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Newsletter Arriving in Your Inboxes on Tuesday This Week

May 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

If you’re signed up to receive our hand-picked Monday news round-up full of the week’s must read justice stories, plus the best of WitnessLA, look for this week’s edition on Tuesday morning (rather than the usual Monday).

If you are not yet on the list, there’s still time to sign up and receive this week’s California Justice Report newsletter.

(Note: Although the sign-up asks for your name, only your email is mandatory.)

If you’re unfamiliar with WitnessLA’s California Justice Report, feel free to check out last week’s newsletter.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

A Federal Jury Weighs Competing “Truths” After “Honor Recruit” Deputy Tells About Kicks to the Crotch of a Mentally Ill Inmate and Other Alleged Brutality

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


COMPETING NARRATIVES & DECIDING WHOM TO BELIEVE

The most recent jail brutality case brought by the federal government against members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is, as usual, a case of whom do you believe.

In the trial that began on Tuesday of last week in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, the prosecution’s case rides on a former sheriff’s deputy named Joshua Sather who was most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer.

Thus far, 19 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County Jail system.

The defendants in this latest trial, are LASD deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum who are accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying the allegedly unresisting mentally ill inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor.

According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson also alleged in her opening statement that training officer Brunsting “set out to teach a lesson to a new deputy” about how to use and how to “get away with” excessive force. The “new deputy” was Joshua Sather.

In the course of the trial, the government produced five witnesses to support their case. But, it is Sather, and another witness named Porscha Singh, whom the prosecution most needs the jury to believe.

Conversely, for the defense to prevail, it must convince the jury that Sather and Singh are unreliable or out-and-out lying for self-serving reasons.


THE CUSTODY ASSISTANT

Porscha Singh was the first witness called by the prosecution. Singh was, at the time of the 2010 incident, a custody assistant working on the 6th floor of the Twin Towers jail. Custody assistants—or CAs—are jail workers who work for the sheriff’s department, but who are not slaw enforcement officers.

Before CA Singh began to tell her story, both she and prosecutor Dotson made clear that she did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed,” she said, “and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

Singh also told the jury that had been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring any kind of charges against her, “as long as my testimony is truthful.” If she lied, she said, “I could be sent to prison.”

Singh was the custody assistant whom schizophrenic inmate Philip Jones “disrespected,” thus setting the chain of events that allegedly led to his beating.

On the day in question, Singh said that she was stationed in “the control booth,” an elevated multi-windowed perch at one end of the 6th floor module where she generally worked, when at once she noticed that there was one more inmate than there should be in unit’s visiting center, the entrance to which was across the module from the control booth, thus in her direct line of sight.

In order to sort out the discrepancy, Singh keyed up the intercom in the visiting room and asked the inmates each to say their names then recite the last four digits of their booking numbers, so she could check IDs against the list of people who were supposed to have visitor passes. All but one of inmates dutifully complied. The inmate who failed to do so was Philip Jones who instead said, “Fuck that bitch.”

At that, according to her testimony, Singh came down out of the control room, unlocked the visiting area, and confronted inmate Jones.

“I told him ‘What the fuck was his problem?!” she said. Then she asked to see his wristband. He complied. She checked it, then went back to the booth.

And, no, Singh said in answer to prosecutor Dotson, “I was never afraid.”

She was, however, irritated. So, according to Singh, she then called out to deputy Branum who was standing within shouting range of the control booth, “Somebody needs to check that motherfucker because he has a bad attitude!”

Jason Branum allegedly told her not to worry about it, that he was going to handle it.

“Nobody disrespects my CA”—meaning custody assistant—Singh said that Branum said.

Singh said she told him to “leave it alone,” and additional F-Bomb laden words to that effect.

(Singh is short and curvy with a slightly pugnacious demeanor, and during the whole of her testimony and cross-examination, displayed a breezy verbal mastery of the art of F-bomb usage.)


LISTENING IN

Around five minutes after that exchange, according to Singh, deputies Brunsting and Branum asked her to “pop’ the door to the visiting area—-“pop” being slang for “unlock.” She popped the door, and moments later she saw Jones being escorted by the three deputies.

Q: Did you see him resist at any time? A. No.

The deputies then escorted the inmate inside another door that led to a hallway connecting two modules, but where there were no cameras. Singh said that, on instinct, she pushed the intercom button allowing her to listen in on whatever went on in the camera free connecting hallway the deputies and their charge had entered, without anyone knowing she was listening.

Sign said she first heard training officer Brunting say, “Nobody disrespects my boot CA!”

Then a voice she assumed was Jones said, “Are you guys going to mess me up?”

“Then I heard a commotion.” Finally, she said, one of the deputies put out a “415” radio call, meaning deputy involved fight. Within a minute, other deputies ran into the area. A minute or two later still a “Code 4” was broadcast on the radio meaning everything’s okay.

When it was their turn, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re did what they could to dent Singh’s credibility by pointing out some inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her grand jury testimony and noting that in an interview with the LASD’s internal affairs, she told an altogether different story.

Yet, Singh freely admitted that she had lied to internal affairs to protect herself and her deputy colleagues.


THE HONOR RECRUIT

Former deputy Joshua Sather was next. Sather is broad shouldered, on the low side of medium height, and has good bones. He did not look happy to be on the stand.

In answer to questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, Sather told the jury that when he joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, it was October of 2009, he was 23-years-old and had been working in Colorado as a paralegal, but felt he wanted a more meaningful career.

I wanted to do something to help people,” he said. It was this desire that led him to law enforcement.

Sather’s uncle, his father’s brother, was a gang detective at the department’s Carson station, and told his nephew he loved what he did and that the LASD was a good place to work. “My uncle had an influence,” said Sather.

Sather told how, after he was accepted into the department, he went through 19 weeks of academy training along with approximately 49 other recruits. Upon graduating in February of 2010, was selected as the “honor recruit,” which meant, he explained when Fox probed, he was the top performer in all areas in his class.

After graduation, he went through a few additional weeks of training to work in the county’s jails, where nearly all newly-minted deputies are stationed for a few years before they can transfer to patrol. In March of 2010, he started at the Twin Towers, the newer custody facility built next to the county’s decrepit and infamously troubled, Men’s Central Jail.

All new deputies are assigned to training officers. But a day or two after Sather began work, his training officer’s wife had a baby, and he took paternity leave.

Sather‘s second T.O. was Bryan Brunsting.


BAD KICKS

On March 22, 2010, when the event in question occurred, Sather said he had been on the job about seven days, and was working with some other deputies on the 4th floor of the jail when he said he received a call from Brunsting, who told him to return to the 6th floor’s 161 unit, where he was met by Brunsting, Branum and a third deputy.

It was then, according to Sather, that Brunsting talked of the necessity to teach inmate Jones “a lesson.”

Sather described how the door to the interconnecting hallway area that Singh had described earlier was opened and inmate Jones was directed by Brunsting to go down the hallway.

As the door to the hallway closed, effectively locking the group into the narrow passage, according to Sather, Jones took a few steps then turned and said, “Oh, shit. I’m going to get my ass kicked!” Or words to that general effect.

“Then he began running down the hallway toward the door at the far end.” But that door was closed and locked.

“I ran after him and tackled him,” said Sather. Then he described striking Jones in the ribs and legs “because we were teaching him a lesson.”

Jones was not resisting in any way, according to Sather. Not kicking, attempting to punch, simply going limp and attempting to protect himself with his hands.

At that point, Sather stood up, because, “the inmate wasn’t doing anything.”

But Brunsting reportedly indicated that things weren’t finished.

Sather then said he saw Brunsting spread the inmate’s legs. “And then he kicked him hard in his privates.”

Jones cried out, according to Sather, and curled sow-bug-like into a fetal position in reaction to the pain of the kick.

“He was crying like a little kid who’s hurting but is also scared.”

Sather remembers more blows being directed toward the still unresisting Jones.

Sometime after that, according to Sather, deputy Branum pepper-sprayed Jones directly into his face.

As much of this activity went on, Sather said, he heard the other deputies say, “Stop resisting, stop resisting.”

Eventually the “lesson” was over, Brunsting radioed and more deputies arrived. As they came, Sather helped to handcuff Jones.

Then the inmate was escorted to the infirmary by yet another deputy, and was treated for injuries.


REPORTS, REVISIONS & RESIGNATIONS

Next, according to Sather, Brunsting ordered the beating participants to convene in the observation booth. Once there, custody assistant Singh was asked to leave, so the rest could sort out what should appear in the various incident reports that were required after any use of force. Brunsting told Sather he was to write the primary report, so he could learn how it was done, with Brunsting and Branum writing the “supplementary reports.”

According to Sather, Brunsting gave him his own report to use as a model. After writing several rejected drafts, Sather said, he eventually wrote a report that matched Brunsting’s almost word-for-word.

The jury was able to see both reports—Brunsting’s and Sather’s—which each described a violently uncooperative Jones who verbally and physically assaulted two of the deputies and was restrained only with great difficulty and a 3-5 second blast of oleoresin capsicum spray, also known as OC spray or pepper spray.

“Was what you wrote true?” prosecutor Fox asked Sather after the deputy read multiple passages from the matching reports in front of the jury.

“No, sir,” said Sather.

“So why did you write it?”

“I was told to do it.”

Eventually, the reports were approved by Brunsting and turned in to the proper higher-ups. Yet when Sather got home, he said his involvement with the beatdown of inmate Jones and the reports that followed, “began to bother me.”

In a state of upset he called his uncle and told him what had happened.

The next day, Sather resigned. When asked to explain his reason for leaving, he said he told the jail’s then watch commander, Lt. Elisabeth Sachs, that he needed to go back to Colorado because of a family matter involving his brother, none of which was true.

So, why didn’t he tell Lt. Sachs about the beating? asked Fox.

“I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be a snitch.”

The lieutenant told Sather to take his upcoming weekend days and think matters over, that she would hold on to the resignation paperwork until he returned on March 28, at which time he could make a final decision.

Sather’s uncle and his dad took the unhappy deputy to Las Vegas for the weekend to talk things through. (The dad lives in Colorado, so Las Vegas was considered a sort of midpoint, Sather explained.)

But, despite all the talking, after they all came home, on March 28, Sather called Lt. Sachs and asked her to put through the paperwork for his resignation.

A week later, according to Sather, his uncle persuaded him that, if he was leaving, he owed it to himself and to the department to tell some LASD higher up the truth about why he was leaving.

So on April 6, Sather gave an accounting of the events of March 22, including the beating of inmate Jones and the subsequent allegedly false reports, to Captain Anthony Ward.

A few months later, he was interviewed by internal affairs, to whom Sather said he was far less truthful.

A few months later still, the FBI contacted Sather in the course of their ongoing investigation into brutality in the jails, and interviewed him where he was, by then, living back in Colorado.


“TRUTH” VERSUS “TRUTH”

As with Singh, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re energetically fished out any inconsistencies between the various accounts Sather gave to the LASD Captain, to the grand jury, and to internal affairs.

In closing arguments that will take place Monday morning, the defense is expect to tell the jury that Sather—perhaps together with his detective uncle—completely fabricated the account of a non-resisting Jones being viciously and unnecessarily beaten, for his own purposes.

(Uncle Michael Sather was one of the prosecution’s additional witnesses. Lt. Sachs was the defense team’s sole witness.)

The defense is also expected to argue that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity. 


During closing, the prosecution will counter with its own narrative of the beating of mentally ill inmate Philip Jones.

And then, likely around noon on Monday, the case will go to the jury who will, in turn, decide whose story to believe.


POST SCRIPT:

One thing that the jury will not hear is the fact that the feds have a second case of jail brutality filed against Brunsting. The alleged incident occurred on August 20, 2009 and, it too, involved a deputy trainee who was allegedly asked to falsify incident reports, accusing the inmate of assaulting deputies, rather than the other way around. The charges are mentioned, in brief, in the original indictment, but then were severed into a separate case by the judge. One assumes that the question of whether or not the prosecutors will actually bring this additional case to trial will likely depend on the outcome of the trial that ends on Monday.

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

The Twin Towers Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Continues With More Courtroom Drama to Come

May 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



The latest federal trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department
accused of brutalizing jail inmates has been unfolding since Tuesday (with one day off due to an attorney’s sudden illness), and is expected to wrap up closing arguments on Monday.

As you may remember, the defendants in this newest courtroom drama are two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, who are charged with beating, kicking, and pepper spraying a reportedly non-resistant, mentally ill inmate named Phillip Jones in order to ‘teach” Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant in the county’s Twin Towers jail facility.

The government’s star witness is a third deputy named Joshua Sather who had been out of the sheriff’s academy and on the job at the jail for only a week, with Brunting was his training officer. According to Sather, he was told by Brunting to participate in the beating, and then directed afterward to write a false report blaming the inmate as the out-of-control aggressor.

But then the night after the beating, according to prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson, Sather “developed a conscience.”

According to the defense, it wasn’t a conscience that Sather developed, but “a fabrication,” for self-serving reasons of his own.

Another crucial witness is Porscha Singh, the custody assistant who was the object of the inmate’s insult. Singh was compelled to testify by U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, and given immunity by the feds, as long as she testified truthfully. When on the stand, she told the jury the did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

She said she had also been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring charges against her, “…as long as my testimony is truthful.”

Defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re maintained that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity.

Witness testimony continues on Friday, and we’ll have a full report for you on Monday, so….stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 8 Comments »

Pretrial Detention and the Poor, an Asset Forfeiture Bill, Steve Lopez on Homelessness, and LA Supe. Candidates on Child Welfare

May 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

CASH BAIL KEEPS POOR PEOPLE LOCKED UP (UNNECESSARILY) AND IMPOVERISHED

A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative sheds light on the all-too-common practice of locking up poor defendants while they await trial, via unattainable bail bonds.

There are nearly 500,000 pretrial detainees crowding jails across the nation, according to Department of Justice estimates. Despite the fact that it is illegal to lock people up for being poor, cash bail as it is used today creates a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that keeps indigent defendants behind bars, while rich defendants walk free.

PPI researchers found that, according to US Bureau of Justice numbers, jail inmates had an annual income of $15,109 before their incarceration—less than half the median income for their non-incarcerated peers. People in jail are even poorer than people in prison. For black men, the differences are even more extreme. Jailed black men had an annual pre-lockup income that was 64% lower than their non-incarcerated peers.

To put it in context, if a typical bail bond is $10,000, it equates to eight months of income for the average detainee. Even paying a portion to bail bondsmen is often impossible for defendants and their families living below the poverty line.

In New York, Kalief Browder’s inability to post $3,000 for his release led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement—without ever being tried. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged isolation. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of last year. He was 22-years-old.

Some lawmakers are taking note. US Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation earlier this year that would end the controversial use of money bail at the federal level, and block access to Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants for states that keep their money bail systems in place. (In 2012, California received the largest Byrne JAG sum: $32 million.)

The PPI report closes with six recommendations for stamping out the disproportionate and needless incarceration of poor Americans in the nation’s jails. The recommendations include abolishing cash bail, increasing diversion programs, no longer locking poor defendants up for their inability to pay usurious fines and fees, boosting funding for public defense, and ending pay-to-stay programs that charge people for their incarceration.

Read the recommendations: here.


OPINION: APPROVE BILL TO CURB ASSET FORFEITURE PRACTICES IN CALIFORNIA

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to seize (and keep) money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime—no conviction necessary. In California and across the nation, local law enforcement agencies are using asset forfeiture as a cash cow.

Last month, the US Department of Justice revived its Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes local law enforcement agencies to bring feds into an investigation, and thus be able to skirt state restrictions against using seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, not actual convictions. The federal program was suspended in December due to budget cuts, but was brought back to life last month.

California Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Mike Hadley (R-Torrance) hope to rein in this controversial practice with a bill that would require a conviction for law enforcement to permanently take money or property from someone. The bill passed out of the Senate with almost unanimous support, but faces opposition in the Assembly from law enforcement agencies and others that are funded by forfeited money.

In an op-ed for Voice of San Diego, Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU of California’s criminal justice and drug policy director, calls on legislature to pass the bill, saying, “We oew it to every single hardworking Californian who has ever been forced to pay the price of this rampant abuse and injustice.” Here’s a clip:

…California law enforcement agencies can take and keep innocent people’s money and property, because federal law does not require a conviction and actually lets California agencies keep a larger cut of the proceeds than is allowed under state law.

California police are exploiting this lucrative loophole that incentivizes department profits over justice. As with any abusive police practice, policing for profit has taken an especially hard toll on low-income people of color. According to a Washington Post review of federal court records, the vast majority of people who challenged seizures and received some money back were black, Latino or another minority. Other investigations, including those in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, found similar results.

Right here in San Diego, the city police departments with the fastest-growing seizures are communities made up predominantly of people of color. Between 2013 and 2015, Chula Vista Police Department has increased its haul of asset forfeiture funds by 60 percent, and National City Police Department by a whopping 112 percent. Of the two San Diegans profiled above, one was Latina, the other black.

It is easy to see why vulnerable Californians are deemed easy targets: They are less likely to come forward and fight the government because doing so is expensive and has been known to morph from asset forfeiture into deportation investigations of relatives and IRS involvement. What’s more, this practice, which throws the Constitution and state law out the window, can drive already struggling families deeper into poverty.


STEVE LOPEZ ON THE STATE OF HOMELESSNESS IN LOS ANGELES, AND CONCRETE WAYS WE CAN START ADDRESSING THE ISSUE

Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year (to 47,000), which is less than half of the 12% increase experienced in 2014, but still disappointing. LA County and the City of LA are working on a collaborative plan to help and house homeless residents, but much of the funding is still in limbo.

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez says he doesn’t have all the answers to LA’s homelessness crisis, but he lays out five thoughts on where city and county officials and non-profit partners can take action. Here’s a clip:

First: Someone has to step up.

“We can bring these numbers down,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the increase in homelessness. “This could be the year we begin to turn the tide.”

Not at the rate we’re going.

The city, like the county, has a solid plan to deliver more services and housing. And Councilman Mike Bonin gets credit for pushing hard on creative solutions like making use of a senior center as a shelter and erecting housing on city-owned lots.

But the $138 million budgeted by Garcetti this year is more goal than guarantee, with roughly half of it still something of a mirage.

L.A. County has a more solid $150-million budget for homelessness, and even at that, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl warned that modest sums won’t counter economic trends that are “forcing people out of their houses.”

Translation: The steady advance of tent cities and rolling homes is headed soon to your neighborhood, if it’s not already there.

It’s time for Garcetti, and Kuehl, and other city and county officials, to start campaigning for a reliable source of funding — a sales tax, a bond measure, or fees on new development.

Come on, somebody has to take this on. We’re going to become the next Calcutta unless some 21st-century hero steps up.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR HOPEFULS SQUARE OFF ON CHILD WELFARE ISSUES

At a forum held in Pasadena on Tuesday, five candidates looking to replace outgoing LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich shared their views on improving the county’s child welfare system.

During the discussion, which was hosted by Daniel Heimpel’s Fostering Media Connections, contenders LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander and Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s chief of staff, highlighted the importance of collaboration between the county and the private sector to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Prosecutor Elan Carr discussed public education as a crime deterrent. State Senator Bob Huff talked about the serious need for lighter caseloads for social workers.

Entrepreneur Darrell Park said that social workers could handle high caseloads if they were driven in sheriff’s deputies’ patrol cars, and if they dictated their reports to administrative employees with blazing fast typing fingers.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has a good round up of their main talking points. Here’s a clip:

Elan Carr, a criminal gang prosecutor, stressed the importance of education to prevent child abuse. Parents, especially young ones, need to be educated on raising children and dealing with normal stresses, such as anger management. Carr said he has forced defendants to undergo anger management counseling under penalty of jail.

“We’ve got to start really getting serious with education,” Carr said. “The only way really to fight crime and abusive homes is to provide nurturing education for all parties involved.”

Children must also be taught that violence is not the answer so that they don’t carry the practice into adulthood, he said.

Mitchell Englander, a Los Angeles city councilman, argued the county should adopt a public awareness campaign called “See something, say something.” Abuse happens behind closed doors and people should be encouraged to report friends, neighbors and loved ones to stop it, he said.

Englander also noted that he’s dedicated his life to public-private partnerships and said parents need to be brought into programs that benefit children and stay engaged.

“Government can’t do this alone,” he said. “This is a partnership. It’s a collaboration. That’s where philanthropic dollars come in but we’ve got to be accountable as well and work together.”

Posted in pretrial detention/release, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

LA County Child Abuse and Neglect Report…Sheriff McDonnell on AirTalk…and Rehabilitation, Reentry, and “Human Frailty”

May 11th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

REPORT GIVES RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO BETTER CATCH AND PREVENT CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT

On Tuesday, the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) presented a colossal, 310-page report on child abuse and neglect in LA County to LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The council, brought into being by the LA County Board of Supervisors in the ’70s, gathers data from—and direct recommendations to—county agencies that have a role in child safety and welfare.

Among the more noteworthy recommendations, was a call for the Department of Children and Family Services, Probation, LASD, LAPD and other agencies to share case information with hospital staff to help identify and prevent (or treat) child abuse. The report points out that the 63 LA County-area hospitals, which see 400 injured toddlers and newborns every day, may not have adequate abuse and neglect screening in place, highlighting the need for structured inter-agency information sharing.

There were 181,926 referrals to DCFS of child abuse or neglect during 2014, up 3% over the previous year, and the highest referral rate in nearly two decades. The report suggests that the increase in referrals may have played some part in the county’s decrease in the number of kids killed by parents or caregivers, which dropped from 19 in 2013 to 15 in 2014. “It appears that more referrals result in safer children,” the report reads.

The report points out that LA County, which oversees the nation’s largest child welfare system, is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for other cities, counties, and states.

Read the rest of the recommendations and dive into the report: here.


“HUMAN FRAILTY” AND THE LIMITATIONS OF REHABILITATION STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING RECIDIVISM

The Boston Reentry Study, which followed 135 male and female state prisoners as they returned to their Boston neighborhoods between 2012 and 2013, found their subjects experienced a high degree of childhood trauma (including violence at home), and were often previously victims of the same violent crimes for which they were later incarcerated.

In an op-ed for the New Yorker, Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, one of the Boston Reentry researchers, found what he termed an underlying vulnerability, or “human frailty,” among some former offenders. Western says that drug addiction and mental illness, often co-occurring with physical maladies, stack the odds against former offenders trying to successfully reenter society. This points to a need for healing interventions much earlier than rehabilitation and other treatment programs can provide, if we really want to reduce prison populations and recidivism rates, Western says. Here are some clips (but go over and read the whole thing, as it’s an interesting take on a complex issue):

It’s no surprise that physical and mental problems go together. Addicts often struggle with issues like chronic pain or manifestations of post-traumatic stress; physical ailments can feed depression and other emotional problems. Those who study poverty and inequality often point to the poor schooling and bad work histories of disadvantaged people. But disadvantage can run much deeper than educational failure and unemployment. In many cases, it has a physical reality that limits a person’s capacity to think clearly, without pain, and to bring energy to daily affairs. Sometimes, a feedback loop takes hold. People with physical- and mental-health problems spend disproportionate time in community health clinics and other institutions for the vulnerable and poor; such places can both help and hurt them. During Aman’s time at Bridgewater, for example, he received treatment for his schizophrenia but was also assaulted by another inmate.

Over the course of the Boston Reentry Study, my team and I wrestled with the problem of how to describe the vulnerability of people like Aman. Ultimately, we settled on “human frailty,” borrowing a term from demographers who study patterns of death across the population. More ambiguous alternatives, like “vulnerability,” could describe the condition of a healthy person who finds him or herself in an unhealthy situation. “Human frailty,” by contrast, inheres within an individual’s mind and body. It persists even when your environment changes.

Among the people we interviewed, mental and physical frailty were startlingly common. In many cases, those frailties derailed their efforts to become better parents, children, neighbors, and citizens.

[SNIP]

The lesson we can learn from frail prisoners like Aman and Carla is that life is a one-way street. Rehabilitative programs are often too little, too late; we need to intercede early. In talking about their lives, our respondents often recalled schools that were unable to respond to serious behavioral or learning problems except through suspension or expulsion. They described how their slides into heroin or crack addiction led straight into the criminal-justice system, rather than into an addiction program. They described using marijuana or heroin to ameliorate chronic mental or physical pain that had gone untreated for years. Our social safety net focusses most of its limited resources on poor mothers, their children, and the elderly; unattached adults often slip through it. It’s only after untreated addiction and mental illness lead to arrests and incarceration that they get help. By investing more in drug treatment, health care, and housing programs, we could offer a basic level of material and bodily security for people with broken minds and bodies who must try and adjust to life after prison.

A realistic public policy, moreover, needs to recognize that stable housing, employment, and a functional family life may be out of reach for the most fundamentally disadvantaged. In these cases, human dignity can at least be respected by enabling the effort to struggle for it. This means, sometimes, providing a place to stay, a transitional job, and support for families even when the outcome is uncertain. In these cases, the struggle itself is intrinsically meaningful. It is meaningful for clients who might envision a better future. It is also meaningful for society as a whole to do something more than abandon the least capable among us. This is difficult ground for our criminal-justice system. From the perspective of human frailty, a program that barely reduces recidivism may still succeed in the formidable challenge of treating with decency people convicted of violence who have struggled all their lives with mental illness, addiction, and disability.


LA COUNTY SHERIFF DISCUSSES TOM ANGEL, PROP 47, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell talked with host Larry Mantle about the Tom Angel scandal, why deputies shot into moving cars so many times in 2015(link), what effect former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s recent conviction has on the department, and Prop. 47′s savings.

Here are some clips:

…LAPD claims it shot into two vehicles during the years 2010-2014. In both incidents, officers said that the suspects were armed. With the Sheriff’s Department, there were nine times between 2010 and 2014 where deputies fired into the vehicles. In only one case was the person armed with a gun. What’s your response? Do you think those statistics are troubling?

It’s something I want to take a much closer look at. I’m thankful to KPCC for doing the study and giving us some data to look at. I looked at 2015, and we had eight incidents involving shooting at vehicles. Four of those eight incidents have been reviewed administratively by our executive force review committee. Two of those four cases reviewed by the committee contained policy violations, so we’ll deal with those within the system. Four cases in 2015 are still in the review process. There were two shooting-at-vehicle incidents so far in 2016, and they’re both still under review. I believe the unions are in the review process right now with a new and improved policy to make it clearer to folks what our expectations are with regard to shooting at moving vehicles. Across the board, I think there’s universal agreement that it’s not particularly effective, there is potential danger to bystanders and others, and if you can get out of the way of the moving vehicle that’s really goal number one.

So, typically in an investigation, if there is firing on a moving car, the key is going to be whether the deputy felt like he or she was under imminent threat of injury by the vehicle. Will that be the determinant here?

Ultimately, that would be for any use of force. For shooting at a moving vehicle, if the vehicle is the weapon and the individual is not posing an additional threat with a gun or some other type of weapon, our direction on that is do not shoot at the vehicle and move out of the way. We don’t say that universally. There are situations that could arise where it could be an appropriate use of force, where using force in that manner would stop their ability to hurt others. That’s very risky and it’s not a good practice overall, but there are some situations where you come down to the end of the line and you don’t have an alternative.

[SNIP]

Your chief of staff Tom Angel resigned last week after publication of emails he sent while the assistant [police] chief in Burbank. He’d forwarded jokes that made fun of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. I know it’s a personnel matter, which limits what you can say, but in a case like that with an employee found responsible for something like this, why isn’t an apology sufficient?

Look at the business we’re in. It’s all based on our relationship with the communities we serve. Los Angeles County is probably one of the most diverse counties in the world. It’s critical that we have a great relationship with all of those communities to do our job as well as it can be done. I was quoted as saying that I did not intend to discipline, but the conversation actually was that I had to speak with county council to determine what discipline was available to us because happened four years prior and when he was with another organization. We’ve done a lot of community outreach and are looking at this as an opportunity for all of us to take away some lessons learned and to repair relationships with our community.


ICAN cover art by Eugene Park.

Posted in Foster Care | 7 Comments »

LASD Deputies Sentenced in Jail Abuse Trial

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Monday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months, respectively, in a federal prison for falsifying incident reports. The two deputies were also charged with (but ultimately, not convicted of) assault for allegedly punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips, on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez reportedly falsified reports after the beating, in order to portray the mentally ill Phillips as the violent, out-of-control aggressor.

Aguiar and Ramirez were convicted only of the latter charge of falsifying the reports. The charges of wrongly beating Phillips resulted in a hung jury, with 10 jurors voting to convict.

Why did two jurors decline to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of unlawfully beating Phillips if they unanimously voted to convict the deputies of falsifying their official reports?

Jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli shared some of the things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict the men of assault.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

The forewoman said the two holdouts were also bothered by perceived inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. Maestez testified that he had seen the beating, and been very disturbed by it, but had not wanted to testify (and received nothing in exchange for his testimony).

Speaking personally, Giampaoli said that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

In handing down the sentences, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the defendants used excessive force. O’Connell also said she bought the accounts of the prosecution’s two main eyewitnesses.

On the other hand, Judge O’Connell noted that Aguiar, who is now 29, was much younger at the time of the Feb. 2009 beating, and had no other criminal record. And, Ramirez, a 40-year old father of two, had overcome a difficult background, and also had no prior criminal record. So, she said she gave the two a break, handing down less than the 2 years called for by sentencing guidelines. (In addition to the prison time, both men must also do 100 hours of community service.)

Still, O’Connell said, “there has to be a penalty.”

When he spoke to the judge, Aguiar said his family feared for his safety if he was to go to prison, because of his background in law enforcement.

“Phillips feared for his safety,” the judge replied, referring to the mentally ill inmate whom Aguiar and Ramirez were accused of beating and unnecessarily pepper spraying, even though his hands were handcuffed to a waist chain. “You put his life in danger.’ And the defendant’s actions resulted in charges against the victim, said O’Connell.

Both the of the defense attorneys—Vicki Podberesky, representing Ramirez, and Evan Janesse, counsel for Aguiar—questioned why the two deputies should get sentences that were so much higher that the 0 to 6-month sentence that is laid out in the plea deal that former Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted.

“It’s troubling,” said Judge O’Connell, looking, well…troubled. But, she noted, Judge Percy Anderson has yet to actually sentence Baca, possibly implying that Anderson could decide to go outside the agreed upon sentencing guidelines. (Both Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to be sentenced on different days in June.)

When O’Connell asked federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins about Baca’s far lower proposed sentence, Williams said the matter was “apples and oranges.” In Baca’s case, Williams said, there was no use of force at issue, and Baca is elderly—73 years old. Moreover, Baca admitted to what he’d done before the deal was made, whereas Aguiar and Ramirez had not admitted to using undue force. And if the charges of excessive force were not true, why did they need to falsify their reports?

Jenness, Aguiar’s defense attorney, broke in to opine that the Baca sentence was not apples and oranges, but “politics.”

When the sentences were announced, there were lots of tears from the family members of Aguiar and Ramirez who filled several rows in the courtroom.

“Our whole system relies on the fact that police officers swear to uphold the law,” O’Connell told Ramirez and the rest of the observers.

Posted in LASD | 16 Comments »

Sentence Enhancements, LASD Psychologist Accused of Molesting Kids, and One School’s 100% College-Bound Student Body

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

OPINION – MICHELLE ALEXANDER SAYS TOSS OUT DRUG SENTENCE ENHANCEMENTS

Sentence “enhancements” on the books in California can turn a sentence of a few years into one of multiple decades.

During it’s first Senate vote, at the end of last month, CA Sen. Holly Mitchell’s bill to get rid of the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions missed winning a majority, because of three Democrats who voted with Republicans against the bill, and five Democrats who abstained.

Sentence enhancements for drug crimes
disproportionately affect poor and minority people, reduce the likelihood of successful reentry, and are representative of a failed war on drugs, says Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and former director of the Racial Justice Project at the NorCal ACLU.

Sen. Mitchell’s bill might return this week to the Senate floor for another vote, and Senate and Assembly members should support the measure “as an important step in the state’s belated journey toward justice and healing in our communities.”

Here’s a clip from Alexander’s op-ed:

Sentence enhancements like these were marketed as deterrents to drug use and sales, supposedly out of concern for the harm drugs cause people. But drastic sentences impede rehabilitation and treatment and worsen the odds of successful reintegration.

There is no evidence that enhanced sentences reduce drug availability or the number of people harmed by illicit drug use. After decades of the war on drugs, it is clear that purely punitive approaches to drug crime are counterproductive. Drug use has not declined, controlled substances are now cheaper and more widely available than ever before, and the death rate from drug overdoses continues to rise.

Here in California, thousands of families have been broken apart and communities throughout the state have been destabilized. Instead of helping those targeted by the war on drugs, we have sentenced them not just to prison but to the lifetime of discrimination and stigma that follows it.

It is no secret that the war on drugs has had a grossly disproportionate impact on people who are black, brown and poor. People of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug violations than are whites, who can typically commit the same acts in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods without criminal consequences. Sentence enhancements based on prior drug convictions magnify these disparities, falling on those who have been unable to successfully re-integrate into society after earlier prison sentences.


LASD NON-SWORN PSYCHOLOGIST CHARGED WITH CHILD MOLESTATION

On Monday, 41-year-old psychologist Michael Ward, a civilian employee of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, was charged with sodomy of a minor under age 10, four counts of committing a lewd act on a child, two counts of committing a forcible lewd act on a child under 14, and three counts of forcible oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child 10 years old or younger. It’s not yet clear how Ward knows the victims—a 9-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl—or where those alleged crimes took place according to City News Service. Ward pleaded not guilty to the 10 felonies.

A statement released by the sheriff’s department called the charges “deeply troubling,” and said that the “allegations were not as a result of contacts he made within the scope of his work with the Sheriff’s Department.”

Ward, whose job involved training investigative personnel, was relived of duty last week. His bail is set at $2 million. If convicted on all counts, Ward faces life in prison.


WATTS SCHOOL SENDING 100% OF SENIORS TO COLLEGE

For the ninth year in a row, all 56 seniors graduating from Watts’ Verbum Dei High School have been accepted to college. About 70% of the students at Verbum Dei, a private Jesuit school, are Latino, and 30% are black. Most will be the first in their families to attend college. The students—all of whom come from low-income households—participate in a work-study program to pay for part of their tuition. The remaining tuition money comes from scholarships, grants, and fundraisers.

You can read more about the school and its students over at LAist.

Posted in Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Latest LA County Sheriff’s Dept. Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Begins Tuesday

May 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, jury selection begins for one more federal trial
involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of abusing jail inmates.

The incident in question, which occurred at the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, involves an LASD training officer named Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, a young deputy who was under Brunsting’s supervision.

According to the federal indictment, on March 22, 2010, Brunsting allegedly ordered Branum—and another unnamed deputy identified as Deputy B— to assault an inmate named Philip Jones for “verbally disrespecting” a custody assistant. Brunting and Branum then reportedly escorted inmate Philip Jones to an out-of-the-way area that was “not visible to others in the module.” And then, according to the indictment, the three hit, kicked, pepper sprayed “and otherwise assaulted” Jones for his perceived disrespect.

After the incident, Brunting allegedly guided Branum and “Deputy B” in writing up reports that would portray Jones as the aggressor in the situation, to the point that Jones would be charged criminally.

The implication was that the alleged beating and cover-up was not isolated, but that Brunting routinely instructed his trainees in the art of retaliation against perceived slights or acts of “disrespect,” along with methods of disguising any questionable beatings as necessary uses of force to control aggressive inmates.

Deputy B, as it turns out, is Joshua Sather, a then-23-year-old deputy who, at the time, was reportedly only a few weeks out of the academy, who graduated at the top of his recruit class, and who resigned from the department six days after the beating incident. Prior to resigning over the alleged incident, Sather told his uncle, a veteran LASD detective, that his supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill inmate, and then told him to lie about the beating in a report.

The uncle, Steven Sather, after hearing his nephew’s story, drove to twin Towers and had words with Brunsting, about making his nephew “beat up ‘dings,’ ” slang for mentally ill or mentally disabled.

(Robert Faturechi, writing for the LA Times, broke the story of Sather, the “muscled, tattooed rookie” who was deeply distressed at what he was allegedly being “trained” to do, and the detective uncle attempted to protect his nephew from allegedly unethical training officers.)

Following Sather’s allegations, LASD officials launched an investigation and, as had become all too predictable, the department concluded that this had merely been a case of an uncooperative inmate being subdued with appropriate force. The DA’s office also declined to file charges.

The FBI, which was already investigating reports of brutality in the jails, was not so willing to dismiss the deputy’s account so easily.

Now, six years later, Sather will likely be the federal prosecutors’ most crucial witness.

Here’s the indictment that outlines the charges.

The trial comes approximately ten months after the county signed a far reaching agreement for reform with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the sheriff’s department’s failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment for mentally ill inmates inside the county’s jail system. The agreement, signed in August 2015, was the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners,” specifically the mentally ill.

The trial also comes a little over a year after the settlement of a massive class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU—-Rosas v. Baca—-which alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails.

More on the new trial later this week.


MONDAY MORNING SENTENCING FOR FORMER SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES IN PREVIOUS JAIL BEATING CASE

And while we’re on the topic of jail abuse and cover-ups, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies, Joey Aguiar, and Mariano Ramirez, will be sentenced on Monday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, pursuant to their conviction in early February of falsifying reports against Men’s Central Jail inmate, Bret Phillips, portraying Phillips as the aggressor in a 2009 use of force incident that resulted in the inmate being beaten with fists, sprayed with pepper spray, and struck multiple times with a flashlight, according to the deputies’ own accounts.

The Aguiar/Ramirez verdict was confusing in that the jury voted to convict Aguiar and Ramirez of falsifying official reports, but also acquitted the deputies on the charge of conspiring to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights.

Then, on a third charge for the alleged beating of Phillips—who according to the government’s witnesses was nonresistant—–ten jurors voted to convict, while two voted to acquit, producing a mistrial on the single count.

Federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins originally planned retry the deputies on the beating charge.

The retrial was prevented when, a few days after the verdict, a deal was struck in which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Williams and Jenkins agreed not to retry. In return, Aguiar and Ramirez, along with their attorneys, Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, agreed not to appeal the deputies’ convictions, or to in any other way challenge them.

Aguiar and Ramirez are expected to receive sentences of around two years in a federal prison.

The case was differed from lot of jail beating allegations in that the 2009 incident was witnessed by a civilian, Chaplain Paulino Juarez, who has been working as a Catholic chaplain at LA County’s Men’s Central Jail since 1998.

The Aguiar/Ramirez sentencing and the new Brunting/Branum trial echo each other in certain ways in that both alleged victims were classified as mentally ill.

More after the sentencing.

Posted in LASD | 7 Comments »

Supervisor Candidates on Foster Care and Juvie Justice…the OC Jailhouse Snitch Blog…High Court Hearing on Brown’s Justice Measure…and Homelessness

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FIND OUT WHAT THE 5TH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR HOPEFULS THINK ABOUT CHILD WELFARE, JUVENILE JUSTICE, YOUTH HOMELESSNESS, AND MORE

This week, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has a series of interviews with the top contenders for LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s fifth district seat. Loudenback asks the candidates’ thoughts on improving the juvenile justice and foster care systems in LA County—both the largest in the nation.

We’ve pulled some relevant clips from each (but do go over and read the interviews):

Bob Huff, is a California state Senator representing the 29th District, covering parts of LA, Orange County, and San Bernardino County. Huff has co-authored a bill with Sen. Holly Mitchell, now signed into law, that allows social workers to know about criminal exemptions given to potential foster parents and care providers. Now, Huff is co-authoring another bill with Mitchell that increases the potential foster parent pool and cuts down on delays when kids are being placed with their relatives.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

If we adequately address the issues raised in the other questions, we will have addressed the biggest challenges related to this question. Talking with a skid-row expert, he said that half our foster youth are on the streets within two years of being released from the system. This underscores a systemic breakdown in our care of foster youth. It speaks to poor self-esteem from being bounced around a broken system with not enough quality foster parents, not being trained for the workforce, which speaks to the failures of our educational system. Many have substance abuse issues, which speaks to the lack of intervention and behavioral treatment at an early age. This is exacerbated by our state (and county’s) policies that drive up costs of housing, drive away many businesses that create good-paying jobs. The recent increase in the minimum wage is an excellent example of raising a higher obstacle for kids trying to get their first job to gain experience and build a resume.

There are various community-based programs and organizations that do great work in seeking to support homeless families and children and we should do all we can to work with and help grow these NGO efforts.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

Some progress has been made relative to the over-all administration of the county’s Probation Department as indicated by the conclusion of the federal monitoring of the county’s juvenile camps. Unfortunately, while the population of youths detained under the county’s probation department has dropped from 17,000 in 2011 to just 9,000 last year, the costs have increased dramatically. Much of the increase in cost has been attributed to the cost drivers associated with complying with federally mandated higher staff-to-youth ratios at the halls and camps. According to the department, the mental health, health and educational services required under the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice are more intensive and costlier than those for other California counties.

However, as the recent review by the L.A. County Auditor-Controller’s office found, there is clearly more to be done to ensure that the department remains in compliance with federal requirements and to ensure that operations of the camps provide for the safe rehabilitation and education of youth offenders. The audit found, among other issues, that probation camp staff was not ensuring that youth offenders participated in required substance-abuse treatment programs and therapy for anger management and behavior issues.

There have been allegations of wasteful spending and mismanagement. As supervisor, I would be interested in an independent audit looking at the questions of waste and mismanagement, but also as to whether cost containments and efficiencies can also be identified. Also a comparative analysis could be undertaken of other counties with programs that achieve effective outcomes with a lower cost basis. I believe that improved outcomes can be achieved through ensuring that staff is fully trained and oversight is in place to ensure that youth offenders are able to participate in required substance-abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other education services proven to reduce recidivism.

Elan Carr is a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney—a criminal gang prosecutor—who spent a year prosecuting kids in juvenile court.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

While youth homelessness is a very troubling problem, homelessness in Los Angeles County is not new. We have the largest homeless population in the country – more than 44,000 – and we need leadership. As a criminal prosecutor, I personally experience the results of homelessness on both the homeless population and on the community. That’s why I volunteered to be a part of the new Community Collaborative Court program, where I worked together with judges, probation officers, and county Department of Mental Health personnel to find treatment programs, as an alternative to incarceration, for homeless defendants who are mentally ill or abusing drugs. The problem of homelessness requires both short-term and long-term solutions.

While the county had well-founded reasons for closing the Youth Welcome Centers – including a lawsuit by the state – the closure merely exacerbated the problem and created even more homeless children. We need a safe and expeditious process to remove, hold and transfer children to their new placements. I will ensure that we devote enough revenue every year to housing as well as to programs. And I will expedite development of affordable rental residences so that we can bring the cost of housing down. I look forward to working with the governor, county department heads, the sheriff, district attorney, leaders in the community and adoption agencies to create a robust plan to fix the homeless issue in our county.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I spent a full year prosecuting minors in juvenile court, and I myself have sent kids to juvenile hall, camp, and on occasion to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly CYA). Now, as a criminal gang prosecutor, I prosecute very young adults and regularly secure sentences longer than the than the years they have been alive. It is agonizing to me to see so many of our kids deprived of a nurturing and empowering education and the chance at a good job after high school. Public safety is the main focus of my campaign, and it is vital to remember that we can’t handcuff our way out of the current crime problem.

LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, has served the 12th District communities of Granada Hills, Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, North Hills, Reseda, Sherwood Forest, and West Hills, since 2011.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

The county’s child protective services agency has been plagued with issues for many years and continues to struggle to fulfill it’s mission. Over the last few years, there have been a number of positive steps towards addressing the issues at the agency, namely creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection and the subsequent creation of the Office of Child Protection (OCP). The work of the commission, as well as the creation of OCP, have helped identify and address critical issues such as mismanagement, case load issues and overall delivery of services. However, in my view, there is a great deal of work to be done. As we work to implement many of the recommendations made by the commission, I strongly believe that regular reassessment and accountability measures are paramount to ensuring that the office is making real progress. I would like to implement an A-P3 – Assess, Provide, Promote, Protect – approach to implementing meaningful changes to address it’s short comings.

Assess: The Blue Ribbon Commission has made great strides in identifying the shortcomings of the child protective services agency. We need to prioritize on-going assessments of the agency as well as measuring the impact that new policies and initiatives have towards reaching identified goals.

Provide: Caseloads have been an issue. While it’s good to hire a thousand new social workers, as the county has done, doing that without giving them the technology and other support resources they need to manage large caseloads is useless. Many have quit, and caseload numbers have increased. While the most tragic stories have been in the front pages, everyday kids are abused, neglected or allowed to be preyed upon. We need to make a commitment to providing modern technologies and tracking mechanisms in order to track work, enhance coordination and improve the exchange of information between relevant agencies. Implementation of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS) is one example of how technology can improve the agency.

Promote: A “see something, say something” approach to child maltreatment needs to be promoted countywide, to all residents, not just care providers and teachers. This is particularly true within the agency. I believe that the Office of Child Protection can play a central role in reshaping the culture within relevant county agencies.

Protect: There needs to be the same ability to anonymously report suspected abuse as there is for other crimes and even a similar reward-type incentive for information leading to convictions. We also need to place a greater emphasis on utilizing background checks as well as regular in-depth welfare checks to ensure that children are placed in safe and healthy environments.

Kathryn Barger, chief of staff to current Supervisor Michael Antonovich, has spent more than 25 years working for the supervisor.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I will review the completed fiscal analysis that is underway by the CEO now, which will help us better understand the cost per youth in our institutions. Based on the data, I would propose a four-pronged approach:

Ensure that the only the youth who should be confined in our institutions are those in our institutions (i.e., high risk and not for minor infractions, such as curfew violations).

Expand and enhance community-based programs for the youth who can be safely and effectively treated and supervised in the community. We have recently expanded our partnerships with community-based organizations like UCAN, Boys and Girls Clubs in San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys, Asian Youth Center, and Mentoring and Partnership Program in Pasadena. I will also work with the Probation Department to establish a juvenile day reporting center in the Fifth District, which is in preliminary stages.

We need to do a better job of preventing the crossover of our foster youth into the juvenile-justice system. We know that there is a substantial link between children who are abused and neglected and subsequently enter the juvenile-justice system. We must continue to improve service coordination and integration between the Departments of Children and Family Services, Probation, Mental Health and Public Health to provide needed services to foster youth. And we need to effectively and efficiently link youth with substance abuse services which are available through Medi-Cal.

Given that the population of youth in our camps and halls has decreased by more than 60 percent in the last seven years and the on-going challenges in filling staffing vacancies, I will ensure that the human resources are deployed where there is the greatest need.

Darrell Park is an entrepreneur focusing on start-ups and clean energy, who has worked at the federal White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

Every child must be treated as our most valuable resource. That must be our goal. As a child, my parents hosted 19 foster children over the years. Some stayed for a weekend, others stayed for years. Los Angeles County’s system is not workable, as it currently functions. But there are simple solutions to fix what is wrong with this system, and make L.A. County the model for the rest of the country.

For instance, we need many more caseworkers, but we can also increase the effectiveness of every case worker by 30 percent immediately. We have underutilized the use of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s motor pool. We can get workers to their meetings as fast as lights and sirens can allow, and that can be changed instantly. We also need to use our county support staff that can take dictation from case workers as they drive between appointments, so workers don’t have to waste time sitting at a desk.

Other successful programs across the country also involve outreach efforts to secure many volunteers to provide support for families, facilities and kids, so that every child is supported and surrounded by love. Studies have shown that for a teen to become a successful adult, they need at least seven positive relationships with other adults as they grow up. Unfortunately, that resource of human capital is deeply lacking for foster youth.

(Note: CSC is also holding an LA County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s issues, which you can RSVP for: here.)


SNEAKY JAILHOUSE SNITCH INFORMATION BLOG USED BY ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES FOUND

In the newest twist in the ongoing Orange County jailhouse snitch scandal, OC Sheriff’s Department members kept a secret blog on jail informants that was kept away from defense lawyers. Information about the “unauthorized” blog, which was hidden on the county jail’s computer system, surfaced during testimony in the murder trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak. (Here’s the backstory on the OCDA and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s misuse of jailhouse informants to extract confessions, as well as the withholding of evidence from defendants.)

One of the deputies involved in the blog, was accused of giving false testimony during the murder trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, which was one of the reasons the OC DA’s Office was banned from prosecuting the death penalty portion of Dekraai’s trial. A different informant information system was found during the Dekraai trial that helped deputies hide possibly helpful evidence away from defendants.

Voice of OC’s Rex Dalton has the story. Here’s a clip:

These details were revealed during a remarkable all-day hearing Tuesday before Judge John D. Conley, with testimony by sheriff’s officials, including Commander Adam Powell, who oversees all of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ investigative services.

This is now the second time Sanders has uncovered a computer system through which sheriff’s deputies kept secret potentially helpful evidence from murder defendants. The Dekraai case revealed a system maintained by deputies with so-called TRED records on informants and inmates in county jails.

It was not disclosed until late 2014 when prosecutors responded to an 11th hour subpoena by Sanders. The TRED records were instrumental in Goethals’ decision that some deputies provided false testimony in the Dekraai case.

Ultimately last year, Goethals ruled the state Attorney General’s Office should prosecute the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. The judge’s order is under appeal, with Rackauckas’ plan to seek the death penalty on hold.

Then in February, Goethals overturned the 2006 murder conviction of Henry Rodriguez of Anaheim for a 1998 double murder, citing constitutional rights violations involving informant evidence again “washing ashore.”

During the Rodriguez proceedings for a retrial, a sheriff’s deputy from the special handling unit that works with jail informants produced the heretofore unknown cache of computer notes — which started multi-pronged hunts for more similar records.

Last month, Sanders subpoenaed any similar notes from the sheriff’s department for his defense of Wozniak — who in December was convicted by a jury who recommended the death penalty.

Wozniak faces sentencing on May 20. But a sentencing on that date looks increasingly unlikely given the ongoing hearing that continues Thursday.

Unless he can win a dismissal of the death penalty, Sanders has said in court that he will seek a new penalty phase trial for Wozniak, with the evolving mishandling of evidentiary notes likely to play a significant role. Sanders was scheduled to file a major motion in the case May 6, but that too is likely to be delayed.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES DON’T SEEM LIKELY TO UPHOLD BLOCK ON GOV. BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the legality of a last-minute amendment to Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative that would remove the power to transfer kids to adult court from prosecutors, and give the control back to judges, as well as increase inmates’ access to early release credits.

Earlier this year, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, siding with California District Attorney’s Association members, whose lawsuit alleged that amendments to the initiative did not go through the proper legal process. The state Supremes put a hold on Chang’s ruling, allowing Brown to continue collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot in the meantime. (Read the backstory: here.)

During Thursday’s hearing, the justices reportedly seemed skeptical of the attempt by the DA’s union to block Brown’s measure, saying that the law gives a considerable amount of leeway for making changes to a measure before it goes out for signature-collecting.

The high court is expected to rule on the issue within 90 days.

The Sacramento Bee’s David Siders has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

While a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the measure substantially changed the content of the original initiative, several justices on Thursday suggested state law grants the proponents of a measure broad authority to make changes before circulating it for signatures.

“It seems pretty clear to me that the Legislature wanted to give a great deal of latitude to the proponents of any initiative,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan said.

At issue before the court is a sweeping effort by Brown to reduce prison crowding and to ease the effect of fixed-term sentencing standards that Brown signed into law – and later regretted – when he was governor before. Filing his initiative as an amendment to an existing proposal allowed him to move more quickly through the state’s initiative review process.

A ruling by the Supreme Court is due within 90 days.

In an hour-long oral argument, justices pressed the Brown administration on how dramatically it changed the original proposal. Brown’s opponents, including the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, had argued Brown’s measure should have gone through its own review process, including public comment.


EDITORIAL: HOMELESSNESS STILL ON THE RISE IN LOS ANGELES, AND THERE’S NO QUICK FIX

Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year, which is less than half of the 12% increase experienced in 2014, but still disappointing.

LA County and LA City have a collaborated on comprehensive plan to help and house thousands of homeless residents through interagency coordination, non-profits, philanthropy groups, and businesses. But the housing (and required dollars) won’t appear overnight. Much of the funding has not yet been gathered, and there’s not much in the way of affordable housing real estate options, the LA Times editorial board points out. And the focus should be on addressing the issues that lead people to become—and stay—homeless. Here’s a clip:

City and county officials need to maintain the will and the commitment to fight this devastating social problem, even though they can be sure there will be political pitfalls ahead. They will have to work hard to explain the situation to voters and to persuade them that the best, most effective solutions have been identified. It is possible to make headway against homelessness; indeed, the best news in yesterday’s report was that veteran homelessness was significantly down — 30% — from 2015. That’s a testament to the increase in financial resources and personnel focused on veterans by the federal, county, and city governments over the last few years.

On Wednesday, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion directing the county’s Executive Officer to pursue a change in state law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million a year to combat homelessness.

Creating more housing must be a high priority in an area with such an extremely low vacancy rate and stratospherically high rents. That’s the most costly part of solving homelessness.

Of course, the city and county are already housing thousands of people each year. The problem is that as more are housed, more become homeless. So part of the challenge is to prevent homelessness in the first place, which in turn requires an understanding of who these people are and how they lost their homes in the first place. Were they evicted? Do they suffer from mental illness or drug addiction? Are they newly homeless or have they been on the streets for years? Are they in treatment? What do they need to rebuild their lives?



This post has been updated to include The Chronicle of Social Change’s interview with Mitch Englander.

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Fifty-Eight More Commutations from Obama

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

PRESIDENT OBAMA COMMUTED 58 SENTENCES, BRINGING HIS TOTAL TO 306 COMMUTATIONS, THUS FAR

On Thursday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 58 federal prisoners serving time behind bars under outdated drug sentencing laws—including two people from Los Angeles and one from Richmond, CA.

The president has now commuted (or shortened) sentences for 306 people, more than the six previous presidents combined. But Obama still has not done much in the way of presidential pardons (which wipe a person’s criminal record and restores their rights) when compared with his predecessors. Obama has granted just 70 presidential pardons during his more than seven years in office. George W. Bush granted 189 pardons, Bill Clinton granted 396, Ronald Reagan granted 393, Jimmy Carter granted 534 (during just 4 years in the White House), Lyndon B. Johnson granted 960, and Harry Truman granted 1,913.

Obama wrote about his latest batch of commutations in a story for Medium, pointing to individual success stories from those granted clemency, and praising bipartisan efforts to rein in over-the-top mandatory minimum sentences. Obama said that while he will keep reviewing clemency petitions, “only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing.”

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