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Kamala Harris Talks Cops & Race….Start of Prison Terms Delayed for LASD 7….LAT Asks What Should Replace Men’s Central Jail….Jerry Brown Talks Criminal Justice….a Juvie Sex Scandal in Idaho….& More

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AT SWEARING IN AG KAMALA HARRIS ENTERS NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE AND POLICE SHOOTINGS

Despite the trouble that NY Mayor Bill de Blasio has been having for his remarks regarding the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris waded fearlessly into the national discussion regarding race and law enforcement practices in the speech she gave following her swearing in for her second term. Considered a bright political star on the rise, the topic was one of many that Harris discussed in her post-swearing in address.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

California’s attorney general stepped into the national debate over the recent slayings of unarmed civilians by police on Monday, calling for a review by her agency and promising to lead a public dialogue.

Kamala Harris, the first minority to hold the state’s highest law enforcement office, made the pledge as she was sworn in to a second and final term in the office she now holds. However, she is widely expected to be preparing for a run for governor or the U.S. Senate.

“As law enforcement leaders, we must confront this crisis of confidence,” Harris said. “We must acknowledge that too many have felt the sting of injustice.”

She ordered a review within 90 days of how her Department of Justice trains special agents on bias and the use of force. Harris also said she will work with the state’s law enforcement agencies and communities in coming months to strengthen mutual trust.

Her comments come after the killings of two unarmed black men this summer by white police officers in Missouri and in New York.

Harris, a Democrat, is the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and a mother from India. She referred to herself in her inaugural speech as “a daughter of Brown vs. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”

Harris said that as a career prosecutor, she has learned “one central truth: the public and law enforcement need each other to keep our communities safe.”


START OF PRISON TERMS DELAYED FOR 7 FORMER LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS CONVICTED OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

The six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last July of obstruction of justice in connection with their interference in an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption by members of the LASD were originally directed to surrender on January 2, 2015, to begin their respective prison sentences.

Deputy James Sexton, who was tried twice before being convicted of similar charges last September, was to have surrendered on February 16.

Now, it seems, all seven of the surrender dates have been postponed pending the response of the The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to the seven’s various applications for bond—in other words, bail.

This has to do with the fact that each of the seven have appealed their convictions. Thus if the Ninth Circuit grants any of the bond applications, it will be a signal that the court means to at least hear that particular appeal.

As to what the odds are that the appellate court will decide to listen to any or all of the appeals….none of the attorneys, nor any of the feds, are willing to hazard a prediction.

“But not even the prosecutors want anyone to start a sentence, then be yanked out,” said a source close to the cases.

And so the surrender dates are delayed while everyone waits.

More news as we know it.


YES, YES, EVERYONE AGREES THAT LA COUNTY’S DREADFUL MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL MUST BE REPLACED. BUT REPLACED WITH WHAT? A DUMB OR A SMART PLAN? HMMMMM. TOUGH ONE.

Over the weekend, the LA Times editorial board made the point rather eloqently that the question isn’t whether or not Men’s Central Jail should be replaced; the question is whether the replacement should be big and expensive? Or something, say, smaller, smarter, and less costly.

As it stands now, the board is committed to a $2 billion plan that, as the Times points out, was one “among several presented by Vanir Construction Management Inc., a firm in the business of building such facilities. The price tag makes the construction project the most expensive in county history.”

Moreover the plan, writes the LAT board, “remains rooted in questionable estimates and bygone practices.” It completely ignores the research-backed conclusions of a 2011 jail population study by the Vera Institute—which the board commissioned—showing ways that MCJ’s population could be safely and appropriately reduced, thus requiring a smaller replacement facility.

Nearly everything in the editorial is something that the Times—and we at WLA—have said before, multiple times. But, unfortunately, it bears repeating….and repeating…for as long it takes the LA County Board of Supervisors to hear it and act accordingly.

Here’s a clip from the Times’ essay:

In pushing forward with a new jail that could keep as many people locked up as were, say, two years ago, the Board of Supervisors is in effect making an astounding policy statement: The current jail population is the correct one, despite the theoretical embrace of mental health diversion, the ability to authorize some no-bail, pretrial releases, and the recent reduction of sentences for some crimes. And the $2 billion — or perhaps twice that, when including bond interest — should all be spent on incarceration rather than more effective, and cost-effective, alternatives.

Such a statement is both incorrect and potentially self-fulfilling: If they build a jail, they will fill it. In other words, the supervisors won’t have the incentive — or the money — to build out the county’s capacity for more just, more efficient and more effective community-based programs to end the cycle of recidivism.

Supporters of the Vanir plan point out that Men’s Central Jail is so over-capacity that inmates serve only 20% to 40% of their sentences. They argue that the space freed up by mental health diversion and all the other ways of reducing the jail population should be used to ensure that inmates serve their full time. But even if they do, the potential reductions would outpace the need for jail space.

Men’s Central Jail should be demolished. But again, replaced with what? A jail that will house just as many people as the current one, or a scaled down version that permits smarter use of limited resources?

And, yes, like the Times, we once again vote for the latter—the smart plan—over the non-research-based, dumb and insanely expensive model. Silly us.


GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN’S LATEST WORD ON CALIFORNIA’S SYSTEM OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Among the six or so major topics that Jerry Brown emphasized in his State of the State speech following his swearing in on Monday morning to his fourth term as governor, was the issue of whom the state of California locks up, and for how long. For your reading pleasure, here is the text of that section of his speech:

Another major state responsibility is our system of crime and punishment. And here too, I will refer to my father’s 1959 address. He worried then about California’s “dangerously overcrowded prisons.” He talked about identifying “those prisoners who should never be released to prey again on an innocent public,” but he also said, “we should also determine whether some prisoners are now kept confined after punishment has served its purpose.”

We face these same questions today: what purposes should punishment serve and for how long should a person be confined to jail or prison – for a few days, a few years or for life?

In response to a large increase in crimes beginning in the 1970s, the Legislature and the people – through ballot initiatives – dramatically lengthened sentences and added a host of new crimes and penalty enhancements. Today, California’s legal codes contain more than 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements, an arcane and complex mix that only the most exquisitely trained specialist can fathom. And funding has grown proportionately: during the 1970s we had 12 prisons holding fewer than 30,000 prisoners and corrections spending was only 3 percent of the budget; our system then grew to a peak of 34 prisons, with an inmate population of 173,000, eating up more than 10 percent of our budget dollars.

Four years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that our prisons were unconstitutionally overcrowded and imposed strict capacity limits, far below the number of inmates that were then being held.

Clearly, our system of crime and punishment had to be changed. And through the courts, the Legislature and the voters themselves, a number of far-reaching reforms have been enacted. The biggest reform is our realignment program, which places tens of thousands of lower-level offenders under county supervision. More recently, a federal three-judge panel ordered further measures to reduce prison overcrowding. And the voters, through Propositions 36 and 47, modified our criminal laws to reduce the scope of the Three Strikes law and change certain felonies into misdemeanors.

All these changes attempt to find less expensive, more compassionate and more effective ways to deal with crime. This is work that is as profoundly important as it is difficult, yet we must never cease in our efforts to assure liberty and justice for all. The task is complicated by our diversity and our divisions and, yes, by shocking disparities. Since time immemorial, humankind has known covetousness, envy and violence. That is why public safety and respect for law are both fundamental to a free society.


SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL IN IDAHO KIDS’ PRISON

Another case of kids behind bars being sexually victimized by staff, this time in Idaho. The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson has the story. Here’s a clip:

When a local nurse’s son was sent to the juvenile corrections center here at age 15, she was upset, but relieved that he would be away from drugs and gangs. The single mother said that the “night he went in, I felt bad, but I could sleep because he was safe.”

But within months, the head of security at the state juvenile corrections center in Nampa struck up a sexual relationship with the teenager, according to police reports. Julie McCormick admitted to having sex with him three times in 2012 while he was incarcerated, the reports said.

Ms. McCormick, 29 years old at the time, told detectives that she fell in love with the boy nearly half her age. She pleaded guilty in 2013 to lewd conduct with the minor and was sentenced to five to 20 years in prison in 2014. A lawyer who represented Ms. McCormick declined to comment.

“You hear about the Boy Scouts, you hear about the Catholic Church—those kids can walk away from it,” said his mother. “My son couldn’t.”

The scandal is an instance of an issue plaguing juvenile facilities nationwide.


RESEARCHER ON A MISSION FINDS MORE THAN 50 GRAVES OF KIDS WHO DIED—MANY KILLED—AT OLD FLORIDA REFORM SCHOOL

Ben Montgomery writes for the Tampa Bay Times a fascinating and chilling tale about kids who came to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, often for minor infractions, and ended up dead. Now a university researcher is determined to put things right 80 years later, despite opposition. Here’s a clip:

By the time she came for them and brought them up from the earth and spread them on tables in a basement lab on Maple Drive in Tampa, they were in hundreds of pieces, some as small as a fingernail. All that remained of some of them could fit inside a lunch box.

It took imagination to remember that they were boys once, before their childhoods ran out at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, before they were buried without the dignity of headstones, before they were lost to time. All 55 of them were, in the cold language of forensics, unidentified human remains.

Erin Kimmerle wanted to give them their names back.

She’d been working 14-hour days through January, February and March, stressing about finding time for teaching and advising on top of leading this massive project. She’d been missing her family, too. When her cell phone rang, the word BABE popped onto the screen — Mike, her husband. “Hey, babe,” she’d sing, and walk out of earshot to get updates on school activities and runny noses.

When she started the project in 2012, her goal had been to map the cemetery on the reform school campus so that family would know where their relatives were buried. It would take a year, tops. But when ground penetrating radar showed 50 graves, 19 more than the state had said, and when families wanted the remains of their boys back, it became a mission.

Now she was in her third year. Now she had 55 sets of remains. Now she was trying to piece the boys back together, bone fragment by bone fragment, to figure out who they were and, she hoped, how they died.

She needed the bones to speak.


WHEN JUDICIAL DETACHMENT ISN’T ENOUGH

A heartbreaking first-person tale for the Marshall Project in which a judge ponders the value of empathy versus that of the law in the case of a disturbed young veteran he had recently sentenced.

Here’s how it opens:

Alone at my chambers desk late in the day, I find myself staring blankly at Tyler’s death notice in the online Billings Gazette, and I am stunned. There are many who come to spend a few trial days in my courtroom and remain opaque and unreadable. This was never the case with Tyler, who, from the first, I had seen as wearing both his admirable strengths and his pitiable weaknesses as if they were medals on display. The notice’s bland statement that this 27-year-old man had “passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2014” strikes me as so distant, so bloodless, so inadequate…

Eventually my eyes drift to the daily “Hot Topics” banner at the top of the page where references to child molestation and prison sentences scroll side-by-side. Linking to current news stories, it turns out these headlines have nothing at all to do with Tyler. Still, it somehow seems apt that they have been woven into the fabric of this page where I have landed in search of confirmation of what has been so hard for me to take in.

The last I’d seen Tyler Williams was just before Thanksgiving when he appeared in my Seattle courtroom for the setting of a post-conviction appeal bond. Upon posting a modest $10,000 security, he would be free of the obligation to surrender in two weeks to begin serving the 15-month prison term I had ordered. Much of our discussion that day centered on whether it would be wiser to get the incarceration out of the way while his life was lacking in direction or to postpone it in the hopes that an appeal might be successful.

While trying to helpfully explain his options, I made it clear that I could not advise him from the bench on legal matters – such as whether I had committed reversible error from which he might benefit on appeal. But, characteristically, I didn’t hesitate to offer a recommendation of Phil Klay’s “Redeployment,” which had won the National Book Award for fiction the previous day. Consciously prodding him to look beyond his depressed and depressing present, I was pleased when Tyler asked me to repeat the author’s name and seemingly intended to follow through.

I wish he had. Reading it might have brought him to a deeper realization that he was not alone in struggling with the after-effects of his honorable military service in Iraq. As difficult as the soldiers in Klay’s stories find being sent to Iraq, many of them – like Tyler – find it even tougher when it comes time to separate from the “band of brothers” and be deployed back home. As former Marine Lieutenant Klay has observed, the experience of war is “too strange to be processed alone.

”But now Tyler was dead, having met his end in a manner quintessentially and chillingly alone.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Realignment | 6 Comments »

Jumpstarting Foster Care Reform, Kamala Harris’ New Initiative, the NYPD Protest, Indigent Defense, and Homeboy

January 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY RESUSCITATE DCFS REFORM PUSH

The two recently-elected LA County Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, help form a new majority focused on implementing foster care reforms recommended by a blue ribbon panel last April. Two critical reforms in particular have hit a wall after the approval of all 42 recommendations last year: the creation of a child welfare czar, and boosting the use of county “Medical Hub” clinics that provide medical and mental health screenings for foster kids as a means of detecting abuse and neglect.

Kuehl and Solis, joined by Supervisor Don Knabe, are also in favor of hiring more social workers to offset current DCFS workers’ unmanageable caseloads.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he hopes the arrival of the two new supervisors will rebuild the board’s lost momentum.

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

The board majority said they want to look again at recommendations made by a blue-ribbon commission that includes proposals to expand the use of county clinics for medical assessments of abused and neglected children and to appoint a child-welfare “czar” to coordinate services across departmental lines.

They are even considering going beyond the commission’s recommendations to significantly increase the number of social workers and finally erase long-standing disparities in the quality of service provided in different regions of the county. Although the supervisors say they won’t commit to a specific hiring target, their deliberations will occur at the same time the social workers union is pushing to hire 450 more staffers in 2015 — a proposal that would cost $60 million.

Recently elected Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis are among those saying the additional hiring must be reconsidered. Their predecessors, reluctant to add new costs, had argued that the Department of Children and Family Services needed only to better use the roughly 7,500 employees and $1.5-billion budget it already has.

“I’ve said all along that the caseloads are so high that it is virtually impossible for social workers to say that they’ve investigated nearly every possibility in a child’s case,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl and Solis, who campaigned with financial support from the social workers union, have joined hold-over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to call for a fresh review of dozens of recommendations introduced a year ago by a blue-ribbon commission appointed in the aftermath of the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez…

In recent interviews, Supervisor Don Knabe joined Kuehl and Solis to say the county should consider adding more social workers. Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich declined to state their positions on new hiring, but aides to Antonovich said he would be willing to examine the proposal.

“Los Angeles County social workers have caseloads that are among the highest in the nation; they need our support,” Solis said. “We need to look at how they’re deployed, trained, supervised and equipped. Hiring more social workers is one of the options that needs to be in the mix for consideration.”

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF PROTECTING KIDS…

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is expected to announce the creation of a new state Department of Justice bureau to combat crimes against kids. The new bureau will target the exploitation of foster kids, child sex trafficking, child labor, as well as truancy.

AP’s Don Thompson has more on Harris’ initiative. Here’s a clip:

She plans to announce during her swearing-in Monday that she is creating a bureau within the state Department of Justice that will focus on crimes against children.

Some of its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy and the trafficking of young women for sex, domestic labor or sweat shops.

The bureau also will tackle what Harris says are “tragically flawed” foster care and adoption systems and fight discrimination in schools, such as bullying.

“In the coming term, we’re going to double down. We’re going to use the power of this office to lift up the next generation of Californians,” Harris said in remarks prepared for her inauguration speech. She added later that, “We can’t keep letting down our most vulnerable children today, then lock them up tomorrow and expect a different outcome next week.”


A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE NYPD PROTEST AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

Protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alleged disloyalty to law enforcement, the New York Police Department slowed down work considerably, ticketing and arresting people “only when they have to.” Because of cops’ refusal to make arrests or hand out tickets for minor infractions, parking and traffic violations dropped 92% and 94% respectively, summonses went down 94% and overall arrests dropped a whopping 66%.

The Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi has an interesting alternate take on the NYPD’s “work stoppage.” Taibbi says that while not the aim of the NYPD officers, the protest has put a spotlight on the police-citizen interactions—costly tickets, summonses, and arrests for quality-of-life offenses—that inflame communities and pad the city’s pockets. Here are some clips:

First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t “have to.”

It’s incredibly ironic that the police have chosen to abandon quality-of-life actions like public urination tickets and open-container violations, because it’s precisely these types of interactions that are at the heart of the Broken Windows polices that so infuriate residents of so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods.

[SNIP]

I’ve met more than a few police in the last few years who’ve complained vigorously about things like the “empty the pad” policies in some precincts, where officers were/are told by superiors to fill predetermined summons quotas every month.

It would be amazing if this NYPD protest somehow brought parties on all sides to a place where we could all agree that policing should just go back to a policy of officers arresting people “when they have to.”

Because it’s wrong to put law enforcement in the position of having to make up for budget shortfalls with parking tickets, and it’s even more wrong to ask its officers to soak already cash-strapped residents of hot spot neighborhoods with mountains of summonses as part of a some stats-based crime-reduction strategy.


FOUR CRITICAL THINGS THE INCOMING US ATTORNEY GENERAL MUST KNOW ABOUT THE STATE OF INDIGENT DEFENSE

Across the country, poor defendants guaranteed public legal counsel, receive a less than adequate defense—sometimes, no defense at all.

Current US Attorney General Eric Holder has made considerable efforts to reform the indigent defense system, increasing funding and grants for public counsel, holding a 50-state symposium, and creating the Access to Justice initiative.

The Marshall Project’s David Carroll applauds Holder’s efforts, but says that more must be done by the next Attorney General.

Carroll shares four specific things the next AG must know to accomplish lasting change. Here are the first two:

#1. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … judges do.

Though the speeches of Attorney General Holder and the other high-level DOJ officials define the problems perfectly in speech after speech, the DOJ most often talks about the crisis before the public defense community or at indigent defense summits hosted by groups like the American Bar Association. Those organizations and communities already know that the right to counsel is eroding in America. Judges do not.

The most prevalent manner for delivering indigent defense services in the United States is for a private attorney to handle an unlimited number of cases for a single flat fee, under contract to the judge presiding over the lawyer’s cases. (We estimate flat fee contracts are used in 64 percent of all counties). Generally, all trial expenses (experts, investigators, etc.) must be paid out of the same flat fee, meaning the lawyer’s take-home pay is depleted for seeking outside assistance. When judges are allowed to hand-select defense counsel in this manner, the judiciary is interfering with a lawyer’s ability to make independent decisions.

Judges need to hear that the independence of the defense function is not just a good idea – it is the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “independence of counsel” is “constitutionally protected,” and that “[g]overnment violates the right to effective assistance when it interferes in certain ways with the ability of counsel to make independent decisions about how to conduct the defense.” A lawyer operating under a flat fee contract to a judge necessarily takes into his consideration what must be done to please the court in order to get his next contract, instead of operating solely in the interests of his client. Judges must stop flat-fee contracting and hand-selecting attorneys, and the next Attorney General needs to be the one leading the call.

#2. The public defense community does not need to hear from you … prosecutors do.

Most people may be shocked to know that tens of thousands of poor people are convicted, and serve jail time, every year without ever having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Every single one of those defendants had a right to a public lawyer, but in many of those courts, there may not even have been a defense lawyer in the courtroom. The Sixth Amendment Center calls them “no counsel courts”…

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES’ STEVE LOPEZ VISITS HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez introduces us to Rudy Martinez, a security guard for Homeboy Industries, who, after spending the majority of his adult years in lock-up, found his way to Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Ind., and a new perspective on life.

Lopez also tells of how it came about that Father Greg agreed to meet Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME in Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, in hope of engaging the Pope in mutual projects to change the world.

Here’s a clip from Rudy’s story:

“When I first went to county jail, it was like an accomplishment. Yeah, a badge of honor. And then I made it to the Big House,” said Martinez, who figures he’s spent more than half his adult life behind bars. And at a certain point, he began to wise up a little.

“It was 2012, I was sitting in my cell in Susanville, looking out the window, thinking about my future,” Martinez said.

And what did you see, I asked him.

“Emptiness. I had this moment of clarity, and I said, ‘Rudy, is this what you want to do with your life?’”

His answer was no. But he wasn’t out long before he got nabbed for driving without a license. There he was again, caged up and down on himself. And he decided the first thing he was going to do when he got out was go see this Father Greg guy he’d heard about. He’ll hook you up with a job, Martinez was told. That was the word.

“I came here not knowing what it was about,” said Martinez, who soon found that jobs are not handed out like candy canes. They’d give you an opportunity, yes. But you had to decide you were ready to make big changes and stay committed for 18 months.

Martinez is 14 months into it, determined to make it the rest of the way, stay out of trouble after that and go to work somewhere, preferably at Homeboy.

“I started going to classes,” he said. “Anger management, substance abuse, parenting, therapy. At first I was going to them because I had to go to them. But as time when on, I started going because I wanted to go and because it was making me feel better inside.

“There was a moment when I realized this was life. It’s spending time with family, being a productive member of society, paying taxes, pushing your kid on a swing.”

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, Prosecutors, Public Defender | No Comments »

Ezell Ford Autopsy Released Showing 3 Shots, 1 in Back

December 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The autopsy report for Ezell Ford’s death was released Monday after months of delay. It showed that Ford, 25,
a mentally ill black man, was shot three times, once in the back, once in the side of his abdomen, with a third, non-fatal wound in his right arm. The shot in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” according to the coroner’s office, which suggested that the shot was fired at very close range.

Ford was killed on the evening of August 11, in the Florence area of South LA, by two LAPD officers from the department’s Newton Division gang detail. The shooting took place a few days after teenager Michael Brown had been been shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by Ferguson PD officer Darrin Wilson. The proximity of the two events added to the growing tension over the issue of fatal police shootings this past summer that resulted in multiple protests in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the nation.

LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who both fired shots, reported that Ford was trying to remove the service weapon from the holster of one of the officers. It was not clear why Ezell was stopped by the officers, and what triggered the physical altercation.

According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the information in the just-released coroner’s report does not conflict with the two officers’ account of the shooting.

Although the report has been complete for months, Beck asked that it be withheld pending further LAPD investigation into the shooting, in order to avoid the risk that the information contained in the report would taint the account of witnesses to the events of August 11. (LAPD investigators were, at the time, having trouble getting community witnesses to come forward and cooperate.)

Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, set a time clock on the report’s release, promising that it would be made public before the end of the year—-hence its public distribution on Monday.

“Transparency is key to the trust between LAPD and the people they serve,” said Garcetti in a statement Monday, adding that a full and impartial investigation was still ongoing. “As we end 2014″ he said, “I am proud that Los Angeles is home to the finest police officers in the nation, and my heart continues to go out to the grieving family.”

Chief Beck promised to “find out the truth of what happened that August night.”

Ford’s family has filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit.

For further information see accounts from Kate Mather and Richard Winton at the LA Times. The KPCC news staff has a series of ongoing updates on the story.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, we’re still dark. But breaking news, is breaking news.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LAPD, law enforcement, Police, race | 60 Comments »

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year

December 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Jason Lee singing John Prine’s classic “Christmas in Prison”


WitnessLA Will be dark until Monday, January 5 (unless there’s breaking news that we simply cannot ignore).
So we’ll see you bright and early Monday morning in 2015. Until then, we hope your days are full and happy ones.

Here’s some music to help:

A song from the Living Sisters’ terrific new holiday album, “Harmony Is Real : Songs For A Happy Holiday.”

The Temptations wonderful version of Silent Night.

And then two that we seem to post every year, just because….


The Pogues doing their wonderful Fairytale of New York

And finally Rufus Wainwright singing Minuit Chrétiens acapella as his famous mother Kate McGarrigle looks on with utter delight at her son, at this, her last concert before her death of cancer, one month and 5 days later.

Posted in Life in general | 4 Comments »

Michael Brown: “Deader than a Roadkill Dog”….Police Unions’ Open Letters: Violence Against Cops….Prosecutors’ PowerPoint Misbehavior…and More

December 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

A PARODY SONG ABOUT THE DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN PERFORMED AT LAPD RETIREE’S DINNER

While inflammatory language launched at police officers is being justifiably slammed, a parody song about Michael Brown’s death performed at a retired LAPD officer’s dinner party at the Glendale Elks Lodge last Monday was caught on video and leaked to TMZ.

The song, a play on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce, includes lyrics like, “”Michael Brown learned a lesson, about a messin’ with a bad police man, and he’s bad, bad Michael Brown, baddest thug in the whole darn town…” and “Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese, his brain was splattered on the floor.”

According to TMZ, private investigator Gary Fishell wrote and performed the parody song. Here’s a clip from the original story:

Singer Gary Fishell is a P.I. who once worked as an investigator for the Federal Government. His lawyer tells TMZ, Fishell now realizes the song was “off color and in poor taste.” The lawyer adds, “He’s a goofball who writes funny songs.” We asked why Fishell would sing this in a room full of cops, and the lawyer replied, “He thought the room would get a kick out of it.”

Joe Myers tells TMZ, “How can I dictate what he [Fishell] says in a song?” Myers goes on, “This is America. We can say what we want. This is a free America.” Myers adds … he’s done this as an annual event for decades and has raised a lot of money for charity.

Chief Charlie Beck took to Twitter to address the issue: “I am aware of the video released via TMZ. Like many of you, I find it offensive & absurd. It does not reflect the values of the #LAPD. I have directed our Professional Standards Bureau to look into this & determine if any active department employees were involved.”

KPCC has more on the incident. Here’s a clip:

Investigators are looking into whether any current LAPD officers attended the Dec. 15 party, which was thrown by a retired LAPD official at an Elks Lodge in Glendale.

“Simply being present at an event obviously does not constitute misconduct,” said LAPD officer Drake Madison.

[SNIP]

In a written statement, the LAPD echoed Beck’s sentiments and called the performance “stunningly offensive and absurd,” while noting that it was not a department-sponsored event. Madison said the song was performed by a former detective who retired from the force in 2007. The department does not believe that the event raised any money for the LAPD.

NOTE: The small headline mistakenly read that the song was performed at an “LASD Retiree’s Dinner,” when it was an LAPD dinner. Many apologies for that error!


CALIFORNIA LAW ENFORCEMENT UNIONS’ NUANCED RESPONCES TO MURDERS OF NYPD OFFICERS

In the wake of murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu over the weekend, California law enforcement groups are reaching for a more balanced way to approach a complex issue.

President of Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), Brian Moriguchi, urges the public and local officials to work with law enforcement agencies to create real reform, while he calls for an end to racially charged violence against rank-and-file law enforcement officers. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA) is outraged by the recent murders of police officers throughout this country. These attacks on our nation’s police officers are directly and indirectly related to the racial tensions fueled by anti-police groups and the racial agendas of select politicians and race mongers.

Our jobs as police officers are dangerous enough without incitement to violence against officers by those with agendas and racial bias. We should be advocating for change, not violence. We should be advocating for accountability, not retribution. Police officers are human beings and as human beings, we are not perfect. But the vast majority of police officers are honest, hard-working professionals who place themselves in harm’s way to protect people, even those who despise them. They don’t deserve the hostility levied against them. Advocating violence is not the solution.

The recent violence at protests and the execution of officers are a result of irresponsible leadership at the national and local level. We, as a society, need to work together to resolve racial issues and strained relationships with the police and our government. Both community members and the police need to join together to reform police policies and accountability to ensure the highest level of conduct by our officers.

The three presidents of the Oakland Police Officers Association, the San Jose Police Officers Association, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association also wrote an open letter to Bay Area residents. Here’s a clip:

The protests that followed the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York are a legitimate expression of our First Amendment traditions. The reaction is not unexpected but the vilification of front-line public servants by some politicians and media pundits has been demoralizing and unjust. Public safety in the Bay Area and the nation will be a subject of major debate going forward and we will each participate vigorously in that debate.

But what few have acknowledged until now is that too often the legitimate expression of views has devolved into vilification and violence against this nation’s front-line public safety servants. Demonstrators in New York chanted in unison: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” That was disgraceful…

The overwhelming majority of our members—who represent the most diverse police departments in the nation—bear such malice in dignified silence. Even following the murder of three of their own, our officers continue with their duty, answer your calls, respond to your crises, fulfill their mission, and honor their commitment to the people of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

In short, they will always be there when you need them. In return, as their “voices” we simply ask that you join them in a cooperative effort to keep our streets safe, and to engage in constructive dialogue that calls for a common sense approach to very complex issues.


PROBLEMATIC POWERPOINT VISUALS BY PROSECUTORS: A NEW FORM OF MISCONDUCT

In the past, we at WLA have pointed out a number of stories of prosecutorial misconduct involving breaches such as withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, coercing witnesses, and perjury.

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong tells of a relatively new form of prosecutorial misbehavior that has been cropping up in courts nationwide: inflammatory PowerPoint slides. The most common infraction involves strategically placing the word “guilty” in red, all-caps letters across a picture of the defendant. Prosecutors are expected to leave their opinions about the case at the door, and instead present evidence to make their points.

Here are some clips from Armstrong’s story, but jump over to the original for the rest (including photos of the PowerPoint slides):

At least 10 times in the last two years, US courts have reversed a criminal conviction because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint. In even more cases, an appellate court has taken note of such misconduct while upholding the conviction anyway or while reversing on other grounds (as in the case of Sergey Fedoruk). Legal watchdogs have long asserted that prosecutors have plenty of ways to quietly put their thumb on the scales of justice —such as concealing exculpatory evidence, eliminating jury-pool members based on race, and so on. Now they can add another category: prosecution by PowerPoint. “It’s the classic ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’” said Eric Broman, a Seattle attorney who focuses on criminal appeals. “Until the courts say where the boundaries are, prosecutors will continue to test the boundaries.”

Perhaps the most common misuse of what some legal scholars call “visual advocacy” is the emblazoning of the word “Guilty” across a defendant’s photo. Almost always the letters are red—the “color of blood and the color used to denote losses,” as one court wrote.

[SNIP]

The use of sophisticated visuals in the courtroom has boomed in recent years, thanks to research on the power of show-and-tell. DecisionQuest, a trial consulting firm, tells lawyers that when they give jurors information verbally, only 10 percent of them retain it after three days. But if the lawyers provide that information visually as well, juror retention zooms to 65 percent. Lawyers in both civil and criminal cases have seized upon this advantage, integrating visuals ranging from simple slides to animated graphics into their courtroom presentations. In one civil case in Los Angeles County, a plaintiff spent $60,000 on a PowerPoint slide show.


STATES MOVING TO HELP EX-OFFENDERS HAVE BETTER OUTCOMES, BUT MORE COULD BE DONE TO CUT COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

A new Vera Institute report takes a look at what reforms states have adopted in the last five years to minimize the crippling secondary consequences of incarceration on people attempting to reenter their communities and families. (These consequences include difficulties obtaining employment, housing, education, the ability to vote, and more.) The report shows that while the majority of states (41) have taken 155 legislative steps to alleviate post-incarceration penalties, much more can be done to improve outcomes for former inmates and their families (and thus, reduce recidivism).

California has passed 10 reforms, including legislation to expand the pool of people with misdemeanors who are eligible for expungement, and legislation to establish wraparound services for mentally ill parolees at risk of being homeless.

Here’s a clip from the summary:

While efforts to remove or alleviate the impact of collateral consequences may indicate a broader shift in how the criminal justice system views law-breakers, vast numbers of post-punishment penalties remain in place and a closer look at recent legislation suggests that efforts do not go far enough. In particular:

* Reforms are narrow in scope;

* Relief mechanisms are not easily accessible;

* Waiting periods are long in many cases; and

* New rules restricting third-party use of criminal history are difficult to enforce.

Policymakers interested in promoting safer communities and better outcomes for justice-involved people and their families would do well to pursue sustainable and comprehensive reforms that:

* Promote the full restoration of rights and status as close as possible to sentence completion;

* Apply remedies to more people;

* Make remedies easier to access; and

* Establish clear standards for, and offer incentives to, third-party decision makers (e.g. landlords, employers, college admissions officers, etc.).

Posted in Charlie Beck, Courts, law enforcement, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 45 Comments »

Political Words & the Murder of NY Cops….Unequal Justice?…Strip Searching Kids

December 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



AN ARRAY OF REACTIONS TO THE MURDERS OF NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICERS RAMOS AND WENJIAN

The terrible and heartbreaking news of the murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on Saturday continues to produce grief around the nation. We all now know that 32-year-old Liu was married three months ago, and that he was passionate about his choice to be a cop. We also know that Officer Ramos, 40, left behind two sons, and that the youngest is 13 years old. We know too that Officer Ramos loved the Mets, and was a chaplain-in-training.

In addition to sorrow, the execution of Ramos and Liu by the clearly disturbed 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley has released a storm of commentary about—among other things—who other than Brinsley is at fault for the murders. Here is some of the latest, along with clips:

Former NYPD Police Commissioner Howard Safir wrote in TIME that police bashing is the worst he’s seen it in 45 years.

When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will never know what was in the mind of Brinsley when he shot officers Ramos and Liu. However we do know that he has seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest officials in the land.

We should all be concerned about the reaction our police officers will have. I have seen times when police bashing has resulted in officers doing the minimum necessary to complete their tours and go home safely to their families.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about the importance of treating police officers as individuals:

Following an outrageous murder of two policemen who seem to have been good cops, it’s emotionally understandable that most people nod along to statements about NYPD officers being “New York’s Finest.” There are a lot of good cops in New York City. There are, as well, a lot of bad cops in the force of 34,500. People who hate all police officers because some act badly are being prejudiced and irrational. It is also irrational to extol everyone who wears an NYPD uniform despite the fact that some of them abandon whistleblowing colleagues when they need backup, accost an innocent kid with racial slurs and physical threats, retaliate against a fellow officer who exposes systemic misbehavior by trying to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or assault women with pepper spray for no reason. Unions that fight to keep even misbehaving officers from being fired bear some responsibility for the reputation that the NYPD has among its critics, as does every cop that observes misbehavior by colleagues but stays silent. Only by distinguishing among police officers—praising the ones who do their jobs honorably and capably, and disciplining or firing the ones who fall short—can the proposition that the profession is worthy of respect be rationally defended.

At the Washington Post Eugene Robinson writes that protesters against police brutality did not cause the shooting of Officers Ramos and Liu.

It is absurd to have to say this, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, activist Al Sharpton and President Obama are in no way responsible for the coldblooded assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday. Nor do the tens of thousands of Americans who have demonstrated against police brutality in recent weeks bear any measure of blame.

A disturbed career criminal named Ismaaiyl Brinsley committed this unspeakable atrocity by himself, amid a spree of insane mayhem: Earlier in the day, he shot and critically wounded a woman he had been seeing; later, on a subway platform, he shot and killed himself.

[SNIP]

Not for the first time, one of the loudest and least temperate voices has been that of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “I don’t care how you want to describe it, that’s what those protests are all about.”

No, no, no. The demonstrations sparked by the exoneration of the officers who killed Brown and Garner were pro-accountability, not anti-police. As I’ve pointed out many times, no one better appreciates the need for an active, engaged police presence than residents of high-crime neighborhoods. But nobody should be expected to welcome policing that treats whole communities as guilty until proved innocent — or a justice system that considers black and brown lives disposable.

New York police officials and union leaders should explain this to the officers who bitterly turned their backs on de Blasio — their commander in chief — as he arrived to pay his respects to slain policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Yet Ed Mullins, president of the police sergeants’ union, made this inflammatory charge: “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands.” And Ray Kelly, a former New York police commissioner, accused de Blasio of running an “anti-police” mayoral campaign and said there was a “firestorm” of anger within the department over remarks de Blasio made regarding Garner’s death.

Jesse Walker at libertarian-leaning Reason Magazine expresses a similar point but from a different angle.

Pat Lynch, the combative chief of the city’s biggest police union, blamed Liu and Ramos’ deaths on “those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest,” then declared that the “blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”

I don’t think the mayor’s office is actually on the steps. But you get what the man is saying.

[SNIP]

Where exactly do you draw the line? If you’re really intent on blaming other people for Brinsley’s crimes, how far are you going to take that? If any piece of speech played a role in directing Brinsley’s anger, it was the cell phone video of Officer Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. If it weren’t for that recording, hardly anyone would know Garner’s name. But much as Pat Lynch might love to blame that video for last weekend’s killings, he probably knows that any argument to that effect would open a can of worms. The videographer, after all, was simply recording events; the man whose actions made the video newsworthy was Pantaleo. Since Lynch is intent on arguing that Pantaleo isn’t even responsible for the slaying he did commit, I doubt he’d want to risk linking him to any slayings committed by someone else.

No: People like Lynch want to keep our focus on their foes. Their baseless accusations are tools in a political war, and they’re a tool we’ve seen politicians use before. As I once wrote, it lets them discredit mainstream as well as radical political opponents….

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway is not hopeful that the murders of the officers will bring productive debate.

Unfortunately, I can already see from much of the online reaction to yesterday’s tragedy that meaningful debate is the exact opposite of what is likely to occur. Much like the Brown shooting and the Garner death, and the Grand Jury proceedings that occurred in their wake, quickly became politicized, the deaths of these two officers shot in cold blood will be exploited by people with their own political and power agendas. It is, sadly, the way things work in this country any more.

Before that starts, though, I hope that someone stops to remember the families of these two men, as well as the tens of thousands of members of the NYPD and other officers around the country who will be impacted by this horrible tragedy. They didn’t deserve to die, and they don’t deserve to be turned into political symbols either.


THE MURDER, THE SENTENCE & THE POLITICIAN’S KID
On Saturday Oct 4, 2008, four San Diego State University students were jumped and stabbed by four strangers. One of the four, Luis Santos, was stabbed in the chest. The knife pierced Santos’ left lung and cut the left ventricle of his heart. Santos died of his wounds.

The four who started the fight fled the scene and drove north. Two of the four eventually dumped two knives in the Sacramento River. Those same two stripped off their bloody clothes, stuffed them in a bag, poured on kerosine and set the bundle on fire.

On December 2, 2008, two months after Santos’ death, the young men who had tossed the knives and burned the clothes were arrested. One of them was named Esteban Nuñez, the nineteen-year-old son of Fabian Nuñez, the powerful former California assembly speaker.

In May of 2010, the younger Nuñez pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea deal. In June 2010, Nuñez was sentenced to 16 years in state prison.

On January 2, 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last day in office, the then governor announced that he had commuted Nuñez’s sentence down to seven years. Nuñez is expected to be paroled in 2016.

So, was justice done? Did a good young man get a break? Or did the son of a powerful politician with powerful friends get a very different kind of justice than that which would be visited on most any other 19-year-old in this state who participated in a murder.

In a fascinating 2-part longread for the LA Times, Christopher Goffard lays out the facts of the matter so that the reader may draw his or her own conclusions.

Here is a clip:

At 5:29 p.m. that day, a surveillance camera captured Nuñez, Jett and Garcia at a 7-Eleven near Nuñez’s Sacramento apartment. Jett left the store with an empty Big Gulp cup. He carried it back to the car with $1.30 worth of gasoline from the Union 76 station next door.

News of the stabbing had been online since that morning, and they were determined to sever their ties to the crime. They drove a little ways and parked near Interstate 5 along the Sacramento River. They got out and climbed down to the water. It is a broad river, the banks thick with foliage, its shores sometimes populated by transients.

Jett carried the clothes he and Nuñez had worn in the fight. He dumped them in a pile, doused them with gas and set them ablaze. He said he watched Nuñez throw the knives in the river.

The clothes burned; the knives sank; the friends would keep quiet. What could link them to a stabbing 500 miles away?

Detectives made the connection within hours.

A young woman had approached them at the crime scene, hoping to help. Her cellphone held text messages from a friend named John Murray. He’d had to leave town fast, he wrote to her, because his buddies had been in a stabbing.

Reluctantly, Murray, 19, told detectives what he knew. He admitted that he’d partied with the Nuñez group that night, then drank himself to sleep, missed the fight and joined the group for the hasty car ride north. He had been at the river during the destruction of the evidence, and said he’d overheard Nuñez and Jett agree not to speak of this again. It would be a secret among friends.

Another tip came from Brianna Perez, 19, a cousin of Nuñez’s friend Rafael Garcia. The Nuñez group had stopped by her apartment near Fraternity Row before the stabbing. They had backpacks full of beer and a large bottle of Captain Morgan rum.

They were angry that they had been rebuffed when they tried to get into a frat party earlier, she said. They were cursing the frat boys. Some of them used knives to open their beer cans. She remembered some of them talking about burning down the frat house, about finding a fight.

“They were going to show them how they did it in Sac-town,” she would say. When they left her apartment, she worried that they were looking for “drama…”


STRIP SEARCHING CA KIDS BY THE CDCR?

Contraband—from drugs to cell phones—is a huge problem that the California prison system is struggling to control—without much success.

Dinky Manek Enty reports for the Chronicle of Social Change on a newly proposed policy aimed at the CDCR’s contraband dilemma that, while sensible on the surface, may need to be rethought, in that it involves kids.

Here’s a clip:

For the more than 2.7 million children in the United States with an incarcerated parent, the holiday season brings a poignant mixture of torment and joy. On the one hand, it may mean a rare opportunity to visit a parent behind bars—for some, the only visit of the year. But the love and connection a visit can bring are tempered by the fear of driving past razor wire, passing through metal detectors, and being subjected to the scrutiny of uniformed guards.

This holiday season, some children may face an even more disturbing intrusion. Under new regulations recently proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), visitors will be subjected to canine searches in an effort to prevent the flow of contraband such as drugs and cell phones into the state’s prisons. Should the search result in a positive alert (even a false positive, which research has shown comprise as many as 80 percent of all positive identifications), the visitor in question must submit to a strip search or else forgo the visit. The regulations make no exception for children, and existing CDCR paperwork regarding unclothed searches explicitly includes accompanying minors.

Statistics show clearly that kids of incarcerated parents already have a tough path to navigate. Let’s not add the trauma of possible strip searches to the mix.

Posted in CDCR, law enforcement, Police, race | 2 Comments »

Part 4: “Drugging Our Kids,” Compensating Wrongfully Convicted, Rehabilitating CA’s Female Lifers, and WLA on Deadline LA

December 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

YOLANDA’S STORY: RESCUED BY A GROUP HOME DOCTOR WHO FOUND A DIFFERENT WAY TO TREAT TRAUMA

In August, September, and November, we linked to parts one, two, and three of Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series for the San Jose Mercury uncovering the alarming overuse of psychotropic medications to treat California’s foster kids.

Part four introduces readers to Yolanda Vasquez, a former foster kid with a winning smile who was once so severely drugged by doctors, she almost lost the ability to talk, and functioned at the education level of a five-year-old at age thirteen.

Yolanda was eventually rescued by a therapist who wondered who Yolanda really was “under all the medicine,” and psychiatrist who broke from the pack and helped Yolanda and other foster kids wean off of their psychotropic medication cocktails. Dr. Edmund Levin, resident psychiatrist at the Lincoln Child Center group home, began a trial of guiding the kids under his care through tapering off of their medications, of which they were often taking six or seven kinds at once.

When Yolanda emerged from the fog, nearly all of her learning and speech impairments began to fade with the drugs. And a majority of the other kids in Levin’s small experiment, which cut medication use at Lincoln by 80%, had similarly positive results.

Here are some clips from the latest in de Sá’s series:

Before Lincoln, Yolanda remembers taking 10 pills, morning, midday and at night. Levin’s records showed over time she was on a mix of psychiatric drugs that would fill a medicine cabinet: three antipsychotics to help calm her. A mood stabilizer to even her out. A stimulant to help her concentrate. An anti-seizure medication and another drug to help treat the other drugs’ side effects. And finally a drug to help her sleep. She remembers their sizes, shapes, colors and bitter taste.

And each pill had its own set of side effects. Yolanda gained weight and became so lethargic that she couldn’t play basketball — the one thing that excited her through all her moves. She often fell asleep in class, even on field trips.

And when Yolanda was awake, she often was afraid. Like so many traumatized children, Yolanda not only felt invisible but constantly on edge, an emotional state clinicians describe as “fight or flight” mode.

[SNIP]

The tapering trials proceeded gradually, one medication at a time. All child care workers would have to agree to reduce medications in the case of every child. And drugs would be quickly added back if any serious problems arose.

Week by week, Levin eliminated one of Yolanda’s medications, then watched her progress and carefully decided whether to reduce another. Within a couple of months, she was down to one drug — guanfacine, a hypertension medication used to treat attention-deficit disorder. Weeks later, she was done.

[SNIP]

But as Levin reduced Yolanda’s medications, the breakthroughs slowly came — along with the trust. She started sharing some painful memories with Forster, dark moments about being abused, deep sadness about longing for family.

As the “sleepy, fuzzy weirdness” wore off, the more she opened up.

She laughed more, stayed awake in class and took on a new role caring for the younger kids at Lincoln. She finally learned to tell time by reading the clock on the wall in Forster’s office.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND REHAB PROGRAM FOR CALIFORNIA FEMALE LIFERS

A new program at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla for women serving life in prison is giving graduates a better chance at winning parole. The comprehensive program helps women realize the impact of their actions, overcome addiction, build relationships, and more. The program is the first of its kind: no other program has received the recognition of the Board of Parole Hearings, and it’s the first real state-funded effort at rehabilitating female lifers.

Sascha Khokha has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Take a listen to the full audio, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story:

“Denial is real. It’s very difficult to look at yourself, especially if you’ve done horrible things,” says inmate Candace MacDonald, who is serving a life sentence for breaking into a 73-year-old man’s home in Eureka and beating and smothering him to death in 1980.

She says she was high on methamphetamine when she committed the crime.

“Because of my addiction, I did things that I would never do. Then I hated the things I was doing, so I would do more drugs because I hated the things I was doing,” she adds. “It’s just a horrible cycle.”

MacDonald is now 64 years old, and one of a number of senior citizen inmates who’ve spent most of their adult lives in prison. Some now use walkers or wheelchairs. She says in all her years here, this is the first program that’s truly pushed her to work deeply on herself. It held a mirror to her, made her dig into painful truths.

“To be able to peel that away, and look deep down inside, and gain an understanding of what you have done, and how it affected all of the people around you,” she says. “The ripple effect is incredible.”

MacDonald has unsuccessfully presented her case before the parole board a number of times over the years, repeating the same testimony she gave at her trial. But after doing this program, she says, she was able to speak from her heart and truly admit her regret. Last week, the board recommended that she be released on parole.


AFTER A WRONGFUL CONVICTION, A STRUGGLE TO WIN COMPENSATION FROM THE STATE

Rafael Madrigal was convicted in 2000 of attempted murder and sentenced to 53-years-to-life in prison. The victim, who had been shot in the head during a drive-by, identified Madrigal in a photo lineup. Madrigal, a 25-year-old father of four with a good job, said he had never been in a gang, and had a time card indicating he had been at work during the shooting.

But neither cops nor jury bought his story, and he spent the next nine years in prison before an attorney convinced a judge Madrigal received inadequate legal defense. And now, five years later, despite strong evidence pointing to his innocence, Madrigal has received nothing in his fight for compensation, and has struggled to pick up where he left off before his wrongful conviction.

In California, exonerees receive far less than the guaranteed federal payment of $50,000 for every year behind bars. The yearly payment is capped at $36,500 (a far cry from Texas’ $80,000), and the process is complex. As of 2013, only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Note: late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process a bit easier.)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has Madrigal’s story, as well as a rundown of what it takes to receive compensation in California. Here’s a clip:

Madrigal walked out of Chino State Prison on Oct. 6, 2009, with the clothes on his back and $187. He was free to return to the life he’d left behind nine years earlier.

Except it didn’t exist.

Under a state law intended to compensate those wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, Madrigal appeared to qualify for $281,700 from the state of California.

In the five years since his release, he has argued his case before a state hearing officer and a state compensation board. But though a federal judge found “compelling evidence” that he was “actually innocent,” Madrigal has been paid nothing.

The Los Angeles Times has documented dozens of cases nationwide in which people convicted and later cleared by DNA or new evidence never received state compensation. Some — especially the low-income minorities who make up a large share of the wrongfully imprisoned — never file a claim because they can’t afford a lawyer or find one willing to take the case.

“They just opened the door and said, ‘Hey, walk away!’” said Madrigal, 39. “I didn’t have much when I went in. But I had what I had, and that little bit that I did have was all taken from me.”

[SNIP]

“If someone gets paroled, they get … food vouchers, clothing vouchers, benefits, even places to live. But for someone who gets exonerated, they just throw you on the street and don’t even give you an apology,” said Dwayne Provience, 41, who spent nearly a decade in prison before his murder conviction in Detroit was overturned in 2010. The city rejected his bid for compensation and then declared bankruptcy; Provience now works two jobs to support his four children.

[SNIP]

A 2012 survey by a researcher at the State University of New York at Albany found that California pays less than many other states and provides fewer services.

Since 1981, the earliest year with records available, the three-member board that decides compensation claims in California has denied 59 and granted 22, awarding payments of about $6.2 million.

A decade ago, President George W. Bush signed the Innocence Protection Act, which guarantees those exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year they spent in prison, $100,000 for each year on death row.


WLA’S CELESTE FREMON TO BE ON KPFK’S DEADLINE LA

WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be discussing oversight of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, today (Monday), at 3:00p.m.

If you don’t catch it live (on 90.7 FM), you can find the episode in the archives, here.

Posted in Foster Care, Innocence, prison, Rehabilitation, Trauma | No Comments »

Juvenile Justice Roundup: Rikers, Solitary, Kids with Incarcerated Parents, and Serial

December 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DEPT. OF JUSTICE SUES NYC OVER CONDITIONS AT RIKERS ISLAND JAIL

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced it would join a class action lawsuit against New York City after a two-and-a-half year federal investigation found excessive and unchecked use of force against incarcerated teenage boys and unnecessary use of solitary confinement as punishment.

The move is intended to expedite crucial reforms after months of unfruitful negotiations with NYC. While Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that Rikers would no longer isolate 16 and 17-year-olds, there are 72 remaining recommended reforms to better protect the civil rights of Rikers inmates.

The Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

In court papers, Attorney General Eric Holder and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote that despite four months of negotiations with the city, federal prosecutors “have been unable to reach agreement as to lasting, verifiable, and enforceable reforms.”

The lawsuit seeks an court-enforceable consent decree is issued by a judge to ensure the reforms take place, and notes that the city has now agreed to such intervention…

De Blasio and his reform-minded commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have recently touted measures they say point to a change in direction for the nation’s second-largest jail system. Those include capping solitary stints to 30 days from 90 days, decreasing the staff-to-inmate ration in juvenile facilities from 33-to-1 to 15-to-1 and the securing of funds to add surveillance videos over the next two years.

But the federal complaint says those reforms have yet to reach 18-year-olds. It noted there have been 71 reported use-of-force incidents against 18-year-olds between September and November in facilities without surveillance cameras. As of last month, at least 40 of them were being held in solitary confinement.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…

In an op-ed for the NY Times, Ian Kysel calls on US Attorney General Eric Holder to instruct the Bureau of Prisons to ban all solitary confinement of juveniles. (Kysel is an adjunct professor and a fellow at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center.) Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should immediately direct the Bureau of Prisons to outlaw the solitary confinement of juveniles. The federal government already prohibits the detention of juveniles with adults in federal prisons (a rule that states should emulate). Mr. Holder could also direct the bureau to develop new policies to strictly regulate any use of even short periods of isolation.

Mr. Holder could then direct the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to promote these policies as model practices, much like the national guidelines on education in juvenile facilities that Mr. Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week.

Young inmates should be managed in a way that promotes their healthy growth and development. Their fundamental rights must be protected. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently revised its inspection standards, calling for isolation to be used only for children who posed an immediate risk to themselves or others; after other techniques had failed; only for as long as it took for a child to regain control of himself (it should be measured in minutes, not hours or days); and never for longer than four hours or as a punishment. These standards echo statements by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


THE NATION’S MASS INCARCERATION PROBLEM HURTS KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS THE MOST

The Hechinger Report’s Katy Reckdahl takes a look at the growing body of evidence showing that kids with incarcerated parents suffer the worst consequences of mass incarceration in the United States. Here’s how it opens:

Steven Alexander was in sixth grade when his mother, Carmen Demourelle, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for pickpocketing in New Orleans’s French Quarter. Though she was held in a women’s prison just an hour away, her four children could not telephone her and visited only about once a year.

At the time of her arrest, Demourelle was working sporadically as a beautician, though she was mainly making “fast money” by selling drugs and picking pockets while her children were in school, she said. But after school, she was an engaged and caring mother—until she was sent to prison. “I missed everything about her,” Alexander recalled. “I wanted her home.”

All four of Demourelle’s children moved in with their grandmother, who worked nights at a hospital. She supported them financially, Alexander said, but their schoolwork suffered almost immediately without their mother, who had been strict, especially about school. She hadn’t allowed them to play outside or turn on the television until their homework was done. She enforced early bedtimes. And the children were not allowed to spend time with neighbors deemed troublemakers.

Soon after their mother’s sentencing, however, homework went undone, forbidden friendships blossomed, and evenings at nightclubs became common—even on school nights.

None of the children finished high school. Almost all struggled with addiction. Steven’s older brother Stanton got into constant fights. His little sister, Sandria, was taunted by classmates, who told her: “If your mother loved you, she wouldn’t have gone to jail.”

While in ninth grade, Sandria became pregnant and dropped out. Even the oldest, Stanley, an honor student, quit school as a senior after getting his girlfriend pregnant.

Steven stopped going to classes during the seventh grade. “I just wasn’t interested anymore,” he said.


SERIAL, A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS THE ISSUE OF INCARCERATING KIDS FOR LIFE

Yesterday, the wildly popular Serial podcast (an offshoot of This American Life) ended its first season. We won’t ruin the ending for the regular listeners who have yet to finish the last episode. But for those unfamiliar, Serial, via creator Sarah Koenig, reexamined the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted in 2000 of killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee when he was seventeen. Koenig’s series focuses on whether Syed is innocent or guilty, and whether he got a fair trial.

Its popularity is evidenced by the fact that there have been commentaries, Reddit feeds, and even a parody podcast. And yet, some critics have pointed out that Serial failed to address most of the larger issues, including racial and religious discrimination in the justice system. Heather Renwick of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth talks about the elephant in the room that is still missing from the discussion. Adnan Syed received a life sentence for a crime committed when he was a kid—just 17-years-old. Here’s a clip:

At this point, all that’s missing from the national conversation was revealed by host Sarah Koenig in the opening minute of Episode 1. Koenig frames the entire Serial narrative this way: “For the last year, I have spent every working day trying to figure out where a high school kid was for an hour after school one day in 1999.”

Kid.

Koenig describes Syed as a kid. Not as a man, not as an adult.

That’s because at age 17, Syed was a kid, legally and developmentally.

That kid was sentenced to life imprisonment.

We in the U.S. are so desensitized to the imposition of extreme sentences on kids that Serial does not even contemplate the inappropriateness of Syed’s sentence, regardless of his guilt or innocence. At the age of 17, Syed was charged with an adult crime, tried in adult court, and given an adult sentence. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. In Europe, for example, it is rare for kids to be sentenced to more than 15 years. Yet an estimated 2,500 individuals in the U.S. are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as kids. These extreme sentences, like Syed’s, don’t provide any meaningful release opportunity to kids who mature into stable, thoughtful adults.

To be clear, Syed was sentenced to life plus 30 years, so he technically has a chance at parole. But Koenig was right that being paroled is extremely difficult when an individual like Syed maintains his innocence and fails to show remorse. It is also worth noting that in Maryland, where Syed is incarcerated, release on parole for a life sentence is almost nonexistent and requires approval by the governor. In the past decade, no one serving a life sentence has been paroled in Maryland. So for all practical purposes, the state of Maryland sentenced Syed, a kid, to die in prison.

The United States is the only country in the world to sentence kids to life without parole. Ten other countries are known to have life without parole on the books as a possible sentence for youths, but the U.S. is the only country that actually sentences kids to life without parole.

Posted in Department of Justice, juvenile justice, solitary | 1 Comment »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LAPD to Reform Problematic Crime Reporting, Cops Misunderstanding the Law, and Protection from Prosecutorial Misconduct

December 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK: STRUGGLING POLICE DEPARTMENTS CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD BECAUSE IT HAS “BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH”

In an interview with NPR’s Kirk Siegler, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck discusses what struggling police departments can learn from the LAPD, not too long past a twelve-year federal consent decree itself. Here are some clips:

On the 11th floor of the Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown high-rise, Chief Charlie Beck has been fielding a lot of calls since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Beck’s counterparts around the country are calling to find out how his department addressed what he calls the “ghosts of LAPD’s past.”

“I don’t want people to have to have their city go up in flames like Los Angeles did in 1992 to learn these lessons,” he says.

The lessons Beck refers to — and actual court-ordered reforms — began after Rodney King and addressed everything from police brutality to institutionalized racism within the LAPD. And they didn’t end until last year, when a federal judge finally lifted a consent decree originally imposed by the Department of Justice in 2001 following another corruption scandal.

Out of all this came an independent civilian oversight commission and a robust “use of force” investigation and discipline process. It also marked a shift toward community-based policing.

“We are where we are not because we are smarter or better than anybody else [but] just because we’ve been through so much,” Beck says.

[SNIP]

Cities looking to reform their troubled police forces might have a template to turn to in Los Angeles, according to police watchdog experts.

“The police department went from being, in essence, an occupying army to being a community partner,” says attorney Merrick Bobb, who worked as a court-appointed monitor for the separate LA Sheriff’s Department and once served on a citizen’s commission reforming the LAPD.


DESPITE MAJOR PROGRESS, THERE ARE ALWAYS AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: LAPD TO ADDRESS MISREPORTED CRIME DATA

Back in August, an investigation by the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Ben Poston found that the LAPD mislabeled close to 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly altering the city’s crime statistics.

Now, the LAPD officials have announced the department will implement crime reporting reforms, in an effort to provide accurate crime statistics for citizens who trust the department to produce reliable data.

Department staff will be given new training on how to classify crimes in a manner that will comply with federal guidelines, and station supervisors will now be charged with making sure classifications are correct.

Rubin and Poston have the update on their investigation. Here’s a clip:

So far this year, overall violent crime has increased 11% compared with the same time period in 2013, according to LAPD figures. The city has experienced a double-digit rise in rapes and a slight uptick in homicides and robberies. But the largest increase has come in aggravated assaults, which are up more than 20%. The rise in such assaults, officials have said, is partly due to the department’s efforts to improve its crime reporting, which has led to a more accurate count of serious assaults.

To carry out the reforms, the department formed the Data Integrity Unit — a small team of detectives and data analysts. Over the last few weeks, the unit has put about 400 station supervisors, senior detectives and clerical staff through a four-hour training course on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines, senior analyst John Neuman told the commission.

In coming months, the unit is expected to add staff and take on more responsibilities, including serving as a “strike team” that will inspect crime reports at the department’s 21 divisions, Neuman said.

The department also plans a simple but significant change in its procedures for classifying crimes. Watch commanders — the lieutenants and sergeants who must approve officers’ crime reports — will be required to document how each incident should be classified in the department’s crime database.

The move is intended to reduce confusion and misunderstandings, in particular among civilian records clerks who currently are left to decipher reports and make decisions about how to classify crimes.


US SUPREME COURT SEZ COPS DO NOT NEED TO BE RIGHT ABOUT A LAW TO PULL A CAR OVER FOR REASONABLE SUSPICION OF BREAKING THAT LAW

Earlier this week, in an 8-1 ruling, the US Supreme Court said that a cop can pull over a car under reasonable suspicion of law-breaking, even if the cop misunderstands the law. In this particular case, Heien v. North Carolina, an officer pulled over Nicholas Heien’s vehicle because of a busted tail light. The officer found cocaine in the car, but North Carolina law only requires one working tail light. Heien appealed his cocaine-trafficking conviction on the grounds that the officer misunderstood the law and thus had no reason to pull the car over.

In a commentary for the Atlantic, author and University of Baltimore constitutional law professor, Garrett Epps, says this decision gives officers more freedom to pull people over for increasingly ambiguous reasons. Epps also points out that, if the situation were flipped, and NC law required two working brake lights, Heien would not get off the hook for misunderstanding the law. Here’s a clip:

The facts of Heien are that a North Carolina sheriff’s deputy decided that a passing car was suspicious. The driver, he decided, seemed “very stiff and nervous” because he was looking straight ahead and holding his hands at the recommended positions on the wheel. (I am sure there was no connection, but the driver was also a Latino in an overwhelmingly white county.) The deputy followed the car, seeking a reason to make a stop, until the driver put on the brakes for a red light. One of the two brake lights was out. The deputy pulled over the car for the broken brake light and questioned both the driver and the owner, who had been sleeping in the back seat. Eventually he got permission to search the car, found cocaine, and arrested both men. A fairly open-and-shut case—except that, a state appeals court decided, North Carolina law only requires one working brake light. The “offense” leading to the stop was no more illegal than hanging a pine tree air freshener from the rear-view mirror.

The lower courts refused to suppress the evidence. It is settled law that when an officer makes a reasonable mistake of fact—concludes from appearances that, say, an assault is going on when two friends are just tussling—a stop doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. But, Heien argued, a mistake of law is different. Consider the reverse scenario: If North Carolina law did require two brake lights, Heien could not have avoided a ticket by pleading that he thought it only required one. Most of the time, as we all know, ignorance of the law doesn’t get a citizen off the hook.

The Supreme Court had never decided this issue. On Monday, by 8-1, it concluded that the stop was “reasonable.” One can certainly sympathize with the deputy in this case: The North Carolina motor vehicle code on this point is virtually opaque, and the one-brake-light rule wasn’t clear to anybody until the appeals court decided it in Heien’s case. As for the “ignorance of the law” argument, the Chief Justice breezily responded, that’s fine. The deputy didn’t give Heien a ticket for having one brake light. “Heien is not appealing a brake-light ticket,” the Chief wrote. “[H]e is appealing a cocaine-trafficking conviction as to which there is no asserted mistake of fact or law.”

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote separately to attempt to limit the effect of the decision. It’s not a question of whether he actually knew the law, but of whether the law was really clear to everybody, she wrote. “If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer’s judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake,” she wrote. “But if not, not.” All very well, but I can’t help concluding that Heien makes it easier for police to find a reason to stop anyone they think looks suspicious. And we as a society are learning some very hard lessons about what can go wrong with police stops. Roberts’s opinion takes not the slightest notice of the events of the past year. The world he describes is a kind of happy valley were police are polite, citizens know their rights, consent to search is always freely given, and only evildoers feel dread when they see a blue light in the rear-view mirror. “[R]easonable men make mistakes of law,” as well as of fact, he says.

[SNIP]

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a solo dissent, protested that the decision “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.” She pointed out that “[g]iving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands [their] authority.”


EDITORIAL: CALIFORNIA SHOULD JOIN 49 OTHER STATES AND IMPLEMENT A RULE TO STOP PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

According to the Brady rule, prosecutors must turn over any evidence to the defense any exculpatory evidence that would likely have an effect on a conviction or sentence. Unfortunately, many prosecutors violate the Brady rule without consequence. There is, however, an American Bar Association rule that says prosecutors have to turn over any evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” This interpretation of Brady is broader, and does not rely on prosecutors’ personal assessment of the significance of the evidence. The rule also says prosecutors have to hand over exculpatory evidence that turns up after a conviction.

California is the only state in the US to not have established some form of this rule. The California Bar spent years working on the code of conduct, only to have the state Supreme Court tell them to start all over again.

An LA Times editorial says properly protecting defendants cannot wait for the state to finish writing their rules, and calls on the state to use the American Bar Association’s version of the rule in the meantime. Here’s a clip:

There is an easy step California should take to curb this type of prosecutorial misconduct — the adoption of an ethical rule. One reason even well-intentioned prosecutors violate Brady is the cognitive difficulty of predicting before a trial has even occurred whether undisclosed information might be considered “material” — or sufficiently important to overturn a conviction — by an appellate court. Instead, prosecutors should follow a simple prophylactic rule that errs on the side of caution. Under the proposed ethical standard, prosecutors simply turn over any potentially helpful evidence without judging whether it could help lead to an acquittal.

The American Bar Assn., which publishes “Model Rules of Professional Conduct” to serve as ethical standards for attorneys nationwide, enacted Rule 3.8. The rule’s objective is to eliminate confusion. Part of the rule, which defines the evidence that must be disclosed, was designed to be broader and independent of Brady obligations, requiring prosecutors to disclose before trial all evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” Again, this differs from Brady because it does not require prosecutors to evaluate how much the evidence tends to negate the defendant’s guilt. That is for the defense to argue and for the jury to decide.

The rule provides an exception so that prosecutors who have real concerns about witness safety, subornation of perjury or other significant considerations can seek and obtain protective orders from a court to delay disclosure. Equally important, other parts of the rule require prosecutors to turn over any evidence pointing to innocence that they become aware of after a conviction; they must take proactive steps to vacate a conviction if there is clear evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

California is the only state in the nation that has failed to adopt some version of this rule. Last week, we testified about the need for this rule at the State Bar of California’s hearing on attorney competency and disciplinary standards. The bar has spent nearly a decade redrafting a new set of rules of professional conduct. Complaints about the bar’s approach to redrafting the new rules recently led California’s Supreme Court to announce that it would restart the process with a new rules commission. The criminal-justice system cannot wait another decade to adopt a rule that will ensure fairer criminal trials. While the new commission considers how to revamp all the rules, the bar and court should adopt the American Bar Assn. model rule for disclosure of exculpatory evidence.

Posted in Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, LAPD, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 6 Comments »

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