, Chief Beck will have to decide how, and whether, to punish the officers.
The New York Times’ Jennifer Medina has the story. Here’s a clip:
The decision by the committee, known as the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, was initially met with confusion, as angry observers yelled “murderers, murderers” at the commissioners. Steve Soboroff, the commission’s president, said the panel’s findings would be sent to the district attorney, who is conducting a separate investigation and would ultimately decide if charges against the officers were warranted.
Los Angeles has a long history of tense relations between the police and the black and Latino communities, and many community leaders worried that a ruling absolving the officers would set off unrest. Occurring last summer, just two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Mr. Ford’s death set off a wave of protests here.
“Today the system worked the way it is supposed to with an impartial civilian review board,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. While he praised the changes the city has made since the riots of 1965 and 1992, he acknowledged that deep divides remain in the city. “I know it is a painful moment to be a young Angeleno,” he said. “You should always feel safe, you should always feel strong here as well.”
“Ezell Ford’s life mattered, black lives matter,” Mr. Garcetti continued. “We have a system that can work. Every life matters but due process matters, too.”
NEW LA COUNTY PROGRAM AIMS TO BREAK RECIDIVISM CYCLE FOR HOMELESS OFFENDERS
Through the LA County Department of Health Services, 300 people who are homeless and on probation for a felony will receive housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment services, and a personal caseworker.
Approximately 1,400 probationers are homeless out of the 8,000 who are under LA County supervision due to AB 109 (the 2011 legislation that shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders away from the state to the 58 counties). The program, Breaking Barriers, will provide full or partial rent for up to two years, by which time, the program will have hopefully helped participants find employment and become independent.
A combined $6.2 million from the county probation department and the Hilton Foundation will fund the program, which may be the first of its kind, nationwide. If the RAND Corporation determines the program to be successful, probation will likely increase funding and expand to serve more homeless probationers.
The program will target high and medium risk offenders recently out of state prison. Under 2011′s AB 109 realignment law, those offenders are supervised by county probation departments, as are offenders on felony probation. Of the 8,000 AB 109-ers under supervision in L.A. County, about 1,400 are homeless.
Previously, such offenders were steered into 90-day transitional housing with services, and were then expected to move on. Perez said that wasn’t working.
“Especially for some of these folks who have significant substance abuse issues or mental health issues, or significant medical issues,” she said. “Ninety days isn’t sufficient time to enable anybody, really, to address all of the issues needed to stabilize these folks.”
Tyler Fong, program manager with Brilliant Corners, a nonprofit hired to find housing for the participants, said people who work in social services have known for years that being homeless is essentially a full-time job.
“That takes up a huge percentage of someone’s time, and stress, and effort, that they aren’t able to focus on improving their lives,” he said.
Fong also works on Housing for Health, a county health department program up and running for about two years. It gives longterm rental support to patients who frequent the public health system.
That approach attracted the attention of the Probation Department, which asked to make use of the same structure to work with its own population. DHS Director Mitch Katz has said he wants to eventually make 10,000 rental subsidy vouchers available to homeless Angelenos who are frequent users of county services.
IN AN UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, SF SHERIFF, CHANGES POLICY SO 16-YEAR-OLDS CAN VISIT INCARCERATED PARENTS ALONE
On Monday, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi lowered the minimum age to sixteen-years-old for kids visiting parents in jail. No other California county allows jail visitors under the age of eighteen, unless accompanied by an adult. Mirkarimi says his goal is to make it easier for SF kids who don’t have a loved one who can take them to see their incarcerated parents, and to hopefully make family reunification easier when parents are released back into their communities. There are approximately 1,000 children in San Francisco with a parent locked up in county jail.
The sheriff is also establishing “goodbye visits” for kids whose parents are being transferred to state prisons.
“We think it’s time that the U.S. criminal justice system from the municipal, state and federal level stops punishing the children of incarcerated parents and guardians,” Mirkarimi said. “The effect has been well-studied and proven, but not well-acted upon — children of the incarcerated have a higher probability of running afoul of the law later on, and also suffer and struggle in ways that I don’t think our society fully understands.”
A systemwide study by the Bridging Group, a consulting organization that studies the effects of incarceration, found that of the 907 San Francisco County Jail inmates it surveyed, 536 were parents or primary caregivers for children under the age of 25.
There are currently about 1,200 inmates in San Francisco County’s jails, according to the sheriff’s department.
However, of the 536 inmates with children, only 34 percent of them reported having jail visits from their kids. Many blamed that on travel and other costs they couldn’t afford, and conflict with caregivers.
Mirkarimi’s new policy will also establish what are known as “goodbye visits” — in-person meetings for children whose parents will be transferred to state prison. The meetings give the children and parents more time to bond while they strategize on how to communicate while the parent is farther away.
“This allows kids to really understand what is happening, and also allows people to make plans for how to stay connected,” said Sarah Carson, a manager with One Family, which advocates for incarcerated parents and their families. “Because when you get out of prison, the most important thing is that you have family to come home to. That is what makes recidivism rates go down — when there is something there that holds you.”
PROBABLE NEW MANAGEMENT FOR LA JAILS’ MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Los Angeles County is the only county in the state of California that lets its sheriff’s department run the health care system for its county jails.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, all that may change.
Tuesday is the day when the board will entertain a motion—proposed by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich—to take away responsibility for inmate medical care from the sheriff’s department, and to also to snatch the oversight of inmate mental health care from the Department of Mental Health. The two functions are then to be consolidated under the Department of Health Services (DHS), and overseen by the newly created position of “Correctional Health Director” within the DHS.
This new configuration for how LA County looks after the medical and mental health needs of its jail inmates is part of a larger plan that will be officially presented by Interim CEO Sachi Hamai. The plan was created in response to a request from the board back in early March, which asked the CEO and representatives of other county officials to take a look at “the status of jail health services in Los Angeles County,” and to make recommendations about how “the overall quality and delivery of the care provided in the County jails..” could be improved.
In other words, the supes had been aware for a while that the medical and mental health care in the jails sucked, but they wanted to know how much it sucked, and what to do about getting it not to suck.
The conclusion reached by the CEO and her fellow evaluators (which included representatives from the LASD) was that both functions needed to be removed post haste from those who’d been running them in the past. (Although the report said this far more politely.)
We have known for some time that the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH), along with the sheriff’s department, has been doing a frighteningly lousy job of running the mental health part of the medical system inside our county lock-ups.
(For an idea of how lousy, see the federal investigation that resulted in scathing reports and a still looming federal consent decree.)
But while the mental health situation inside the jails—and the need for mental health diversion—has received a lot of public attention, plain old medical services have not.
And, yet, anecdotal information strongly indicates that matters are not healthy on the medical care side of things either.
For instance, a pattern of problems has shown up in the complaints filed with the ACLU, and in accounts by sources who work inside the jail system and who are troubled by what they see. At WLA we’ve also been getting harrowing calls from inmates inside the jail who describe fairly convincingly how they cannot get basic care and/or medication for very real and often serious medical conditions. So they call us in the hope that somehow we can help them get their needs met.
As legal director of the Southern California ACLU, Peter Eliasberg, put it, “We have every reason to believe that the quality of medical care in the jails is abysmal.”
Yet, it turns out that what reportedly amounts to inadequate medical care (or worse) does not come cheap: A budget of $238 million and over 1,700 budgeted personnel are allocated yearly to the Sheriff’s Medical Services Bureau (MSB).
“There are numerous reasons why these changes make sense including a) the obvious unsuitability of a law enforcement agency for the provision of medical care, b) the well-documented and long-standing failures of DMH to provide appropriate care to inmates with mental illness…” Eliasberg wrote on Monday in a letter to the board.
Time for a change. Good for the supes for calling for it. Lets hope they and the DHS and the LASD follow through and insist on—as they say in the movie script business— a Page 1 rewrite.
More on the jail medical care issue as it unfolds.
UPDATE: After lots of commentary from the audience, including people who won Tuesday the motion passed unanimously.
AND WHILE THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT JAILS, HOW MUCH WILL THE LA COUNTY SUPES CONSIDER SCALING DOWN THE MEGA BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN ON TUESDAY?
Among those presenting the plan will be Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, Dr. Marvin Southard, of the (possibly soon to be ousted from the jails) Dept. of Mental Health and more.
The group has done some admirable scaling back and rethinking of the number of new beds, (See P. 19 of the report) but will the changes be enough?
Since both Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl talked about their opposition to the existing plan in their campaigns for office, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained during the Vanir vote, one presumes there will be some hard and lively questions asked.
UPDATE: Rather than accept the new plan put forth by the Sheriff, et al, a three member majority of the board decided to delay the go-ahead on the revised building plan in order to take a long hard look at how large the new jail really needs to be.
In October 2014, The New Yorker ran a shattering story by staff writer Jennifer Gonnerman about a young Bronx man named Kalief Browder who, just before he turned sixteen years old, was arrested then locked up on Riker’s Island. There he remained for the next three years, without a trial, until finally the prosecutors who brought the charges, then dragged their collective legal feet with 36 months worth of unexplained continuances, simply dropped the case.
Kalief was accused of stealing a backpack, an accusation that was fuzzy from the beginning. The youngest of seven children and reportedly well liked at school, Kalief insisted that he was innocent, repeatedly refusing to take the deals the prosecutor offered, even the last one, which would have let him out for time served.
No, he had said. He would go to trial. “I did not do it.”
But the approximately 800 days he spent in solitary confinement during those three years in Rikers took a terrible toll on a once-upbeat boy’s psyche. And, in addition to the damage caused by the isolation, there was also also the beat down by at least one guard, maybe more than one, and another brutal beating by gang members that reportedly ran the area of the jail where Kalief was located—that is when he wasn’t shut up in a 12′ X 8′ solitary cell.
As months then years passed in Rikers with no seeming end in sight, Kalief began to emotionally decompensate. He tried suicide twice when he was locked up, and again a couple more times when he was finally released.
Gonnerman and others who knew Kalief felt that, for a while this spring, things seemed to be getting better for the young man who had grown so fragile after the ordeal that took away half of his teenage years.
Then, on Saturday, she got the news that Kalief had hanged himself.
The primary takeaway from Gonnerman’s fine reporting is this: Kalief Browder was a young man who could have been my son, could have been yours, who was failed and brutalized by multiple levels of the American justice system, and who—this weekend—succumbed to the effects of that 3-year-long psychological beating.
Here’s a clip from Jennifer Gonnerman’s story:
….Late last year, about two months after my story about him appeared, he stopped going to classes at Bronx Community College. During the week of Christmas, he was confined in the psych ward at Harlem Hospital. One day after his release, he was hospitalized again, this time back at St. Barnabas. When I visited him there on January 9th, he did not seem like himself. He was gaunt, restless, and deeply paranoid. He had recently thrown out his brand-new television, he explained, “because it was watching me.”
After two weeks at St. Barnabas, Browder was released and sent back home. The next day, his lawyer, Paul V. Prestia, got a call from an official at Bronx Community College. An anonymous donor (who had likely read the New Yorker story) had offered to pay his tuition for the semester. This happy news prompted Browder to re-enroll. For the next few months he seemed to thrive. He rode his bicycle back and forth to school every day, he no longer got panic attacks sitting in a classroom, and he earned better grades than he had the prior semester.
Ever since I’d met him, Browder had been telling me stories about having been abused by officers and inmates on Rikers. The stories were disturbing, but I did not fully appreciate what he had experienced until this past April when I obtained surveillance footage of an officer assaulting him and of a large group of inmates pummeling and kicking him. I sat next to Kalief while he watched these videos for the first time. Afterward, we discussed whether they should be published on The New Yorker’s Web site. I told him that it was his decision. He said to put them online.
He was driven by the same motive that led him to talk to me for the first time, a year earlier. He wanted the public to know what he had gone through, so that nobody else would have to endure the same ordeals. His willingness to tell his story publicly—and his ability to recount it with great insight—ultimately helped persuade Mayor Bill de Blasio to try to reform the city’s court system and end the sort of excessive delays that kept him in jail for so long.
Browder’s story also caught the attention of Rand Paul, who began talking about him on the campaign trail. Jay Z met with Browder after watching the videos. Rosie O’Donnell invited him on “The View” last year and recently had him over for dinner. Browder could be a very private person, and he told almost nobody about meeting O’Donnell or Jay Z. However, in a picture he took alongside Jay Z, who draped an arm around his shoulders, Browder looked euphoric.
Last Monday, Prestia, who had filed a lawsuit on Browder’s behalf against the city, noticed that Browder had put up a couple of odd posts on Facebook. When Prestia sent him a text message, asking what was going on, Browder insisted he was O.K. “Are you sure everything is cool?” Prestia wrote. Browder replied: “Yea I’m alright thanks man.” The two spoke on Wednesday, and Browder did seem fine. On Saturday afternoon, Prestia got a call from Browder’s mother: he had committed suicide…..
The photo of Kalief Browder is a screen shot of an ABC7 broadcast that was then put through WLA’s art process.