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CORRECTED: IG Review Reveals LAPD Officers’ Cell Block Checks Violate Policy

June 7th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

When conducting cell block checks at the Los Angeles Police Department-run Metropolitan Detention Center (MCD), LAPD officers acted outside of department policy and state regulations 82.3% of the time, according to an investigation by LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante.

MCD, the LAPD’s busiest jail, was assigned approximately 121 detention officers and 51 police officers and processed more than 28,000 inmates. In conducting the review, the IG’s office went through 264 hours of footage from jail cameras, analyzing 198 cell block checks.

During 26 of the non-compliant checks, officers did not inspect the entire floor after entering a cell block. During the other 137 problematic checks, officers did not even go into the cell blocks, and frequently miscounted inmates.

LA Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the failure rate is indicative of “systemic failure,” the LA Times reports. Commission President Matt Johnson pointed out that after the IG illuminated these issues, the LAPD “immediately worked with the inspector general to fix them.”

Two weeks ago, the Police Commission reviewed video of a death—caused by suffocation and epilepsy—at the department’s Pacific Jail. The revelation that jail logs listed inaccurate inmate welfare check times when cross-referenced with video of the man’s death, brought on an internal investigation.



CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly estimated MCD’s jail population at more than 28,000. We meant to say that MCD processed more than 28,000 inmates in 2015.

Posted in LAPD | 5 Comments »

THE LASD SAGA CONTINUES: Another LA Sheriff’s Deputy Soon to be Sentenced….Retired Sheriff Lee Baca Unconcerned with “Jail”….LASD & DA Investigated Baca & Pal, Bishop Turner

June 6th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Michel will be sentenced next week.

Michel, if you remember, was caught in an FBI sting inside Men’s Central Jail in 2011.

At the time, the FBI was investigating multiple reports of what sounded like credible accounts of inmates being brutalized by deputies, or observing others being brutalized, to the point that “there appeared to be a pattern,” as Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes explained during one of the government’s criminal cases against former sheriff’s department members.

But such allegations are tough to prove. “Inmates could be discredited,” Rhodes pointed out. “And the jails were controlled by the very people the FBI wanted to investigate.”

So the feds launched a number of quiet strategies, one of which was an undercover sting involving inmate/informant Anthony Brown, who said that he knew deputies who would bring in contraband in return for money.

And so it was that deputy Gilbert Michel was paid by a supposed Brown confederate, but in fact an undercover FBI agent, to bring a cell phone to Brown inside Men’s Central Jail, in return for a cash bribe. For additional money, Michele continued to charge Brown’s new cellphone.

A week or so later, the cell phone was discovered by a deputy in a routine search, Brown was found to be a federal informant, all hell broke loose, and the feds pounced on Michele who eventually made a plea deal with the government in return for his cooperation.

Now it remains for him to be sentenced.

The question is, will he get more or less time than the 0 to 6 months that has been offered to former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca in return for his plea deal.

The prosecution has asked for four months of home confinement citing a great many factors including his cooperation, his important and affecting testimony “against more senior deputies, sergeants,
lieutenants, and ultimately the Under-sheriff of his former department. The government believes that his testimony was important to securing those convictions.”

Baca, just to remind you, is due to be sentenced on July 11. Paul Tanaka is due to be sentenced on June 27.


FORMER LA COUNTY SHERIFF BACA SAYS “NOT AFRAID OF JAIL,” STANDS ON RECORD “PROUDLY”

And on the topic of Baca’s sentencing…..

“I’m not afraid of jail. I’m not afraid of anything.”

(By the way, we think Baca meant “prison,” not “jail,” a distinction one would think he’d have mastered by now. But, no matter.)

That’s what former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca told the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok in an interview published last week, which took place after the former sheriff was honored at a celebratory breakfast by Congregation Bais Naftoli for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

Some of the notable quotes from Baca’s post-breakfast interview with Torok are as follows:

“I’m one that believes if you know how to suffer properly, you don’t suffer at all. I’m an individual who does not suffer because of mistakes. I’m someone who learns from mistakes. … I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”

“I’m not asking for forgiveness for the mistakes that I’ve made. I’ll let God decide to forgive me. I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are, I’m not afraid of that, because I know who I am, I know why I do what I do and I know the people who work for me know that I love them…And I love my critics, as well.”

Torok also writes that, regarding the multiple former department members who have been convicted on charges related to abusing jail inmates or jail visitors, Baca said “that jailing deputies will not solve the problem of inmate abuse.”

Alrighty then. Good to know.



THE LASD AND DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE WERE INVESTIGATING BACA AND BISHOP TURNER—AND FOUND NOTHING TO SEE

Last week there was one more Lee Baca-related story that you should not miss.

This intriguing story, by ABC7′s investigative producer Lisa Bartley, revealed that both the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the LA District attorney’s office were investigating Baca and his former paid buddy, Bishop Edward Turner..

Turner, to remind you, was one of the former sheriff’s four “civilian field deputies,” and had a county-paid salary of $114,584 a year, a county-paid car, and a deputy sheriff assigned to him as his part-time aide, and other perks. In return for the taxpayer-supplied salary and goodies, Turner was tasked with a list of slightly fuzzy responsibilities, prominently including “constituent outreach” (which sounds a lot like year-round campaigning, but no matter), and facilitating some drug prevention programs.

In 2013, Bartley and ABC7 reported on various extravagantly questionable activities engaged in—or allegedly engaged in—by Turner while he was on the LASD payroll.

The ABC7 investigations evidently triggered investigations by the sheriff’s department, and subsequently the DA’s office, into possible criminal wrongdoing by Baca and Bishop Turner. Then, a few weeks ago, writes Bartley, the DA’s office concluded there was nothing shady going on after all—a conclusion that seems to bring up as many questions as it attempts to put to bed.

The District Attorney’s office “Charge Evaluation Worksheet,” released last month and obtained by producer Bartley, makes for fascinating reading. (You can find it here.)

But to better appreciate the DA’s report, it will help to have a refresher on ABC7′s 2013 investigations, which looked at the activities of Baca’s field deputies in general, and turned up a bunch of curious facts about Turner in particular:

1. For example, ABC7 reporters learned that Turner was the landlord for property across the street from his South LA Church, the Power of Love Christian Fellowship, and it turned out that one of Turner’s tenants on the property was a marijuana dispensary, at a time when Baca had been vocally against medical marijuana dispensaries.

When asked about the dispensary—which is illegal in that it is not one of the 134 dispensaries then sanctioned by LA’s Measure D—-Turner claimed he didn’t really know anything about the operation, or its illegality. However, when ABC7 talked to the dispensary’s owner, the man said he walked the rent check across the street to Turner’s church every month.

2. In addition to his church, Turner was running a nonprofit organization called H.O.P.E. for Life. ABC7 tried to look into the organization’s financials, which, due to its tax exempt status, should have been publically accessible. They found that H.O.P.E. for Life had its nonprofit status revoked in 2009 for its failure to file the proper yearly disclosures with the IRS.

This information was problematic for the LASD because Baca had repeatedly raised money for H.O.P.E for Life with the department’s yearly “Multi-faith Prayer Breakfast,” an event that many upper-level department supervisors were reportedly strongly urged to attend. Yet, ABC’s report found that was not at all clear where the money for the LASD-sponsored event(s) eventually wound up—all of which suggested fraud.

3. Then, weirdest of all, Bartly and ABC7 obtained a highly suggestive sheriff’s department incident report, circa 2005 involving a mysterious package addressed to Turner’s church containing large amounts of cash.

Here’s what reporter Marc Brown reported in 2013:

We also had questions about a 2005 sheriff’s department “incident report.” A package that was addressed to Turner’s Power of Love church was intercepted by a sheriff’s department narcotics team. The package contained $84,020 in cash.

Detectives wrote in their report that based on their expertise, that the cash was the “direct proceeds from the sale of controlled substances, or illegal narcotics.”

“I was totally appalled and upset about that situation,” said Turner.

According to the report, Turner called a detective and said he wasn’t expecting a parcel and didn’t know anyone in New York who would send him a box of money.

In 2013, WitnessLA spoke to then-Baca spokesperson, Steve Whitmore, who told us that the sheriff was “taken aback” by news of the marijuana dispensary.

Whitmore also said that Baca moved quickly to cancel all future donations to Turner’s non-nonprofit.

About the box of cash, Whitmore said that the matter had been “fully investigated” by the department, and that, despite the fact that the package was addressed to Turner’s church, “they couldn’t connect the package to Bishop Turner.”

“But we’re still going to look into all that again in our investigation.”

And while, indeed, there were two investigations into Turner and the drug money-–one in 2005, and one after the ABC7 reports—the handling of said investigations have raised some concerns.

Most troublingly, a number of present and former LASD officials—including former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have suggested, or outright stated, that Lee Baca spiked the 2005 investigation into Bishop Turner and the mystery drug money.

Yet when the department—and subsequently the DA’s office—decided to look into whether or not the the former sheriff had actually shut down a criminal investigation into his pal Bishop Turner’s activities, according to Bartley, at least two of the most crucial LASD players in that alleged drama declined to talk to ICIB, the LASD’s internal criminal investigative arm, or anyone else, about the 2005 Turner investigation, and why it was closed.

Yet, instead of pushing further with those important potential witnesses, the DA’s report repeatedly floated a rumor that then candidate for sheriff, Robert Olmsted, started the rumor about the spiked 2005 investigation to discredit Baca whom he was challenging politically.

However since, thus far, there are multiple instances in which Mr. Tanaka and/or Mr. Baca have been accused of triggering retaliatory IA investigations against people with whom they disagree, and shutting down or minimizing investigations into the actions of people whom they favored, and exactly zero instances that we know of where Olmsted has been accused of retaliatory witch hunts, or the like, we found this tack on the part of the DA’s report to be….perplexing.

Anyway, read Bartley’s report, and then read the DA’s report, and let us know what you think.



Lee Baca photo by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Muhammed Ali: Simply, The Greatest – January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016

June 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

― Muhammad Ali


“The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

― Muhammad Ali


“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

― Muhammad Ali


“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

― Muhammad Ali


“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

― Muhammad Ali


“The man with no imagination has no wings.”

― Muhammad Ali


“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

― Muhammad Ali


“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

― Muhammad Ali


“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me.”

― Muhammad Ali


“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

― Muhammad Ali

Posted in Life in general, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Why Wasn’t SB 1286, the Police Transparency Bill, Allowed to Go Through the Legislative Process?

June 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Late last week, SB 1286, a bill that would have allowed greater public access
to certain peace officer disciplinary records, was deep-sixed via a technical move in the state senate’s appropriations committee without any kind of discussion, or an up-or-down vote.

This is a pity. Whether one favored or opposed this particular bill, the topic of law enforcement transparency is an important issue in which there is strong interest, and both sides of the argument would have benefited if SB 1286 had gone more fully through the legislative process, complete with testimony, lively discussion, the possibility of amendments—and a public vote.

But that’s not what occurred.

If you’re not familiar with SB 1286, the broad strokes are as follows:

If it had passed in its present form, Californians would have full access to records of investigations and discipline in police shootings and other serious uses of force by police, and also in cases where law enforcement agencies have formally determined that their officers have violated the rights of members of the public.

In addition, Californians who file complaints alleging misconduct would be informed as to how the department responded. If the complaint was rejected, they would be told why. If it is sustained, they would be told what corrective action is to be taken.

On top of that, civilian oversight bodies and local governments would have access to the law enforcement records they need to carry out their duties. At the same time, those bodies would be required to keep confidential records to which they have access.

To protect the safety and privacy of officers, courts would be empowered to withhold records if there is a risk or danger to an officer or to someone else, or if disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of officers’ privacy.


STATES THAT ALLOW PUBLIC ACCESS, STATES THAT DON’T, AND STATES THAT SORTA DO

In 27 states police discipline records are either entirely public or are public, but with some restrictions.

In the rest of the 23 states—California included—law enforcement’s disciplinary records are mostly, or entirely confidential.

With some of those states that favor confidentiality, like California and New York, the laws preventing public access to records are particularly stringent, and even when an officer has been subject to severe discipline for misconduct, like a lengthy suspension, or termination, the public has no right to know.

In our state, the only exception to that rule is a legal request known as a Pitchess motion, which may be used to attempt to obtain a small portion of a police officer’s confidential personnel records if a judge deems the damage of not forking over those records for evidentiary use in a civil or criminal proceeding, to be greater than any possible consequences that disclosure might bring about.

(WNYC Public Radio investigated the laws in each state and, using their handy info graphics, you too can check out which states restrict or allow what.)

In contrast, Texas generally allows police disciplinary records to be made public. Yet, in certain areas of the state, local codes provide tighter rules. Even in those regions, however, the public may access files pertaining to disciplinary actions where the officer received at least a suspension or loss of pay (providing the discipline was in writing).

In still other states, like Washington, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, Florida and Alabama, police disciplinary records are available to the public virtually across the board, unless an active disciplinary investigation is underway, or if the information will compromise an officer’s personal privacy or safety.


THE ISSUES OF PRIVACY & SAFETY

When in February of this year, California state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), together with a bi-partisan list of co-authors, introduced SB 1286, it was not clear whether on not the controversial bill had a chance of passing, but many advocates felt it did indeed have a shot and, failing that, the believed that some version of the proposed legislation will likely pass in the next year or two. After all, in addition to law enforcement reform advocates it had gathered the vocal support of San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

The bill was strongly opposed by police unions and other law enforcement organizations, along with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, led by Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Rusty Hicks, who sent a letter to Senator Leno announcing the group’s opposition to the bill, which he said would strip peace officers of privacy in their personnel records.

“The thing that we heard is that it was about officer safety, and officer privacy,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of California. (The ACLU was another of the bill’s sponsors.) “But the bill specifically protected officer safety and officer privacy.”

And, Bibring said, “opponents have never pointed to a single instance where officers were harmed or where there was a threat of harm because of records being released.

“So it’s not really really about safety. It’s a worry about public scrutiny,” he said. “But the thing is, People mistrust decisions that are made behind closed doors Courts are open. The legislative process is open.” But we can know nothing, he said, about “when a police officer takes a civilian’s life.

“And without the facts, people react to the withholding of information. They don’t like it.”

Bibring also stressed that, “it’s only serious uses of force and actual findings of misconduct,” that would be disclosed under the proposed legislation. “So the bill, even if it had passed, would have left police with significant more confidentially that any other public employee.” Yet, he said, a change in the law would go a long way in improving public trust of their police.

George Hofstetter, the head of ALADS, the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s deputies’ union, disagreed.

“If allowing the wholesale invasion of police personnel files would lead to increased trust or accountability in law enforcement,” he wrote, “surely the proponents could cite an example. They note that twenty three states allow the type of access they seek to impose in California—yet there isn’t a single study which shows the level of trust in peace officers or accountability of law enforcement is any greater than in California.”

All points that could have come into hearing testimony for the bill. But instead, senate appropriations committee chair, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), simply unilaterally spiked SB 1286 by failing to call it to a vote.

In doing so he did the rest of us a disservice.

Posted in law enforcement | 7 Comments »

The UCLA Shooting, Compton’s Confounding Homicide Spike, The Push for More Relative Caregivers in LA, and Juvie Solitary

June 2nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

MURDER-SUICIDE AT UCLA

On Thursday morning at UCLA, an unnamed man shot and killed a well-liked 39-year-old engineering professor, William S. Klug, and then killed himself. The gunman has not yet been identified. Klug was described by those who knew him as a loving father, who taught his son’s Little League team, and exemplified “courage, loyalty, and character.”

As early news traveled across campus that shots had been fired, students and law enforcement feared an active shooter situation.

The LA Times Editorial Board says that once news broke that it was a murder-suicide, and not another high-casualty campus shooting rampage, America shrugged off the all-too-common firearm tragedy. Here’s a clip:

The massive police and emergency response proved unnecessary, but there was no way the LAPD could have known that when the panicked call came in. And this is where we are – the anticipation that a shooting on a college campus was going to turn out to be a mass tragedy, and that a major city’s law enforcement response is geared up for that eventuality.

In this case, it was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America. And so two families, and two circles of friends, and a community of students and faculty are left to their grief, and their confusion, and maybe a touch more fear than usual at the recognition that violence can and will strike so close to home.

Ultimately, we should be glad this was a tragedy for fewer people than feared when the phrase “campus shooting” first popped up on screens. But that society will just shrug this off is tragic in its own way. That the nation accepts gun violence as commonplace, as a reasonable trade-off for some romanticized view of every gun owner as a soldier against tyranny, is the continuing tragedy.

And so the deaths will mount.

For more information on the shooting, head over to KPCC.


SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS TO COMPTON’S RISING HOMICIDE NUMBERS

So far in 2016, there have been three times as many murders in Compton as there were this time last year. Nearly half—seven—of those killings occurred in May, alone.

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the majority of the murders have been gang-related.

Last September, the US Department of Justice announced that Compton as one of five cities that would receive two years of help from the feds, through a program called the Violence Reduction Network. Through the program, the sheriff’s department (which has jurisdiction over Compton) is receiving, personnel, and other support to reduce gun violence, sex trafficking, and other serious crimes.

So far this year, Oakland—another city that has received assistance from the feds via the Violence Reduction Network—has reduced homicide by 40% compared with the same period last year. Other cities have had similar successes, with the exception of Chicago, where gun violence numbers are up 50% this year.

In response to the murder spike, the LASD has increased the number of deputies deployed to Compton and launched a campaign calling on community members to call in tips.

The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz and Angel Jennings have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

The violence threatens to undo some of the progress the city has made in recent years to shed an image that has been associated with gangs and crime. And the shootings are testing a pledge made by federal authorities in October to help the city curb crime by providing extra resources to “make meaningful and long-lasting improvements to the daily lives of Compton residents.” At the time, the announcement of federal help was hailed as a “game-changer” by Compton Mayor Aja Brown.

At a town hall meeting last week, city and local law enforcement officials reassured anxious residents that they were doing all they could to combat the problem. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department says it has boosted patrols. And city leaders said the federal program, the Violence Reduction Network, has already begun providing much-needed training and resources that will help deter crime.

“We want people to know that we’re looking out for you,” said Satra Zurita, a local school board member who is helping the city manage the federal program. Zurita and her sister, City Councilwoman Janna Zurita, knew the mother of one of the recent homicide victims. “It hits very close to home.”

[SNIP]

In Compton, Satra Zurita said the federal partnership has helped get some “gang-bangers, pimps and young girls off the street.” The attention of multiple agencies, such as the Department of Justice, the FBI and the district attorney’s office is positive, “because you are communicating and resources match up,” she said.

Recently, the city applied for a $1-million grant from the Justice Department that would provide technology that detects and pinpoints the location of gunshots when they occur and youth intervention services over three years. In addition, Compton is working on an application for a smaller grant that would offer training for authorities who deal with those who are mentally ill.

“People think that the [federal program] comes and cures all,” Zurita said. “But what it does is provide expertise and resources, and that helps in the long run.”

The recent violence has yet to hit the levels seen more than a decade ago, when Compton recorded more than 70 killings in a single year. Since then, homicides have fallen dramatically. Last year’s tally of 13 killings was the lowest in more than a decade, according to figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department.

After the LASD took over the job of policing Compton in 2000, after the Compton Police Department was shut down by the City Council.

There is no clear answer as to why homicide numbers have surged this year,
but CityLab’s Brentin Mock says ongoing sheriff’s department scandals likely aren’t helping to build community trust.

Mock also points out that while the grant money from the federal program was supposed to go to youth intervention services, it’s not clear how much of the grant is being spent on policing Compton, versus bolstering youth programs. Youth Justice Coalition and other advocates have called for more funding to help LA’s at-risk kids succeed through education, employment, mentoring, rehabilitation, and other much-needed programs and services.

Here’s a clip from the CityLab story:

In 2015, Compton received a $1 million grant when it was selected to become one of the pilot cities for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network. This means more money, equipment, and trainings on how police can pinpoint or even predict where shootings are likely to happen to help target their monitoring practices. Beyond the sheriff’s department, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are all setting up shop in Compton, a city of fewer than 100,000 residents.

The L.A. Times reports that this also means more funding for youth intervention services. However, neither the sheriff’s department nor the federal agencies have been forthcoming about how much funding is going towards policing versus youth programs.

That lack of transparency is troubling given the historical distrust between communities of color and police, which the L.A. county sheriffs have not done much to change. Some believe that the homicide reports are being played up as a ploy to justify the further militarizing of a police force in ways that might further incense these communities. Compton’s murder rate may have tripled since last year, but the 15 killings in the city this year is far below what the landscape looked like a few decades ago, when homicide numbers were closer to 100 annually.

Hamid Khan, campaign coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, tells CityLab that such murder reports entail “a certain level of sensationalism.”

“When talking about the levels of violence, we have to look at how many resources are allocated to policing the community as opposed to what’s provided for what public safety really looks like for these communities,” says Khan. “More money is budgeted for policing versus how much money is budgeted for youth programs, but [Compton is] still being written about like we’re back in the ‘80s again.”


LA COUNTY SUPES STEPPING UP EFFORTS TO DRAW IN RELATIVE CAREGIVERS AS END TO LONG-TERM FOSTER CARE GROUP HOMES LOOMS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to explore ways to increase the number of relative caregivers and boost family members’ engagement in the lives of kids in foster care.

The motion, submitted by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, directs the head of the Department of Children and Family Services and the Interim Chief Probation Officer, in collaboration with the Office of Child Protection and the courts, to look at what’s working elsewhere in the nation (like partnerships with community-based organizations), in order to develop family-finding programs.

The board’s proactivity on this issue is particularly important as the state starts to roll out major child welfare reforms, including the elimination of long-term group homes. Relative caregivers will likely become crucial to the new law’s successful implementation.

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

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others point to evidence that shows that living with relatives or other non-related extended family members can have behavioral and educational benefits for children, as well as an increased likelihood of permanency.

“I want the first placement to be the best placement,” Kuehl said. “The reason I want to move it up in time so that we’re looking right away for relatives and appropriate family friends is that the children are already seriously traumatized by the removal. If there are any family members or family friends that they have a connection with, we can really mitigate those traumatic events.”

Under the sweeping congregate-care reforms (CCR) outlined in Assembly Bill 403, California is poised to restructure the way it provides care to the nearly 58,000 children in its child-welfare system. Starting in 2017, California counties will be encouraged to seek family-like settings for these children. Instead of group home placements, children will be placed with foster families or in short-term residential treatment centers when clinically necessary.

In the near future, that means the county must find more homes for these children. Los Angeles County hopes to it can make up the difference with more relative caregivers, an area where it has seen some success.

According to data from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project at U.C. Berkeley, almost 44 percent of children in the county’s child welfare system were living in the home of a relative at of the start of the year.

This number is well above the national average of 29 percent and the state average of 36 percent.

“We want all kids to be placed with relatives if at all possible,” DCFS Director Philip Browning said. “Congregate care reform is going to require that we be much more sensitive to making placements with relatives.”


WILL THE SENATE APPROVE A BAN ON JUVENILE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT?

Today, the California Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 1143, a bill that would end solitary confinement for kids locked in juvenile detention facilities.

The bill would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union.

A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year. Last month, LA County moved to drastically restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile camps. Proponents hope that the move will influence the state legislature to pass the revived bill.

“This bill protects the basic human rights and dignity of youth residing in local jails and juvenile camps,” said Leno. “It also protects public safety by ensuring that youth get the educational and rehabilitative opportunities they need to come home with the best chance of success in life.”

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, Mark Bonini, president of Chief Probation Officers of California, and Sue Burrell, the policy and training director at the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, explain why this bill, which took five years of negotiating for consensus between advocates and corrections officials, is such a crucial step toward protecting vulnerable kids. Here’s a clip:

SB 1143 is the product of five years of robust and sometimes challenging dialogue. At first, we disagreed about terminology and the operational impacts of the bill. But it became increasingly apparent that all of us were more concerned with the greater purpose, and by listening to one another, we were able to develop a mutually satisfactory set of best practices.

The bill creates a statewide definition for room confinement in county and state juvenile correctional facilities – the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from staff. The bill also calls for such confinement only being used after less restrictive options have been attempted, unless there is a threat to the safety or security of staff or other juveniles.

It is generally limited to four hours and requires that specific steps be taken to reintegrate the young person back into regular confinement as soon as possible. Finally, the bill bans the use of room confinement as punishment or convenience or when it compromises the mental and physical health of the young person.

Posted in campus violence | 19 Comments »

Criminal Justice Bill Roundup, Curfew Laws, Discrimination Lawsuit on Behalf of Kern County Kids of Color, and More

June 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A CALIFORNIA CRIMINAL JUSTICE LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: PROP 47 EXTENSION, VOTING WITH A FELONY, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, AND MORE

Three noteworthy criminal justice-related bills from California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber have passed through the state Assembly and will move on to the Senate.

The first of Assm. Weber’s bills, the Restorative Justice Act, aims to increase rehabilitation and education programs and make them available for all inmates, not just non-violent offenders. The bill would removes references to punishment as the purpose of incarceration from a section of the Penal Code, and changes the language to say that the purpose of incarceration is public safety, which is carried out through rehabilitation, restorative justice practices, and accountability.

“While AB 2590 leaves the triad of the determinate sentencing law in place, it opens the door for judges to find rehabilitative and restorative sentencing solutions when appropriate,” the bill summary reads.

The second bill, AB 2466, which was co-authored by Senator Holly Mitchell, would ensure that eligible inmates with felony convictions keep their right to vote while in jail (but not prison), as well as while under county supervision (but not parole).

The third bill from Assm. Weber, along with Sen. Mitchell and Assm. Rob Bonta, AB 2765, would extend the current November 2017 deadline for Proposition 47-eligible people to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. If passed, the bill would give Prop. 47ers an extra five years to apply to have their felonies reduced.

SB 955, a bill from Senator Jim Beall, which also passed through the Senate on Monday, would allow state hospitals holding people who are charged with a crime, but found unfit to stand trial, the power to grant compassionate releases for terminally ill or incapacitated patients.


NATIONWIDE, COPS ARREST MILLIONS OF KIDS FOR CURFEW VIOLATIONS, BUT SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LAWS’ USEFULNESS STILL GO UNANSWERED

Across the nation, including in California, tough-on-crime era curfew laws allow officers to arrest teens found outside after a certain hour of night.

FBI data shows that between 1994 and 2012, kids were arrested for curfew violations 2.6 million times nationwide.

Critics say these curfew laws, and other problematic “status offenses” put kids—predominantly kids of color—in contact with the justice system for actions that would not be illegal if they were adults. And, unfortunately, there isn’t enough data to decipher whether or not the curfews are doing the kids and their communities any good.

The Guardian’s Tik Root has more on the issue, with a focus on San Diego, which rounds kids up during “curfew sweeps” after 10:00p.m.
Here’s a clip:

In San Diego, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be out past 10pm. And, that night, Officer Owens was part of a “curfew sweep”, where teams of officers fan out and enforce the law en masse. The city runs these details roughly once a month in each of its nine districts, sometimes arresting dozens of kids a night. David and his friends said they were just walking home. But that isn’t one of the exceptions – like a school sports game or a job – so Owens read him his Miranda rights.

Conceived as a crime-reduction tactic, curfews were promoted during the “tough on crime” era of the 1990s. In 1996, President Bill Clinton flew out to Monrovia, California – among the first cities to claim curfew success – to publicly endorse the idea at the local high school. From there, they spread like wildfire and remain in place decades later.

From Baltimore, which has one of the strictest curfews in the country, to Denver, where curfew enforcement ramps up every summer, the laws are on the books in hundreds of cities across the US. According to available FBI data, there were 2.6m curfew arrests from 1994 and 2012; that’s an average of roughly 139,000 annually. Philadelphia alone reported 16,079 violations in 2014 – among the highest in the country.

As the curfew laws and arrests proliferated, however, the debate about their impact simmered largely out of view. Congress left curfews unaddressed in pending juvenile justice legislation and, today, the question remains: are they the best approach?

“It’s insane. No other country does this,” said Mike Males, a senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and curfew critic who would like to see the practice come to an end. In his research, he says he hasn’t seen “any evidence” that they’re effective; instead chalking up their use to political expediency. “Curfews became this way of responding that both blamed young people and didn’t affect adults.”

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) case study of Minneapolis found the city’s curfew to be racially biased – with 56% of curfew charges coming against black youth compared with 17% for their white counterparts, despite the city being majority white. Males says that he’s found a similar pattern nationally. “They’re always racially discriminatory,” he said. “We have not found a single exception to that.”

[SNIP]

Proponents, however, argue that curfews help prevent young people from becoming either perpetrators or victims of nighttime crime. “This is an important way of helping kids stay safe and stay out of trouble,” said San Diego city councilmember Marti Emerald. “If we can help one child in their struggle then I think that we have to say the program is at least a partial success.”


COURT ALLOWS LAWSUIT ALLEGING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST LATINO AND BLACK STUDENTS AT KERN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT TO MOVE FORWARD

A ruling from the Kern County Superior Court last week allowed a lawsuit to move forward on behalf of Latino kids (many English-learners) and black kids in Kern County allegedly receiving disproportionate punishment and transfers to remote and sub-par alternative schools and independent study programs.

The court shot down an attempt to dismiss the discrimination suit against the Kern High School District, Kern County Office of Education, and the CA Department of Education.

The court allowed most of the claims to go forward. One exception was the plaintiffs’ claim that the school district violated transferred students’ rights to a quality education.

The plaintiffs include kids and parents in the Kern High School District. The group is being represented by a cadre of civil rights legal groups, which includes the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA).

Here’s a clip from CRLA:

The Kern County Superior Court denied the KHSD’s attempt to dismiss the case in its entirety and allowed the majority of claims in the lawsuit to go forward against the district, including its Board of Trustees and Superintendent Bryon Schaefer (“District Defendants”).

In particular, the Court ruled that the allegations of past and present discriminatory conduct on the part of the District Defendants could remain in the lawsuit. However, the Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ Second Cause of Action, which claims that the District violated the “Free Schools Guarantee” of the California Constitution by denying students in alternative schools the basic quality of education to which they are entitled. The court also limited the claims that could be pursued by some of the parent Plaintiffs.

Although the ruling allows for the litigation to proceed, and directs the Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint in 20 days, the Court ordered a stay of the case proceedings pending a ruling on the Plaintiffs’ appeal of the dismissal of the State of California from the case, which is currently pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

Plaintiffs intend to seek clarification from the Superior Court and a lift of the stay for purposes of continuing to prepare the case for trial through formal discovery. Depositions had commenced in Bakersfield this week in the discovery phase of the case, however, Defendant KHSD has refused to allow the depositions to be completed or allow further new discovery based on the Court’s stay.

Plaintiffs allege there is a long history of discriminatory practices that has resulted in the disproportionate expulsion and involuntary transfer of African American and Latino students. When the disproportionality was brought to the District’s attention, the District changed its reporting practices and method of addressing discipline so that students are involuntarily transferred or forced to waive their hearing rights in order to stay in some kind of school setting, which often fails to meet the students’ educational needs. As a result, they end up in the same alternative schools that expelled students are sent to and on the same path to nowhere.

The KHSD, located in California’s Central Valley, has a student population that is 62 percent Latino and 6.3 percent African American. Over the last five years, discriminatory school assignment policies have made it far more likely for Latino and African American students to be suspended, expelled, or transferred to alternative schools than the general school population. An equal or greater number of African American students and Latino students are being forced to spend time in alternative schools even while KHSD claims progress due to the decrease in expulsions. The numbers look different, but the result is that substantially similar numbers of African-American and Latino students are pushed out of regular school settings and assigned to alternative schools that fail to meet their needs or deliver a quality education.

Cynthia L. Rice, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training at CRLA, Inc., commented on the school district’s change in practice from excessive expulsions to excessive transfers: “Parents and students should know that it’s a smoke and mirrors tactic implemented by the District to hide the truth. These are not ‘waivers’ or ‘voluntary transfers.’ These are placements that result from the same flawed discipline practices. Parents are coerced to ‘agree’ to a transfer because the only alternative the District gives them is to have their child denied the right to attend any school for 45 days or more while they await a hearing. Our clients want this practice stopped and replaced by a system that responsibly addresses student behavior and needs.”


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES OVERTURN MURDER CONVICTION WON WITH PROBLEMATIC BITE MARK EVIDENCE

A San Bernardino man named Bill Richards was sentenced to life in prison for his wife’s murder based on bite-mark evidence analyzed by a forensic dental expert. (There was also new testimony about DNA evidence indicating an unidentified man.) But bite-mark science suggests, wrongly, that humans’ teeth are as unique as DNA, and that skin can accurately record the unique tooth-marks.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to overturn Richards’ 1997 murder conviction. The important ruling could cause a ripple effect in other states.

The Intercept’s Jordan Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

Richards’s controversial conviction for Pamela’s grisly 1993 murder has long been considered a clear case of wrongful conviction that was based on the discredited science of bite-mark analysis. Indeed, it took the state four attempts to convict Richards — two full trials ended in a hung jury and a third ended in a mistrial during jury selection — and prosecutors were successful only after putting on the stand a legendary forensic dentist who testified that Richards’s highly unique lower dentition was a match for a bite mark found on Pamela’s hand. The dentist, Norman “Skip” Sperber, told the jury that based on his 40-plus years in the field, he could say that out of 100 people, only “one or two or less” would have the same “unique feature” in their lower teeth.

In fact, however, Sperber was wrong. In 2008 he recanted his testimony, saying that he had cited statistics that lacked scientific support and never should have done so, “because it’s inappropriate to cite percentages or things resembling percentages unless there has been some prior scientific study” to back up the assertion. Based on Sperber’s recantation (and that of another dentist, Greg Golden, who testified for the defense, along with additional testimony about new DNA evidence that matched an unknown male), a district judge in 2009 said that the evidence now before the court pointed “unerringly” to Richards’s innocence.

The state appealed that decision and in 2012 the California Supreme Court agreed, knocking down the trial court’s ruling. The decision, which split the justices 4-3 in favor of upholding Richards’s conviction, was tortured: In a decision that was derided as the worst of the year by California Lawyer magazine, the court ruled that expert testimony was merely opinion and therefore could never be considered true or false.

In response, California lawmakers amended the state’s penal code with a measure known as the Bill Richards Bill. That law, which allowed Richards to again appeal his case, made clear that a conviction could be overturned based on an expert recantation or when the science underlying the original testimony had changed.

This time around, the entire court agreed that Sperber’s testimony was false, the bite-mark evidence was material to the case, and there was a reasonable probability that the evidence had impacted the outcome of Richards’s trial. The court noted that aside from the alleged bite mark, there was only circumstantial evidence to suggest Richards had killed his wife — and in its analysis the court seems to have concluded that none of it was particularly persuasive.

Posted in Restorative Justice | No Comments »

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Reportedly Suffering From Alzheimer’s, Could Affect Sentencing

May 31st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


IS FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SUFFERING FROM ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?

According to sources who have met recently with former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the former sheriff said he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, along with Parkinson’s,** and believes his condition may persuade U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson not to give him any prison time when Anderson sentences Baca in July.

Baca’s sentencing hearing, which was originally scheduled for May, has been delayed twice at the request of the prosecution, and is now scheduled for July 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Judge Anderson’s courtroom.

If you’ll remember, in February of this year, Baca signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors in which he formally pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when they questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted to Judge Anderson that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning three years earlier on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Baca’s attorneys sought the plea agreement with the feds in lieu their client facing a federal indictment for his alleged part in obstructing the government’s probe into LASD wrongdoing.

But although the former sheriff pleaded guilty in February, the plea will not be finalized until Baca’s July sentencing. The terms of the plea deal specify that Baca’s sentence will fall between 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

Yet, as Judge Anderson informed Baca and his attorney, Michael Zweiback, during the February plea hearing, the court “is not bound by advisory guidelines,” but is able to impose a sentence that “could be greater or lessor than the guideline range,” up to a maximum of five years in prison, plus three years of post-prison oversight, and a cash fine of up to $250,000.

But if Anderson was to go above the 0 to 6 guidelines, then the plea deal would become null and void—unless Baca and his attorney elected to take the higher sentence rather than go to trial.

Still, there has been much speculation about the possibility that Anderson could to go above the guidelines in order to give Baca a sentence that can be measured in years, not months.

But now there is the new—but not officially confirmed—-talk about Baca’s possible condition.

Baca’s sentencing date has been postponed twice, and both times the postponement was requested by the prosecution.

In the most recent written request for a delay, prosecutors referred to “issues raised” in the “Pre-Sentence Investigation Report” that has been submitted by probation.

Here’s how that works: After Baca submitted his plea, representatives from federal probation met with Baca and company, then submitted a report recommending a sentence within the federal guidelines—specifically that 0 to 6 months we mentioned earlier–-for the crime to which he has pleaded. Then once in receipt of the probation report, the prosecution must make its own recommendation that could be higher or lower than whatever probation suggested, but that—–according to the terms of the plea deal—–must remain within the 0-6 month parameter.

It seems, however, that there are some unnamed “issues” raised by the probation report that the government feels it needs more time to address:

The government has identified, retained and consulted with an expert witness regarding the issues raised in paragraph 65. This expert witness then asked for additional material from defendant in order to fully assess the issue.

Defendant provided most of this material to the government late last week, which the government forwarded on to its expert witness today. Defendant, however, is awaiting additional results sought by the government’s expert witness. Defendant expects to receive these results in the next week. Once the government receives the additional material, it will need time to consult with its expert witness on the issue and determine the extent to which it affects the government’s [sentencing] recommendation, if at all.

The probation report, including the mysterious “paragraph 65” and the issues to which it refers are under seal.

So do the “issues” causing the delay relate to Baca’s reported medical condition?

We asked Assistant U.S. Attoney Brandon Fox about the matter and he declined to comment.


TANAKA SENTENCING

The sentencing date for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka has also been delayed, and Tanaka will now be sentenced on June 27 at 8:30 a.m. For Tanaka too it will be Judge Anderson will be doing the sentencing. Tanaka faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

To remind you, the former undersheriff was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that he directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to disrupt an FBI investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.

Seven other former department members have been convicted of charges of obstruction of justice for actions stemming from orders issued by Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Baca.

Judge Anderson, who will be sentencing both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, presided over the trials of the seven and handed down their sentences, which ranged from 18 months to 41 months

So, in view of the sentences Anderson has already ordered for department underlings, will he be willing to sentence the former top guy, Lee Baca, to no prison time at all? Or will he venture outside the guidelines to give Baca a more substantial prison sentence, despite the former sheriff’s reported medical issues.

Unless there are more delays, we will learn the answer to that question on July 11.

And in between the sentencing of Tanaka and Baca, the cases of the convicted seven will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 5.


**CORRECTION: Although sources tell us former sheriff Baca has Parkinson’s, for a variety of reasons, we have become less sure about the reliability of this second reported diagnosis, hence the cut. We will keep you up to date as we learn more.

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments »

For Those Who Have Served, With Deep Appreciation, Respect and Sorrow.

May 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


For those service men and women whom Memorial Day honors,
here is Jason Isbell’s beautiful and heartbreaking song Dress Blues, written for his high school friend, Marine Cpl. Matthew Conley, who was killed at age 21 in Iraq in February 2006 when his Humvee rode over an improvised explosive device.

Conley left behind his young wife who was pregnant with their first child.

Then, of course, once again The Band Plays Waltzing Matilda. written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971, four years before the fall of Saigon.

Below you’ll find two versions. The first sung by the great Liam Clancy.

The second by the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan.

Both versions are devastating and unduplicable.

As you listen, remember that Los Angeles County has the largest population of homeless war veterans in the nation.

Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

In an Important New Opinion, Fed Judge Talks About “Collateral Consequences” of a Felony Record, & Declines to Give Prison Sentence

May 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



In a remarkable 42-page opinion handed down in a New York federal court on Tuesday,
U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block explained why he had decided not to sentence a 20-year-old woman named Chenille Nesbeth to federal prison for trying to smuggle 602 grams of cocaine into the U.S. from Jamaica.

Instead of prison time, Block gave Nesbeth a year of probation and 100 hours of community service because, he wrote, the “number of statutory and regulatory collateral consequences she will face as a convicted felon,” many of them for the rest of her life, was punishment enough:

“I am writing this opinion because from my research and experience over two decades as a district judge, sufficient attention has not been paid at sentencing by me and lawyers – both prosecutors and defense counsel – as well as by the Probation Department in rendering its pre-sentence reports, to the collateral consequences facing a convicted defendant.’ And I believe that judges should consider such consequences in rendering a lawful sentence.


A FORM OF “CIVIL DEATH”

In explaining his actions, Block quoted from, among other sources, Michelle Alexander’s influential book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

The effects of these collateral consequences can be devastating. As Professor Michelle Alexander has explained, “[m]yriad laws, rules, and regulations operate to discriminate against ex-offenders and effectively prevent their reintegration into the mainstream society and economy. These restrictions amount to a form of ‘civi[l] death’ and send the unequivocal message that ‘they’ are no longer part of ‘us.’”

This “broad range” of collateral consequences, Block wrote, “serve no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court-imposed sentences.” Moreover, many of these after-effects of a felony conviction, under both federal and state law, “attach automatically upon a defendant’s conviction.”

The effects of such collateral consequences, he said, “can be devastating.”

Justice advocates have been making similar point for years, but coming from a well-known federal judge the thesis was both startling and significant.

And case anyone reading failed apprehend his seriousness on the topic, in the pages that followed, Block provided a short course on the scope of those consequences, and on the deleterious affects that reach beyond the lawbreaker to his or her children, family and the community in general.

He noted, for example, that federal law imposes “nearly 1,200 collateral consequences for convictions generally, and nearly 300 for controlled-substances offenses.”

Under federal law alone, he wrote, a felony conviction may make an individual permanently ineligible for public housing, Section 8 vouchers, food stamps, student loans and more. Add to that the fact that most employers don’t want to hire people with a criminal record, and the chances of someone successfully integrating him or herself back into society is drastically diminished.

“The inability to obtain housing and procure employment,” Block continued, “results in further disastrous consequences, such as losing child custody or going homeless. In this way, the statutory and regulatory scheme contributes heavily to many ex-convicts becoming recidivists and restarting the criminal cycle.”


SERIOUS CRIMES

Despite the unusual nature of this week’s sentencing, Block was careful to point out that he was in no way letting Nesbeth off the legal or moral hook for the crime she committed.

“There is no question that Ms. Nesbeth has been convicted of serious crimes,” he wrote. “Her criminal conduct is inexcusable.”

As for the crime itself: it seems that Nesbeth took a trip to Jamaica “at the behest of a boyfriend.” Then, prior to her return, friends of the boyfriend gave her two suitcases and asked her to bring them to another person when she arrived back in the U.S. Evidently the drugs were in the handles of the suitcases. At trial, Nesbeth claimed that she didn’t know there were drugs in the suitcases.

The jury didn’t buy it—particularly since the “friends” had purchased her ticket.

Yet, it also came out in the trial, according to Block, that Nesbeth was to receive no payment or other monetary gain from acting as a courier. It seems she’d mostly done the whole thing for the boyfriend.

Even the U.S. Probation Department in their sentencing recommendation, urged that Nesbeth be given a 24-month sentence, which was at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines for the crime of which she’d been convicted. Probation pointed to the fact that she was “a first-time offender, was enrolled in college, employed, and “has otherwise lived a law-abiding life and is at a low risk of recidivism.”

Probation went on to write, “the defendant is a college student and she has held internships working with young children as it was her original intent to become a teacher and eventually a principal. The defendant will be ineligible for grants, loans, and work assistance for a period of two years, the duration of her college career.”

She would also be unlikely to ever hold a job as teacher, or a school administrator, and other related professions that had originally been the focus of her education and ambition.


“A JUST PUNISHMENT”

At the end of his writing, in case anyone has missed the point, Block made it clear that he intended the opinion to be far more than simply an explanation for what some might perceive to be an unusually lenient sentence.

In specific, Block expressed the hope that his writing would cause other jurists to examine the issues he laid out:

“While consideration of the collateral consequences a convicted felon must face should be part of a sentencing judge’s calculus in arriving at a just punishment, it does nothing, of course, to mitigate the fact that those consequences will still attach. It is for Congress and the states’ legislatures to determine whether the plethora of post-sentence punishments imposed upon felons is truly warranted, and to take a hard look at whether they do the country more harm than good.

“Hopefully, this opinion will be of value to the bench and bar, and to all those who are committed to serving the ends of justice.”

There is, of course, no way to know for sure whether or not Block’s opinion will have an effect on the actions of other judges, yet Gabriel J. Chin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law, who was quoted in the NY Times story on Tuesday’s ruling, called the opinion “groundbreaking.”

“This is by some distance the most careful and thorough judicial examination” of collateral consequences in sentencing, said Professor Chin, who has written on the subject and whose work the judge cited in the opinion.

“It’s going to generate debate on a critical issue in the criminal justice system — the ability of people convicted of crimes to get on with their lives,” he said.


THE “DGS STAGE”

Block, who will turn 82 on June 6, was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, and is the author of a well received memoir called Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

When doing publicity for the book, Block was asked by reporter David Lat of Above the Law, which case in his career he looked back on with the most pride, he pointed to a 2008 case involving two Egyptian-born men who were questioned for four hours after a cross-country flight in 2004. Block ruled that it was wrong to arrest the men solely because of their ethnicity. “…perceived ethnicity alone,” he wrote, “cannot give rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”

During that same post publication period, Block told Larry McShane of the New York Daily News something that may have bearing on THE 2008 case and on this week’s decision.

“I’m at the DGS stage of life,” Block said to McShane

Then, chuckling, the judge—who was then a mere 78-years-old—translated for the reporter.

“Don’t give a s—. I don’t care what any of you say. I feel freed up to do what I really feel is the right thing.”


Judge Block on Collateral Consequences of Felony Conviction by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Sentencing | 5 Comments »

SCOTUS Tackles Racism in Jury Selection, Bill to Block Info on Child Welfare Deaths Scrapped, and a Jackie Lacey Interview

May 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

SCOTUS RULES AGAINST RACIAL BIAS IN DEATH PENALTY JURY SELECTION

On Monday, in a 7-1 decision (with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting), the US Supreme Court moved to limit prosecutors’ exclusion of potential jurors based on race.

The Supremes ruled that Georgia prosecutors improperly struck black jurors from the jury pool in the death penalty case of Timothy Tyrone Foster.

The justices’ decision clears a path for a new trial for Foster, an intellectually disabled black man, who, at the age of 18, was charged with the murder of a 79-year-old retired elementary schoolteacher named Queen Madge White, a white woman. Foster was tried by an all-white jury, who sentenced Foster to death. Prosecutors highlighted the names of each potential black juror, and wrote the letter B next to their names.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the prosecutors acted in violation of a 1986 SCOTUS ruling that found racial discrimination during jury selection to be unconstitutional. The ruling required lawyers to give race-neutral reasons for striking jury members when accused of such discrimination.

But because the opinion is such a narrow one, it’s not going to stop prosecutors from misusing peremptory challenges, which allow attorneys to get rid of jurors they believe are harboring prejudice. Peremptory challenges can, and sometimes are, abused by attorneys who dismiss jurors because of race, gender, or sexual orientation without explanation. (Here’s a interesting history lesson and some more information on the issue of peremptory challenges from the Public Law Research Institute at UC Hastings.)

Georgia attorneys are allowed 20 peremptory challenges—more than in most states. (California lawyers also get 20 peremptory strikes in life imprisonment and death penalty cases.)

The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

[Stephen] Bright says that “every prosecutor has a handy-dandy list of race-neutral reasons that they give” when it comes to exercising peremptory challenges. “They even distribute reasons in advance. Some state training programs even distribute a list called ‘Articulating Juror Negatives.’”

That is the real problem: that across the country, prosecutors are given enormous discretion—in Georgia, they have 20 peremptory challenges—and know how to weasel around the rules.

That certainly happened in Foster’s case. As the Court’s opinion relates, the prosecutor objected to one juror “because she: (1) worked with disadvantaged youth in her job as a teacher’s aide; (2) kept looking at the ground during voir dire; (3) gave short and curt answers during voir dire; (4) appeared nervous; (5) was too young; (6) misrepresented her familiarity with the location of the crime; (7) failed to disclose that her cousin had been arrested on a drug charge; (8) was divorced; (9) had two children and two jobs; (10) was asked few questions by the defense; and (11) did not ask to be excused from jury service.”

That’s typical of the “laundry list” approach that prosecutors use in order to avoid being accused of discrimination: just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It doesn’t matter if it’s incorrect—for example, this “too young” juror was actually 13 years older than a white juror who had been admitted. Just say everything and sort it out later if you have to.

Nothing in today’s case changes that.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston has a helpful breakdown of the ruling and its implications.

For further Foster v. Chatman-related reading, Atlanta Magazine’s Max Blau has an excellent profile on Stephen Bright, the head of Atlanta’s Southern Center for Human Rights, who found the prosecutor’s racially biased juror notes and successfully argued Foster’s case before the High Court. Bright and his SCHR team have won four of the last five SCOTUS capital punishment cases they’ve argued. Here’s a small clip:

“It’s a brutal, enormously difficult, emotionally draining practice,” Bright told the New York Times in 1993. “There are no resources to do the job well, there’s a tremendous amount of public hostility, and it’s financially devastating to most lawyers. You have to be out of your head to take one of these cases.”

Now boasting a staff of 26, the 40-year-old SCHR has won four of its last five U.S. Supreme Court death penalty cases, exonerated an Alabama man convicted of murder by showing he had an alibi, and helped overturn dozens of death sentences. It was a series of SCHR lawsuits that spurred lawmakers in the early 2000s to create the Georgia Public Defender Council, a statewide system considered to be a major upgrade over the existing patchwork of local public defender offices.

Two MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant winners have been Bright protégés. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Bryan Stevenson joined the SCHR, sleeping on Bright’s lumpy couch for a year. In 1989 Stevenson started the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which has since saved more than 100 men from execution. And when Rapping founded Gideon’s Promise in 2007 to train public defenders across the country, Bright gave the fledging program space in the SCHR’s offices.

“We wouldn’t have existed without Steve,” Rapping says. “We’re carrying out Steve’s vision.”


CA LEGISLATORS SHOOT DOWN A SNEAKY BILL TO LIMIT THE RELEASE OF INFORMATION ON CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM FATALITIES

State lawmakers have rejected a “trailer bill” attached to the California’s May budget revision, which would have closed off public access to records regarding the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system.

The bill, introduced by the California Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, would ease deadlines for releasing the child death records and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Information on the family’s history within the child welfare system would be limited, and info provided by witnesses would be removed from the record. The legislation would have replaced those pieces of information with a short summary of the government’s attempt to protect the kids.

Lawmakers rejected the bill following a recommendation from the staff of Senate Subcommittee 3 on Budget and Fiscal Review to toss the bill

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

Since the state implemented the original law, reporters have had access to social worker case notes and other files. These sometimes revealed glaring inadequacies in the state’s child welfare system, including instances of social workers disregarding policies and allowing children to remain in conditions that proved fatal.

One provision of the proposed revision of the law would have denied the public access to original case notes with social workers’ names, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children. Critics also criticized what would have been relaxed deadlines for the release of certain records.

The Senate lawmakers recommended that the department return to the drawing board and vet the measure through the usual committee process “to ensure that lengthier time of discussion is provided and that the proposed language does not represent a retreat from, or complicates, existing practice.”

Pete Cervinka, the social services deputy director who led efforts to craft the bill, said much of the criticism was overblown and that he had hoped the bill, in practice, would increase the amount of information released in child fatalities.

Cervinka noted that the bill would have for the first time provided information about cases in which someone injures or neglects a child to the point that they are “near death.” The federal government has been prodding the state to do this—and holding back some federal money until it happens.

He said the starting point for future attempts to address that issue would be the existing law, not the recent drafts of the new bill, adding that the department would work harder to build consensus among various groups, including nonprofit child welfare groups, lawyers for parents of children in foster care and unions representing social workers.

Trailer bills that are tacked onto the budget, like the one mentioned above, are able to skip review in committees and take a short cut to voting. These bills are meant to implement the budget, but often carry major non-budgetary policy changes.

Another way lawmakers circumvent the usual legislative procedure is by placing bills—ones that would cost the state money if passed—into “suspense files.” This technically happens so that the measure’s potential fiscal impact can be assessed. But there are quite a few bills that would place very little fiscal burden on the state that have been placed on suspense.

In an op-ed, the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters explains that using the suspense file has become a way for lawmakers to meet and decide behind closed doors which bills will move forward, and which will be dumped.

Interestingly, a bill to shine light on police personnel files in misconduct cases has been placed in a suspense file.

Walters says that, like police records, there should be more transparency within the legislative process. Here’s a clip:

The suspense file process has morphed into a way for the Legislature’s leaders to decide in secret which bills will be allowed to proceed and which will not, for reasons known only to themselves.

At some point later in the session, the committees will meet and in mere minutes declare which bills will be allowed to reach the floors of both houses. Pro forma votes will be entered into the official record, but that’s just window dressing.

The arbitrary nature of the process is aimed not only at winnowing the volume of measures reaching the floors, and their costs, but at protecting legislators from having to cast votes that could be politically difficult.

One could say, in fact, that legislators are protecting themselves in the same way that police secrecy laws protect cops and their departments from having to answer to the public for their actions.

Nor is it the only way that the Legislature makes it more difficult for its activities to receive public scrutiny.

When they take up the budget in June – a budget whose important details will be drafted in secret by the governor and legislative leaders – lawmakers will also vote on a couple of dozen “trailer bills” that supposedly implement the budget but always contain major policy changes that are never aired publicly in advance.

Not only should the secrecy surrounding internal police investigations be breached, but also the secrecy that envelops the budget.


LA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY TALKS WITH KCRW’S WARREN OLNEY

In 2012, Jackie Lacey made history in Los Angeles, becoming the county’s first female and black district attorney.

In an interview with KCRW’s Warren Olney, Lacey—who is running unopposed for another four years as DA—talks about key issues that have cropped up during her first four years, including Prop 47′s effect on crime, jail-building, and prosecuting law enforcement officers. Here’s a clip from the interview, but do go over and listen to the whole thing:

Warren Olney: You have often said that your office is supposed to be race neutral, but history shows that our society and the rest of the criminal justice system is not race neutral. It’s a lot harder on blacks and other minorities than it is on white people. What are you doing about that?

Jackie Lacey: Our office does its very best to make sure that the policy makers reflect the diversity of the community. So if you look, our office is probably the most diverse population of prosecutors if not in California and maybe throughout the United States. I think that helps because you want the perspective of a lot of different people at the table. I think in diversity there’s strength and people take their jobs seriously, there’s the least likelihood of bias. I also think that it helps the community’s confidence to see that our office is as diverse as it is, in terms of making decisions about everything from what’s filed to what’s not filed, and certainly to what type of sentences are incurred. I, as an African American woman of course, grew up in Los Angeles, in South LA and am very much aware of biases and while we don’t have a perfect office, or a perfect system we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it is as bias free as it can humanely, possibly be.

Proposition 47 reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors in order to help ease prison overcrowding, lead to alternative kinds of treatment and also to save money. Other district attorneys and some of your own prosecutors claim that it has led to an increase in crime. Do you agree with that?

I haven’t seen the data supporting that. There is an increase in crime, particularly property crime. I think the Public Policy Institute has noted that. I’m not sure if they attribute it to Prop 47 or AB-109 which is prison realignment. But we’re definitely seeing an increase in crime and we ought to pay attention to it. But I think we also owe it to the public to examine each case and look to see where the person was and what they were doing in terms of the criminal justice system before they committed the crime in order to draw that conclusion, that Prop 47 is responsible. It may be responsible and it may not. But I would love to see the data but I think more importantly, I think it’s my job to continue to look for ways to discourage people from committing crimes. Obviously there’s a deterrent effect asking for custody time, but also addressing any issues such as addiction that may be causing someone to get out there and commit property crimes.

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