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Why It’s Important That LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the LASD Are Making Child Sex-trafficking a Priority

November 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


A few days ago, I spoke with Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell about, among other topics, the many challenges involved in running—and reforming—the huge and uniquely complicated agency that is the department under his care.

At some point in the conversation, I changed the subject slightly and asked McDonnell about the recent emphasis that he has put on the issue of sex trafficked children.

If you’ll remember, we reported two weeks ago on McDonnell’s announcement that he had appointed a regional task force to “seek to dismantle the criminal enterprises” and “bring to justice traffickers.” He said that the task force would also go after “individuals who create the demand that sustains these crimes”—–in other words, the johns who buy sex from children but who, in the past, have been charged with the equivalent of a minor traffic ticket. But no more. “They’re pedophiles. They’re child molesters,” he said to the press.

At the same time, McDonnell instructed the troops to treat the girls (or boys) being sold for sex by the traffickers, as the victims they are—a change in viewpoint that the sheriff said was still a complicated work in progress.

I brought up the topic, in part, because some have questioned the sheriff’s focus on this particular issue, when there are so many areas of LA County’s still-troubled department that call loudly for attention. Yet McDonnell seemed clear about the crucial nature of the trafficking problem.

“I believe we can create a national model,” he told me. And he also believes, he said, that such a model can make a difference to the increasing number of children who are being sold for sex in LA County, and nationwide.

We at WitnessLA agree that the matter of sex trafficking of kids is an issue that demands our attention—now, not later.

We have several comprehensive stories in the works on this and related topics. In the meantime, here’s a mini-story to act as a reminder why it’s important to keep the topic of child sex-trafficking victims front and center.


Ruby,* who is 21 years old, is a survivor of child sex trafficking. She was sold to men for sex from the time she was twelve years old until she managed to get away at 17. Most girls who are sex trafficked are “branded” by their pimps, Ruby told me when we talked. This means, she said, they are forced to wear a tattoo, or some equivalent sign that marks them as the property of the man who sells them. In Ruby’s case, her pimp’s brand of choice was “The Shark,” words that used to run in dark script on the side of her neck, from her hairline down toward her chin.

Ruby had this mark of ownership removed at at a non-profit that works with at risk young men and women. But simply getting rid of the ink wasn’t enough since, even the best tattoo removal leaves small dark shadows on the skin. So Ruby had a long-stemmed rose drawn over the area where the self-named Shark once put his stamp.

Ruby’s friend, Bella*, who is now 22, was first sex-trafficked when she was 11-years old. Bella still seemed very fragile as she told me about her experiences, her voice soft and unsure. She said she was ordered to get a tattoo after three months with the man who sold her for sex. “You had to get the brand after three months or else he’d make you,” she said. Fearful of his volcanic anger, she just did as she was told. In Bella’s case the mark was even less personal than what Ruby was forced to wear on her skin. Bella’s brand, which is still on her forearm, reads READY TELLER.

Ruby has a part-time job working for a non-profit, and hopes she can get Bella in there too. The young women need work so they can support themselves, of course, but more than anything, said Ruby, they need to work to help redefine themselves. It’s something she grapples with every day, she said, not to go back to the feeling that darkened her psyche for so many years, which was the belief that she was worth nothing.

** Ruby and Bella’s names and distinguishing details have been changed for their protection


I met Ruby and Bella late last month at a press conference that kicked off a campaign called No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute, which aims to change the way we think and talk about child victims of sex trafficking. During the 3-hour event, sponsored by the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls), and by the California Endowment, Sheriff McDonnell spoke with force on the topic, as did LA County supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Don Knabe, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, plus Cal Endowment president, Dr. Robert Ross. But the day’s most affecting speakers were a group of women who were once victims of sex trafficking, but now have now become advocates and leaders, helping girls like themselves find ways to cope, heal and, eventually, thrive.

Charity Chandler-Cole, who is now on the board of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said she first became aware of the issue of children being sold for sex when she was a kid locked up in LA County’s main juvenile hall because she had herself stolen a pack of underwear. (No comment on the wisdom of locking up a kid for stealing underwear.) In the hall, as it is known, she met girls—ranging in age from 11-years old to 17—who had been arrested as prostitutes. “But the very people who violated them—their Johns—were out there leading their lives, unpunished.”

Later, when Charity was placed in a foster care group home, she said she saw “girls being released to their pimps at night as long as they came back at a certain hour.” After a time, Charity too was sexually exploited by those who were supposed to protect her. Eventually, she ran away from placement—-and was arrested for running away. In other words, it was she, not her exploiters, who was punished.

Jessica Midkiff another survivor/advocate remembered how she rationalized what was happening her during the days when, as a young teenager, she was being sold for sex. “I thought—a lot of us thought—that we were put on earth to please men. That’s what we told ourselves. We felt as though we had no future. We just tried to survive the next exploiter—survive the next rapist.”

Jessica also explained why it is so essential that we change the way we talk about trafficked children. “The word prostitution needs to be removed from our vocabulary,” she said. “People still call me a prostitute. Even some people in my family. They tell me, “Nobody’s ever going to love you, you’re never going to get married, because of what you used to do.’”

After Jessica finished, Charity told another story. “My little sister was fifteen years old when she got pregnant from one of her rapists,” she said. Since her sister was far too young to be a mother, Charity took in her nephew, who is now 9-years old, and has been raising him since. “Last night he was crying because he got in trouble at school for something.” Charity said. “So I asked him why he was crying. He said, ‘Because I’m in pain.’” Charity asked him why he was in such pain, since the boy hadn’t received any severe punishment, either in school or at home. “He said, ‘Because my dad’s a rapist and it’s in my blood to be bad.’”

Charity was stunned. She had never told her nephew any such thing about the man who fathered him. But evidently his young mother had. “So these men aren’t just raping children,” Charity told the crowd, as she too began to tear up. “The damage doesn’t always stop there.” It can ricochet and become generational.

There were more stories after that, including a speech by Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, another survivor/advocate, now a college student who, because of the dynamic nature of her advocacy and leadership, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people last year—among other recent honors.

A child of drug addicts, “T” also said she was raised in LA County’s foster care system, where she was moved from family to family, with no real stability. “So at the age of 10 when I met a man who said he would take care of me and love me,” T said, “I went with him.” For the next seven years, her “protector” did not protect T at all. He sold her—over and over and over. “He sold me on the streets, on Craig’s list, in massage parlors, in strip clubs.” When she didn’t meet his quota, he beat her. “But my story is very similar to many stories I’ve heard all over the country….” Her mission now is to help all those girls like her gather the courage and the hope necessary to get out and become whole.


So what to do?

The road ahead isn’t an easy one, admitted Michelle Guymon, the director of LA County Probation’s Child Trafficking Unit, and a woman who obviously cares a great deal about doing right by the county’s child victims.

“We’re trying to work away from a protocol that begins with arresting these girls.”

Guymon’s unit is part of a “new protocol” that is being developed, which involves a series of wrap-around services to help young victims, which are triggered from the minute the kid comes in contact with law enforcement, and begin rolling out to surround the girl or boy with help, attention and next-step solutions, ideally, in the first hour.

“Prior to the new protocol,” Guymon said, “in the pilot areas of Compton and Long Beach, there were 94 arrests” of sex trafficked kids.” Yet, in the year and three months since the protocol has been put into place in those some two areas, “there have been two arrests.”

But, while the all-hands-on-deck approach appears promising, creating a comprehensive and effective system of intervention—rather than arrest—that can function on a countywide scale, requires resources that presently don’t exist.

Still, there is progress. And it must be built upon, say advocates.

So why should we be cheering the LASD’s leadership for their involvement in this difficult issue —when the department has many other critical issues that also require the sheriff’s attention?

Simple. Because the matter of sex trafficking affects thousands of California children who are being raped in our cities and counties every single day. And they can’t wait.

Posted in Sex trafficking | 12 Comments »

Prop. 47 and Diversion Courts, Judge Michael Nash Interview, and Solitary in CA Jails

October 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Before Prop. 47 reduced certain low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with non-violent drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses (some of the courts even require a felony for eligibility). Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

In the latest installment of the LA Times’ editorial series on Prop. 47, Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley, who founded Santa Clara County’s mental health and drug courts, says the current drop in alternative court participation doesn’t mean we should give up on Prop. 47.

Instead, Judge Manley says the reentry courts need to evolve.

Here’s a clip from Judge Manley’s op-ed:

…this trend doesn’t mean we need to throw up our hands or scrap Proposition 47. On the contrary, it suggests that drug courts should adapt, as they have before, to the new order. Because Proposition 47 has downgraded most drug offenses, drug courts should accept those convicted of misdemeanors. Misdemeanors still carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, more than enough to serve as a disincentive.

Not all existing drug courts work exclusively with felons. Many in California and elsewhere, including my own, already work with lower-level offenders who cannot be sent to state prison. Even when participation is not a prison alternative but merely a required term of probation, drug courts are effective.

A recent report by the Judicial Council found that reentry drug court participants in California who faced a maximum of six months in jail for their violations had their parole revoked less often and ultimately spent significantly less time in prison than a comparison group.

Even without adapting, drug courts can do a lot of good. Drug courts, remember, frequently work with felons who commit crimes other than drug possession — addiction is a common factor in many crimes — and are therefore unaffected by Proposition 47. And Proposition 47 certainly has not reduced these programs’ ability to assist offenders who enter treatment. Success stems from positive reinforcement and motivation, not the hammer of incarceration.


So far, nearly 4,500 people have been released from prison under California’s Prop. 47, which reduced certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, according to a study by Stanford Law’s Justice Advocacy Project.

In the coming years, the 2014 law will keep around 3,300 misdemeanor offenders out of prison annually, saving California an estimated $93 million each year, and saving counties $203 million that can be put back into rehabilitation and reentry and alternative court programs. But critics of Prop 47 say that recent upticks in crime points back to the release of so many low-level offenders.

PBS’ Evening Edition host Peggy Pico discussed the study’s findings with two law enforcement officials on either side of the debate: former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who was a major supporter of Prop. 47, and San Diego Chief Deputy DA David Greenberg, who opposed the measure.

Here’s a clip (but you can watch the discussion in the video above):

“The biggest takeaway is approximately 13,000 people have been released from state prisons and county jails,” Milena Blake, staff attorney for the Stanford Law School’s Justice Advocacy Project, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “That results in pretty significant savings.”

Before Proposition 47, county jails would release inmates before they fulfilled their sentences in order to create more space, said Blake, who co-authored the report.

“Because of the excess room in county jails, people are now able to serve their full sentence,” said Blake, who noted the recidivism rate is about 5 percent statewide.

Former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who backed Proposition 47, said lower inmate populations mean more money for other services.

“We’re the country that incarcerates more people than anyone in the world,” Lansdowne said. “We need to change that. Not everybody needs to go to jail.”


On November 3, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to appoint Judge Michael Nash to be the county’s child welfare czar.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change, Judge Nash discusses his top concerns about the Department of Children and Family Services as awaits final confirmation from the LA Supes. Here’s a clip (and here’s some backstory, in case you missed it):

“No problem can sustain the assault of sustained thinking,” Nash said. “That’s Voltaire, okay. That is the philosophy that has governed how I have worked with others.” He added that his role would primarily be one of a convener, “working with and for a board of supervisors that really cares for children.”


Nash said the county dependency court has been “drowning in petitions” to remove children for the past two years.

“What I want to know is how the department is maximizing its efforts to safely divert families from the court system, so that we can keep families together when appropriate,” he said.

The question of increasing numbers of children entering foster care is one that Nash has been outspoken about. While he did concede that media coverage like that surrounding the death of Gabriel Fernandez could create a situation where DCFS brass grew fearful of keeping kids in their homes, he said that wasn’t a good enough reason.

“The question is, are kids being removed out of fear of political repercussions or are kids being removed because of good social work?” Nash said. “At the end of the day, it has to be the latter. Simple as that.”

Despite his criticisms of the rising number of children entering foster care under Browning’s watch, Nash said that there was no friction between the two of them.

“I don’t have any personal issues with the director of DCFS or anyone else at this point,” Nash said. “Quite frankly, we work together. Have I at times been critical? Yes. But people have misinterpreted that we don’t get along, and that has not been the case.”


In an excellent longread for the Intercept, Kelly Davis takes a closer look at why California jails continue harsh and punitive solitary confinement practices despite major reforms at the state level.

Back in September, California settled Ashker v. Governor, drastically limiting the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. The settlement, while important, had no effect on the 123 county-run jails across the state. Many sheriff’s departments say they are in compliance with the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, or “Title 15.” But as the number of jail inmates who have committed suicide in recent years continues to grow, advocates say Title 15, which only requires three hours of out-of-cell recreation time, needs a serious overhaul.

Here’s a clip from Davis’ story:

California agreed to drastically reduce the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, the result of a 2012 lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed on behalf of inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax facility located just south of the California-Oregon border. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, argued that Pelican Bay’s reliance on prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement — one plaintiff had been in isolation for 43 years — was unconstitutional.

To settle the case, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to system-wide changes, including limiting the use of solitary confinement to punishment for serious rule violations and not, as had been the practice, to house inmates with gang ties. The settlement also establishes procedures to prevent inmates from being held in a prison’s security housing unit, or SHU, indefinitely.

But the Ashker settlement has no bearing on California’s 123 jails and their roughly 73,000 inmates, which are under the control of county sheriffs’ departments.

But while each jail system sets its own policies, those policies are guided by the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, also known as Title 15. That’s where the policy that allowed Christopher Carroll only one hour of dayroom time every 48 hours comes from. Title 15 recommends that jails allow inmates a minimum of three hours of recreation time each week. “Recreation,” however, isn’t defined, and in urban jails that lack outdoor space, this could mean an hour in a concrete room with nothing but a pull-up bar, or, as watchdog group Prison Law Office found in one county facility, an hour to walk around an empty cell. And even though Title 15 says three hours of out-of-cell time is the minimum for all inmates, in secure housing in many facilities, it’s the standard.

“A lot of staff will say, ‘We meet the Title 15 requirements,’” said Anne Hadreas, a staff attorney at Disability Rights California (DRC), which recently found widespread use of solitary confinement during jail inspections in several California counties. “Our response is that doesn’t actually save you in terms of liability. Just because you have a state regulation doesn’t overcome your constitutional liability.”

The damaging effects of isolation are well-documented, though the focus, understandably, tends to be on prolonged solitary confinement, like that experienced by Pelican Bay inmates who, as social psychologist Craig Haney testified in the Ashker case, experience a “social death” — the loss of the ability to simply interact with people. But even short-term confinement can cause lasting harm. More than a century ago, in an 1890 opinion in a case challenging a Colorado inmate’s placement in solitary confinement, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller described a Philadelphia jail “experiment” that found that inmates placed in isolation for “even a short confinement” fell into “a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide.”

The inmates who didn’t crack in isolation, Miller wrote, “were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Judge Michael Nash Tapped for LA Child Welfare Czar, Prop. 47 Arrests, and the OC Jailhouse Snitch Scandal

October 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, a letter from LA County CEO Sachi Hamai recommending Judge Michael Nash as LA County’s new child welfare czar was attached to the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.

The Supes are expected to approve Nash on November 3, to be head of the county’s Office of Child Protection, a position recommended 18 months ago by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system.

(We at WLA find this news very cheering, and can think of no one more suited to the position of LA County’s child welfare czar than Judge Nash.)

Judge Nash publicly voiced his interest in the child welfare czar position last October. The board reportedly was also looking at interim czar Fesia Davenport, who had formerly served as chief deputy director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Nash was clearly enthused in an interview with Daniel Heimpel of The Chronicle of Social Change: “I am excited because it is such a unique opportunity to work with L.A.’s finest. But, I am quite nervous. With this, failure is not an option. So I am really nervous about that. I think being nervous about that is a good thing.”

Nash’s unparalleled experience includes serving nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court, but did not remain retired for long, returning as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and DCFS, here.)

Here’s a clip from the Chronicle of Social Change story:

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was one of the most prominent recommendations to emerge from the blue ribbon commission’s nine-month investigation of the county’s child-serving systems. While the commission’s draft recommendations had initially envisioned the office’s director to have the power to amend budgets and staffing levels of various county agencies to better respond to child abuse, the approved plan for the office narrows its scope to that of a watchdog.

This is a post for which Nash, who served as presiding judge of the county’s large and complex juvenile court system, is uniquely suited. Known for testy exchanges with the current head of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and terse quotes in local and national media, the judge knows how to drive media attention, while also having an extensive rolodex of allies throughout the county’s fractious child welfare community.

“The OCP Director should possess a mixture of political finesse, deep understanding of the system and a deeper determination to improve it, courage to stand up to leaders who fear change, and a willingness to listen and collaborate with all of the stake holders and customers,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a former blue ribbon commissioner and co-chair of the transition team established after the commission was sunsetted. “Judge Nash is one of the few individuals in Los Angeles who possesses all of these qualities. He is intelligent, deeply committed, and highly respected, and I believe he understands the vision behind creating the Office of Child Protection.”


In the latest essay from the LA Times’ editorial series on CA’s Prop. 47, editorial board member Rob Greene takes a look at why law enforcement officers say they are no longer arresting people for misdemeanor offenses, post-Prop. 47.

To answer this question, Greene delves into the procedural difference between misdemeanor and felony arrests, and how and when officers can make misdemeanor arrests. Here’s a clip:

…critics of Proposition 47 often speak as if those differences made the change even more drastic, in effect decriminalizing those six offenses, turning them into infractions like parking violations, with officers issuing citations or tickets instead of making arrests, and offenders not bothering to show up for their court dates in the belief that jail time was no longer possible.

In the post-Proposition 47 debate, the conversation is generally whittled down to this: Officers and prosecutors say they no longer can arrest people for these crimes. And because arrests are down, they say, crime in California is increasing and drug offenders are not getting treatment.

Defenders of Proposition 47 respond that crime rates go up and down for many reasons, and that rising crime in cities outside California shows that there’s not necessarily a causal link between crime and the change in law here. And besides, they add, all the same procedures and remedies that were available before are still available, except that jail sentences for those six crimes are held to a one-year maximum.

There’s something missing from this discussion. If people in law enforcement believe that crime is rising because they aren’t making arrests, then why aren’t they making arrests? What is it about the law, or about police, prosecutorial, court and jail practices, that cause fewer arrests and prosecutions this year for crimes that are misdemeanors than for last year, when the same crimes were felonies?

There appear to be seven key steps in the criminal justice process where Proposition 47 changed the law, or local practices, or both, and that may be in part responsible for fewer arrests. Each step brings with it an assumption or assertion that must be examined if we’re to determine where there may be a breakdown in public safety — and what can be done about it.

We’ll start today with the beginning of the process — the arrest.

Read the rest.


ABC7′s Marc Brown and producer Lisa Bartley have taken a very close look at the string of jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals plaguing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The alleged misconduct has resulted in the removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Here’s how the first story opens (but do go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

The murders and their aftermath have wrought unimaginable pain on family members of the victims. Four years later, the legal case against Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year, is in disarray. The entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been kicked off the death penalty phase of Dekraai’s case. Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been accused of lying under oath. There are calls from one of the most respected legal minds in the nation and the New York Times for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

How did Dekraai’s crimes lead to this? It all comes down to whether or not prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies broke the law in the pursuit of convictions. Critics say the most powerful law enforcement entities in Orange County cheated the system, pursuing a win-at-all costs legal strategy for decades, at the expense of not just Dekraai’s constitutional rights, but potentially scores of other defendants.

Scott Dekraai had already confessed to the murders to police when he found himself in an Orange County Jail cell next door to prolific jailhouse snitch Fernando Perez.

Perez, a former leader in the Mexican Mafia and third-striker facing possible life in prison, turned informant in 2010 and quickly racked up confession after confession from a series of suspects, all of whom wound up in a jail cell right next to Perez.

Perez may have sensed an opportunity when Dekraai started talking about his crimes. He knew that if Dekraai gave up information police and prosecutors wanted, Perez might be able to leverage that into a more lenient sentence for himself.

“They didn’t need to put an informant in that cell next to him,” said Paul Wilson who lost his wife of 26 years in Dekraai’s rampage and is outraged by delays in the case and what he calls “absolute crimes” by elected officials.

“They’re in cover-up mode,” Wilson tells Eyewitness News.

In their second story, Brown and Bartley tell the story of Oscar Moriel, a former member of the Mexican Mafia awaiting trial for a 2005 murder, who has become a seasoned jailhouse snitch, gathering a pile of confessions from fellow inmates in hopes of bettering his own situation, maybe even of joining the military with special recommendations from his handlers. Here’s how it opens:

Oscar Moriel is an unlikely ally of law enforcement. The former member of the Mexican Mafia is awaiting trial in Orange County for a 2005 attempted murder and has admitted on the witness stand that’s he’s killed at least six people.

Testifying under a grant of immunity last year, Moriel recounted how he and fellow gang members “went out hunting” for their victims.

In February 2009, Moriel was looking at possible life in prison when he summoned Santa Ana Police Department Detectives Chuck Flynn and David Rondou to the Orange County jail.

Moriel was ready to turn informant.

“I’m putting my life on the line, my life in jeopardy, my family’s life in jeopardy,” Moriel told the detectives in the once-secret jailhouse recordings obtained by Eyewitness News.

Moriel observes that the detectives appear to be “stumped” in their efforts to solve two cold-case murders. He expresses concern that law enforcement “manpower” and “taxpayer money” have so far failed to put the killers behind bars.

“I think I can do it pretty solid,” Moriel says. “I think I could smash the whole case and put the guy away or the people away.”

Moriel offers to help detectives crack the cases, but his “memory” remains a little fuzzy.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have to meet halfway here,” Moriel says…

Moriel wants the detectives to reach out to higher-ups in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Maybe they can “pull some strings” on Moriel’s attempted murder case.

“So, you’re looking for some consideration in exchange for information on two unsolved murders?” asks Detective Flynn.

“Pretty much,” says Moriel.

Moriel suggests that having some “options” on the table in his own case might help him think more clearly.

“I’m looking at a third strike, I’m looking at life in prison,” Moriel says. “So, the more options I have to work with and to choose from, the better position I’ll be in to think more clearly.”

Detectives tell Moriel they don’t have the authority to make a deal with him, but they can take his information to the people who do.

“You’ll get consideration for the level you perform,” Detective Flynn tells Moriel.

“Great, OK,” says Moriel.

Five months later, Detective Flynn meets with Moriel again. This time, he’s accompanied by Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Bill Grover and Ben Garcia.

By then, Moriel is hopeful, not just that he’ll be freed, but maybe… he could join the military?

“Do you think it’s possible after all this is done, if you guys can expunge my record and I can go into the military?” Moriel asks.

Detective Flynn admits that expunging Moriel’s lengthy criminal record would be tough, but joining the military might be possible with a recommendation from law enforcement.


Nearly nine years after his arrest, Moriel still hasn’t even had a trial on his own charges. But he’s been busy, gathering jailhouse confessions and information in a string of cases.

On the face of it, using jailhouse informants is legal. But those informants must not question charged suspects on behalf of police. And any evidence that an informant gathers, must be turned over to defense attorneys.

The once-secret jailhouse recordings should have been turned over in every case Moriel had a hand in, but they were not.

The recordings only came to light after a years-long investigation by Scott Sanders, the public defender for confessed mass killer Scott Dekraai.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

More on the LASD Deputy Who Vanished….. Heroin Use and the Rise in Numbers of Foster Kids…The Need for Civil Attorneys…& Prop 47

October 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Magazine story by Claire Martin about the disappearance of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Aujay is now online.

The tale as Martin tells it is long, very deeply researched, fascinating, and disturbing. It is also a must read for those with any interest in the workings of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin doesn’t solve the mystery of what happened to Jon Aujay after he took off for an all-day desert run in the Devil’s Punchbowl area of Antelope Valley on June 11, 1998, and never returned. Instead, she takes us through the investigations by the former department members who do not believe that Aujay killed himself as the LASD officially concluded. Nor do they believe he took off for Alaska, or rejoined the military as some other friends suggested. Instead, they believe he was murdered, and Martin delves into the reasons for their conviction.

One of those who became convinced Aujay met with foul play is Larry Brandenburg, a homicide detective who began investigating the case in early 2000. But when he wanted to search a fellow deputy’s house, his superior reportedly became furious and shut the investigation down, threatening to fire Brandenberg. When Brandenburg then appealed to the chief of the detective division and a commander in the homicide bureau, another detective was sent to collect all of his files.

Next there is former Deputy Darren Hager who was part of an interagency task force called “Operation Silent Thunder,” which was investigating the invasion of meth manufacturers and distributors in the Antelope Valley. In the course of delving into the drug action, Hager found what he believed were important leads into the Aujay case, and began digging. He came to believe a deputy named Richard Engels was involved and wanted to probe further. Instead, Hager was pulled off the case and ultimate terminated having to do with his investigating of Engels. Hager sued for wrongful termination and was award $8.5 million by a jury.

(It was when Martin attended Hager’s case trial that she first became fascinated with the story of Aujay’s disappearance. The trial, she wrote, “shed new light on the department’s handling of Aujay’s case as well as its approach to policing itself.)

Another haunted by Aujay’s disappearance was his former partner when the deputy was on SWAT, David Rathbun, now a reserve deputy with LASD search and rescue teams. Rathbun looked for Aujay for months with other friends after the official search ended.

Still one more man who couldn’t settle for the official story was Aujay’s last boss, retired captain Mike Bauer who now lives in Idaho. Bauer has devoted much of the past decade to hunting down new leads in the Aujay mystery, and believes he likely knows who killed the former sharp shooter turned K-9 handler.

Anyway, there’s much, much more to this well told Rashomon of a story.

To get you going, here’s a clip from one of the sections on Bauer’s ongoing investigation:

Last year Bauer wrote to John L. Scott, the interim sheriff, raising concerns about the department. When the captain of Internal Affairs called him, Bauer aired his theory; the captain vouched for the integrity of Bauer’s main suspect, he says, accusing Bauer of jumping to conclusions and then only seeking facts to support them. Bauer is still outraged. He could understand some skepticism, but he expected the sheriff’s department would take him seriously, given his background. This wasn’t the first time he felt rebuffed by the department over Aujay. Three years ago he spent half a day going over his evidence with deputies. “I expected a phone call from the captain of homicide a week later saying, ‘You know, we looked at your stuff and you might have something. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll keep you posted on what we find out,’ ” he tells me. He heard nothing, but it wasn’t a total surprise. Bauer says he retired early, at 53, because of the corruption that flourished under Sheriff Baca, who wound up resigning in 2014 amid a barrage of federal indictments of staff who helped hide an informant from the FBI. That’s what led to Bauer’s second attempt, which wasn’t any more satisfying. Scott wrote him back that Aujay’s case “is disturbing to us all” and expressed confidence that the investigation had been thorough, noting that homicide detective Bob Kenney “continues to actively follow up on leads.”

Bauer was perplexed: If the department was sticking with the suicide theory, why was there an open homicide case? And if it was vigorously investigating, why hadn’t he heard about it from any of the dozens of people he has stayed in contact with in the course of his work? Debra, for one, says she has not been contacted by members of the sheriff’s department since 2001, when she was interviewed by Joe Holmes. Now that many of the players involved in the original investigations are retired and a new sheriff, Jim McDonnell, is in charge, Bauer and several others who knew Aujay have raised the question of whether the department would or should reevaluate the case. Aujay is still classified as a missing person with a possible suicide, according to homicide detective Larry Brandenburg. When I called Kenney in September to inquire about the status of the Aujay investigation, he replied, “I have no comment about that case at all.” Sheriff McDonnell also declined to be interviewed for this article.

The man serving as second in command to McDonnell is Neal Tyler, a 40-year department veteran and the former commander of the Antelope Valley region. Tyler was briefed on the Internal Affairs inquiry of Darren Hager, whose task force confidential informants had fingered Engels for murder, and he personally fired him….

Now read the rest for yourself.


A report issued this past summer by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that, after years of decline, the number of kids coming into and staying in foster care is on the rise. And one of the reasons for the increased numbers, according to some child welfare officials, is that an uptick in the use of heroin and abuse of prescription opiates, has rendered an increasing number of parents unable to care for their children.

According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released in May, thirty-four states saw an increase in the number of children in foster care, and California, Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona were the states that saw the largest rise.

A new NPR story by Jake Harper takes a look at the phenomenon through the lens of foster care in Indiana.

Here’s a clip:

Between September of 2013 and September of 2015, Indiana saw the number of “children in need of services” jump by 40 percent. In more than half of new cases in which children had to be removed from their homes, substance abuse was listed as a reason. As in other states (such as nearby Ohio), officials in Indiana blame heroin and prescription painkillers.

The increase is taxing the child welfare system, officials say. Children of addicts often need special care and counseling, and they often stay in the system longer because it can take months or years for their parents to get clean.

“We have more children than we’ve ever had in our system in Indiana,” says Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the state’s Department of Child Services. “That puts a stress on the staff, a stress and strain on providers.” And it’s increasingly a challenge, she says, “to find and recruit and train qualified foster families.”

If the Houglands hadn’t provided a home for their foster son, he might have ended up at an emergency shelter like the Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit in Indianapolis. The organization takes in kids from the Department of Child Services when a foster family can’t be found quickly.

“Kids come in here 24/7,” says Tina Cloer, who directs the Children’s Bureau. “So we accept kids all day and all night, and we get calls all day and all night.”

The shelter has been full more often this year, she says, as it has become harder to find kids foster homes. Last year, the average stay was just two days — now, it’s 10. “We have kids that have been here as long as 2 [or] 2 1/2 months,” Cloer says.


We know that Americans who are charged with a crime but who cannot afford to pay a lawyer have the right to legal representation paid for by the government. That right is enshrined in US law by the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 that guaranteed everyone charged with a criminal act the right to counsel.

With civil procedures, there is no such guarantee. However, there is an increasing awareness of the need for some kind of system of civil legal aide. The need is particularly demonstrated among people being released from prison who, along with the many daunting challenges to reentry, often find there are lingering legal issues as well, most of them not criminal in nature.

For example, many returning men face debts in the tens of thousands of dollars in back child support that has been accumulating while they were in prison and had no ability to pay. Once out, even if they are able to get a job quickly, those positions are rarely high paying. Thus keeping up with current child support, while paying extra back payments is often completely defeating, and can lead to a return to prison. However, a civil attorney can help negotiate a payment system that both is practical for the recently incarcerated father, and fair to mother and children as well.

Civil attorneys can also assist in getting driver’s licenses restored, which can be crucial to getting and keeping a job, or helping to clear a former inmate’s criminal record, thus improving the likelihood of finding employment….and so on.

Writing for Rebecca Vallas and Billy Corriher have more on the need for civil legal aide and what’s in the works to fill that need.

Here’s a clip:

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an appropriations bill that—while far from sufficient to meet demand—would boost legal services funding for FY 2016 by $10 million. Meanwhile, House appropriators have called for slashing legal services funding by $75 million—a staggering 20 percent below the current funding levels. While Congress has passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until mid-December, as it continues to debate the budget it should ensure that any proposal includes adequate funding for civil legal aid. Additionally, Congress should take swift action to reauthorize and boost funding for the bipartisan Second Chance Act. This legislation allows the Department of Justice to award federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations—including civil legal aid programs—that provide services to support re-entry.

If the criminal justice reform legislation introduced this fall is enacted, many currently incarcerated individuals will have an opportunity to petition for reduced sentences or early release. Civil legal aid lawyers will be important partners in helping these individuals transition back into our communities and get back on their feet. Neglecting the back end of mass incarceration—including by failing to adequately invest in civil legal aid—is a recipe for ensuring that most people will end up behind bars again, and that many of the gains we see from criminal justice reform will be short-lived.


Here’s the next in the LA Times series discussing Prop. 47. In this essay, editorial board member Rob Greene looks at the “felony hammer” prosecutors say they need to get drug offenders into treatment, that Prop. 47 has taken away. Here’s a clip:

In police and prosecutorial parlance, the hammer is the weapon of choice that gets drug defendants to go to treatment. The hammer is the felony charge, or in some cases, the “wobbler” that prosecutors could choose to charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. With the hammer of a felony charge in hand, the prosecutor used to be able to tell the defendant that he was looking at three to five years in state prison on a drug possession charge. The defense lawyer might advise his client that his actual exposure was more like 18 months, but still — that’s real time in prison. Plus a felony rap sheet, which forever after would affect the defendant’s ability to get a job, get a professional license, go to school, get housing, adopt a child, become a foster parent, and interfere with numerous other aspects of daily life.

So the drug defendant could allow himself to get hit with that hammer.

Or, to avoid being hit, he could choose drug treatment. In some counties, even that meant pleading guilty to a felony, with the plea held by the judge but tossed out when the treatment program was completed, or reinstated when the defendant failed. Other counties had “pre-plea” programs, which allowed defendants to complete the program without first entering a guilty plea.

Yet defense attorneys and justice reformers say there’s also another way of dealing with the problem that doesn’t have to involve the felony hammer blow.

Read the rest here.

Posted in LASD, Reentry | 34 Comments »

LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers to Answer Board’s Questions as Rumors of a Problematic Relationship Swirl – UPDATED

October 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Although the closed-door meeting referenced in the story below resulted in “nothing to report,” the matter is reportedly not over, so stay-tuned for additional news this week. (Updated Sept. 9 2015)


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will reportedly meet in a closed-door session with Probation Chief Jerry Powers to discuss a personal relationship that Powers may or may not be having with his top administrative aide, Kym Renner.

If the allegations of a relationship are true, this will be problematic for Powers. For one thing, Renner, 42, is his subordinate. But, more relevantly, sources say that the 52-year-old Powers began the relationship prior to Renner joining the LA County Probation Department. In addition, Powers reportedly brought Renner on board at a salary that is now nearly twice what she was making in a prior position in Stanislaus County.

Powers, if you’ll remember, was the probation chief for Stanislaus County before taking the job in LA in the fall of 2011. Renner, who was married when Powers took the LA job, worked in Human Resources for the same county with a base salary of $87,812. In August of 2013, Renner—who was then still going by her married name of Vieira—left Stanislaus to take a job as director of human resources in Redondo Beach, at a base salary of $32,505.

Four months later, on December 16, 2013, Vieira/Renner went to work at LA County Probation as Chief Powers’ closest aide. At the present time, Renner oversees the department’s nearly billion dollar budget, accounting and expenditures, for a base salary of $159,660, plus benefits—bringing the total package well past $200,000.

As to who called the upcoming meeting with the supervisors, that depends on whom you ask. Powers says the Supes wanted to meet to talk about the reported personal relationship. On Monday night, sources close to the board told us that Powers wanted the meeting to announce his retirement that, according to our sources, would have taken place in January.

Most recently, however, Powers reportedly told the LA Times Garrett Therolf that he wasn’t leaving “with this out there.”

By “this” Powers presumably means the allegations of an improper relationship.


One of the elements that reportedly caused the relationship rumors to hit critical mass was when each member of the board received an anonymous email that contained what were purported to be scans of receipts for three-different purchases and deliveries of flowers sent by Powers to Renner, each complete with a mushy message along the order of: I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL.

(WitnessLA too received the mailing with the purported flower receipts.)

The first of the supposed flower deliveries took place on December 6, 2013, when Renner was still working at Redondo. The second floral arrangement was supposedly delivered to Renner at probation headquarters on January 8, 2014. The third delivery of two dozen long-stemmed roses was again supposedly sent to Renner at probation headquarters, this time on February 11, 2014, in advance of Valentine’s Day.

Renner reportedly told the Times’ Therolf that she never received the flowers in question, and denied a romantic relationship with Powers, suggesting that union officials who have long-been at odds with the chief had ginned up the supposed receipts.

In addition to the putative flower orders, however, WitnessLA, along with at least some of the supervisors, received a copy of what appears to be a receipt for COSCO-purchased airline and accommodations reservations for a trip for two to Jamaica—the “Couples Negril Package,” to be exact— booked for May 8-15, 2015, in the names of Jerry Powers and Kym Renner, for a total package price of $4277.98, with Powers the purported purchaser.

WitnessLA reached out to Chief Powers multiple times on Monday for comments on the above issues and on the retirement talk, but despite assurances that we would hear back, the day and evening ended without a call from the chief.


Initially, Powers was popular with many of the county’s juvenile advocates and others due to his strong support of such projects as the innovative Freedom School program that was expanded this past summer to multiple juvenile probation camps, and the $53 million Camp Kilpatrick project, a soon-to-open juvenile facility that, it is hoped, will pioneer a new relationship-centric, therapeutic model for helping kids.

More recently, however, Powers has been criticized for reportedly failing to accomplish a list of much-needed reforms in both the juvenile and adult probation realms despite a shrinking number of kids and adults on the county’s caseload and a yearly budget that is higher than it has ever been.

So will Jerry Powers stay or go?

In the last 48 hours or so, Powers has reportedly given his closest staffers conflicting messages about whether he is exiting or fighting to remain.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Probation | 5 Comments »

Solitary Statistics, Opposing Prop. 47 Views, and Miranda Rights

October 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Nearly one-fifth of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates spent time in solitary confinement between 2011-2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. For LGBTQ and mentally ill prisoners, the numbers were even worse.

Around 4.4% of prisoners and 2.7% of jail inmates across the country were held in “restrictive housing” on an average day, either in disciplinary or administrative segregation or solitary confinement.

Of those inmates who had been placed in restrictive housing, 10% of prisoners and 5% of jail inmates said they had spent more than 30 days in isolation.

Close to 30% of LGBTQ prisoners surveyed were placed in isolation, compared with 18% of heterosexual prisoners. Younger inmates and inmates without high school diplomas were similarly more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older inmates and inmates who had completed high school. Inmates convicted of non-sexual violent offenses and inmates with lengthy arrest histories were also held in isolation more often than their counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the data also linked mental illness to solitary confinement. Nearly one-fourth of mentally ill inmates spent time in isolation between 2011-12.

Inmates in those prisons and jails that relied more heavily on restrictive housing often also reported disorder in the detention facilities, too few staff members to “provide safety and security to inmates,” and lower levels of confidence and trust in staff.


In an op-ed for the LA Times, as part of the paper’s series on California’s Prop. 47, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón (who has also served as chief of the SFPD, assistant chief for the LAPD, and chief of the Mesa, AZ police force) says the new law, which reclassified six non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, is incorrectly criticized by many law enforcement officials.

Gascón says it’s “far-fetched” to point to Prop. 47 as the reason for an increase in property crime. Gascón also says that law enforcement officials are overly critical of Prop. 47, which is saving California $770,000 per day, so far, because most officers today spent their formative law enforcement years in the tough-on-crime era.

Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime critics, predictably, have come out swinging, arguing that Proposition 47 is the cause of a recent increase in property crime. But this assertion defies logic. From 2007 through Aug. 31 of this year, the state has reduced its prison population by 43,000, but only 4,402 prisoners were released under Proposition 47. It’s far-fetched at best that the release of these relative few, who were responsible for some of the lowest-level crimes, is causing this increase. Crime rates fluctuate over time, but overall property crime is at a 50-year low.

The extraordinary level of discontent with Proposition 47 from a majority of law enforcement officials is not surprising. Virtually everyone working in law enforcement today — myself included — cut our teeth during the war-on-drugs era. We’ve never experienced another approach, and after decades of jailing people for simple drug possession, it’s difficult to embrace alternatives.

Many in law enforcement believe misdemeanor arrests are ineffective because the consequences are comparatively mild. But in a post-Proposition 47 world — as has always been the case — good, hardworking cops should not try to predict the outcome of an arrest. Declining to make arrests for misdemeanor crimes is bad for the community, public safety and offenders who need help. In San Diego, for example, where police continue to make misdemeanor arrests for drug possession, the city continues to see flat or decreasing crime rates.

Meanwhile, the 4,402 people released from prison under Proposition 47 are saving California more than $770,000 a day. There are also more than 35,000 Californians who have asked the courts to change their old felonies to misdemeanors, and an additional 123,087 people who have petitioned the courts to alter their current sentences.

Before Proposition 47, people convicted of a felony for possessing drugs for personal use often found themselves housed with more hardened offenders. They were inevitably released without having the root cause of their addiction or mental illness addressed. What’s worse, their felony convictions would often preclude them from finding work, as employers are 50% less likely to respond to applicants with records.

California’s broken prison system churned out less-employable individuals with unaddressed conditions, who were perhaps inclined to resort to more serious criminal behavior. Is it any surprise that the state recidivism rate reached nearly 70% in 2005?

Marc Debbaudt, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, does not agree with Gascón. In a separate LAT op-ed, Debbaudt says that thanks to Prop 47, drug offenders no longer face jail time for offenses committed to fuel their addictions, like shoplifting, writing bad checks, and stealing guns worth less than $950. Debbaudt also argues that because judges can no longer mandate substance abuse rehabilitation programs for people who commit these newly reduced offenses, participation in drug court programs is down 60%.

Debbault also faults Prop. 47 for reducing possession of date rape drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. (Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.)

Here’s a clip:

In the city of Los Angeles, property crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have risen 10.9% compared with the same period last year. Violent crime, such as aggravated assaults and robberies, has soared 20.6%. Mayor Eric Garcetti told The Times those increases may be linked to Proposition 47.

To make things even worse, the social engineers in the Legislature also passed a law in 2014 that reduced the maximum misdemeanor sentence from 365 days to 364 days. Under federal immigration law, a noncitizen who is convicted of an offense punishable by 365 days or more can be deported. With many felonies now reduced to 364-day misdemeanors, some criminals who otherwise would have been deported get to stay.

Here is additional fallout from Proposition 47 that Californians probably didn’t anticipate when they voted for the measure:

The justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs. There is no incentive for an offender to accept a court-ordered 18-month to two-year intensive treatment program when the maximum consequence for a drug conviction is a six-month term in county jail. In many cases the jail sentence means only a few days, or even just hours, in custody because the jails have to make room for the felons sent from state prison under that other great reform called realignment. The treatment program rolls are down 60% in L.A. County, and addicted offenders are not getting the treatment they desperately need.

Proposition 47 took away a tool to fight sex crimes when it reduced the penalty for possession of dangerous date-rape drugs to a misdemeanor.

Thousands fewer DNA samples are being taken from suspects every month because state law permits police to collect DNA only from felony suspects. It follows that it will be much harder, if not impossible, to solve old cases such as murder and rape.

(We also pointed to the first part of the series, an editorial by the LA Times’ Robert Greene: here.)


In letting a ten-year-old boy’s murder ruling stand, the California Supreme Court has effectively said that children that young are still competent enough to validly waive their Miranda rights. The boy, identified as Joseph H., was read his Miranda rights by a police officer during his arrest, and then later confessed to killing his abusive neo-Nazi father.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court, which required police to issue the warning in the 1966 case of Miranda vs. Arizona, has never decided whether minors below a certain age are competent to give up their Miranda rights and answer officers’ questions. But as state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu noted in his Oct. 16 dissent, the nation’s high court has ruled that any decision to waive the right to remain silent must be made “voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.”

The 10-year-old’s case, Liu said, raises an issue that “likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether, and if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10.”

All three of Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees — Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger — voted to review the case, leaving them one short of the needed majority. Cuéllar also signed Liu’s dissenting opinion, an unusual and perhaps unprecedented statement by a California justice arguing that his colleagues should have taken up a case from the lower courts.

The issue arises in the wake of rulings by the nation’s high court barring executions or mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. In the 2005 death penalty ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said research has shown that juveniles, more commonly than adults, have a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” and are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults.

“The youthful brain is different than the adult brain,” said Rory Little, a law professor at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Noting that California law bars an accused rapist from arguing that his victim consented if she was younger than 14, Little said, “If a 14-year-old can’t consent to sex, how can a 10-year-old waive his rights to Miranda?”

The Riverside youth, identified as Joseph H., found his father’s gun and shot him in the head as he lay sleeping on a sofa in May 2011. The father was a leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement and was also a drug addict who frequently beat Joseph, according to a state appeals court ruling in the case. When police arrived, the court said, Joseph told them his father had beaten him and his mother the day before.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Did California Voters Go Wrong With Prop 47?

October 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

When Proposition 47 passed nearly a year ago, last November,
it did so by a healthy 17-percent margin, with more than 58 percent of those casting ballots in California voting YES for The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, despite vehement opposition from the law enforcement lobby.

So were the state’s voters crazy to have voted as they did?

Certainly since Prop. 47 passed, there has been story after story in media outlets up and down the state in which officials claim that the measure is responsible for worrisome spikes in crime that compromise public safety, and that the new law also makes it nearly impossible for drug addicts now to receive court ordered treatment, among other deleterious effects.

So what is true?

This week the LA Times Editorial Board has decided to look into the claims and counterclaims, using its Opinion Page as the forum for what it hopes will be an honest and clear-eyed discussion.

We at WitnessLA applaud the Times’ refreshing move.

On Sunday, editorial board member Robert Greene kicks off the conversation by taking a hard and very welcome look at some of the actual facts of the matter.

Here’s how Greene’s Op Ed opens:

Police and prosecutors have lately attempted to link increases in crime to last year’s Proposition 47. Based on their overwrought statements, it would be understandable for Californians to start wondering whether they had been duped into completely decriminalizing drug possession and petty theft. They could be forgiven for asking whether it’s really the case that their law enforcement officers can no longer arrest thieves for stealing guns or breaking into cars, or have no option but to write tickets while watching all manner of mayhem unfold before them. They might hear that addicts have lost any incentive to choose drug treatment or to show up for court hearings.

None of those things are true, although officials in many communities throughout California appear to sincerely, although mistakenly, believe them. As is the case with all large bureaucracies, it is difficult for courts and for city and county agencies — police departments, sheriff’s departments, district attorneys, probation officers, county supervisors — to understand and constructively respond to changed circumstances. And Proposition 47 no doubt brought change, by converting six felonies to misdemeanors and allowing many people serving sentences for those crimes, and those who served their time long ago, to be resentenced and have their rap sheets adjusted.

We’d probably be better off if the various links in the public safety chain had opted to temporarily stick with their old practices following last November’s vote: if police kept arresting people for crimes reclassified as misdemeanors, and transporting suspects to jail and to court for arraignment, for example; and if prosecutors considered the circumstances (Is this the defendant’s first arrest for drug possession? The eighth?) and occasionally opted to seek the full sentence (up to a year behind bars); and if courts offered diversion or rehabilitation as an alternative — all of which not only remain available, despite assertions to the contrary, but absolutely must be used, selectively, if Proposition 47 is to work properly. They could have spent the last year examining their options and carefully and deliberately adjusting their practices so as to bring the maximum amount of public safety to the communities they patrol.

There’s lots more. So read on.

Posted in Sentencing | 5 Comments »

The Troubling Case of the Vanishing LA County Sheriff’s Deputy

October 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In 1998, LA County Sheriff’s K-9 deputy Jonathan Aujay went out for a run in the Antelope Valley and never came back. Higher-ups in the department at the time concluded that Aujay likely killed himself. However, many friends and former department colleagues don’t buy the suicide explanation at all, and believe that Aujay was murdered.

In a deeply researched longread for the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, on the news stands right now, journalist Claire Martin writes about the case, its aftermath, and about those who are still haunted by it.

I spoke with Claire Martin several times at length while she was working on the story, so know a little bit about what she was uncovering.

The story is not yet on line (although it’s out there in hard copy), so to whet your appetite for the whole thing, LA Mag’s executive editor Matthew Segal interviewed Martin about the story and about what it points beyond itself to say about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department during the reign of former Sheriff Lee Baca.

Here are a couple of clips:

This story been almost four years in the making and took you to places, mentally and geographically, that you couldn’t have anticipated. How did you learn about Jon Aujay?

In the fall of 2011, I learned about a trial that had just begun in downtown L.A. A former sheriff’s deputy was suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for wrongful termination. I’d heard a few details about the case—that it involved meth cartels in the Antelope Valley, a DEA joint task force dubbed Operation Silent Thunder, and the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of Aujay by a fellow deputy. I was surprised I’d never read anything about the case before, and when I did some quick Web research, nothing much turned up. I decided to drive downtown and listen to a day’s worth of testimony. I ended up returning every day for a couple of weeks, until the closing arguments.

The testimony from the various agents, deputies, and sheriff’s officials proved to be jaw-dropping at times. Aside from the murder allegations, there were details of misconduct among deputies, some of whom were accused of getting too cozy with the meth manufacturers of the area. How bad did things get for the sheriff’s department in the Antelope Valley?

Things were bad enough that the DEA was called in to dismantle the meth rings as rumors circulated that sheriff’s deputies were befriending drug dealers and leaking information to them in advance of busts. The allegations against deputies ranged from fraternizing with cartel members, to warning them of investigations, to operating meth labs with them, to murder.

This is where Aujay’s story comes in. As you you’d heard when you started attending the trial, one theory being pursued by a couple of LASD investigators was that a fellow deputy, someone with alleged ties to the meth world, had killed him. There’s a theory from a former LASD captain—Aujay’s last boss—that he was killed by a deputy, but not the deputy who was being investigated. And there were vague suspicions within the department that whatever the case, Aujay’s stern demeanor could have provoked his murder. Workplace politics can be tricky, but it’s remarkable that more than one officer or former officer thought that his coworkers would be capable of murder—of fratricide.

That’s right. The LASD quickly ruled that Aujay had likely committed suicide, but tipsters and confidential informants told the department they’d heard he may actually have been murdered by the operators of a meth lab, which included a fellow deputy. Separate investigations by a sheriff’s homicide detective and the Operation Silent Thunder drug task force turned up similar intel. So did the FBI. Years later, Aujay’s former boss, Mike Bauer, began to suspect that a different deputy, someone who’s now retired, had murdered Aujay. Bauer had worked under three sheriffs during his career and told me he’d watched the LASD’s checks and balances for handling internal corruption collapse under Baca.

Sheriff Lee Baca.

Right. Other people I spoke with described an environment under Baca in which deputies weren’t held accountable for their unethical or illegal actions.

Read the rest here.

And we will, of course, link to the actual story the minute it’s online. But why wait? It’s a great read, so hit the news stand!

Posted in LASD | 19 Comments »

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell Says There’s No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute

October 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday morning, it was standing room only on the 8th floor of the downtown LA Hall of Justice as Sheriff Jim McDonnell,
three Members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, child advocates and others, gathered together with an array of dynamic young women who were themselves sexually trafficked as children and teenagers, but who now have become powerful spokespersons for American children who are victims of child sex trafficking, and then are further traumatized by being arrested and charged with prostitution.

When McDonnell spoke to the crowd he made a point of sending a message to all 18,000 plus LASD personnel, that the department was not only building a regional task force to “seek to dismantle the criminal enterprises” and “bring to justice traffickers,” but it also intended to go after “individuals who create the demand that sustains these crimes”—in other words, the johns who buy sex from children.

In addition, McDonnell said he was instructing department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes.”

The LA County Board of Supervisors had just passed a resolution supporting these same goals on Tuesday of this week.

Yet, McDonnell and the rest who spoke at the nearly three hour press-conference, admitted that accomplishing these goals is complicated, and is going to require all hands on deck.

We’ll have more on the event and on other parts of this important issue soon. So stay tuned.

Posted in Child sexual abuse | 4 Comments »

A New Bill to Stop Locking Kids Up for Dumb, Non-Criminal Stuff

October 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


More than half of U.S. States allow kids to be locked up for so-called “status offenses,” actions like running away from home, skipping school, or staying out after curfew, all things that wouldn’t be crimes if the kid was an adult.

Last year, more than 8,000 American children were sent to jail for these non-crime “crimes.”

Never mind that, 40 years ago, the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) stipulated that if states elected to receive federal juvenile justice grants, they couldn’t criminalize kids for these petty acts.

But then in 1980, an exception to the no-lock-ups-for-status-offenses rule was added as an amendment, allowing judges to sweep kids into locked facilities if the judge issued a valid court order (VCO) telling the kid not to commit the act, and the kid did it—or committed another status offense—anyway.

California is one of the states that makes liberal use of the so-called VCO exception.

This week, however, California Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D. San Fernando Valley) has introduced a bill—H.R. 3782, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act—that could completely do away with the VCO exception.

“The irony is so immense, that we are making the worst possible choice we can, by putting kids in jail for making bad choices,” said Cárdenas. “Kids make mistakes as kids. They do things that are stupid, or misguided, but which should not be considered crimes for which they can go to jail. An American child should not have their life ruined by getting a criminal record and serving jail time for skipping school, or running away from an abusive household. We have to fix this, and we have to do it now.”

Cárdenas, a former Los Angeles city council member, has been a long time advocate of juvenile justice reform who also introduced another important kid-oriented reform bill this past June, namely the Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act, which, if enacted, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal juvenile facilities.

“These are commonsense, straight-forward pieces of legislation that should not be controversial,” said Cárdenas. “We should not be putting kids in jail for skipping school and we should not be putting kids in solitary confinement, potentially ruining any chance they have at a normal life. Our children are the future of this nation. Juvenile justice reform means protecting and growing their potential, not condemning them to a life destroyed by their own government.”

Youth advocacy organizations such as the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, agree.

“While judges in many states are effectively and proactively addressing the needs of these youth without resorting to detention,” wrote the NJJDPC, “too many young kids are still finding their way into the juvenile justice system unnecessarily.”


Last year a conservative think tank out of Texas, The Texas Public Policy Foundation, put out an excellent report showing that shoving status offenders into the justice system was not effective and often did long-lasting damage.

So, yeah. Go, Congressman Tony!

H.R. 3782 was cosponsored by Reps. Cohen, Cummings, Ellison, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Jackson Lee, Moore, Rangel, Richmond, Scott (VA) and Vargas.

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