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PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand

May 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


TANAKA AS WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE

It was just before the noon hour on Friday when word evidently went round the stately old U.S. District Courthouse that Paul Tanaka was going to be the next witness called in the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy James Sexton.

Thus by the time, the witness arrived at Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom number fifteen, the place was filled with men and women in suits who apparently believed that the subpoenaed testimony of the former undersheriff—who was now running for sheriff—would be a show well worth observing.

Tanaka walked to the witness box in a well-tailed grey suit and light Wedgwood blue tie. His stride had an overlay of confidence, a candidates gait.

He had been called as a witness for the defense and his testimony pertained mostly to the central issue of this trial, which is the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s response to the discovery that a convicted bank robber and jail inmate named Anthony Brown was an informant for the FBI.

To recap: in early August 2011, Brown’s double identity was revealed when a deputy happened to find a contraband cell phone in Brown’s possession. The phone’s call log featured calls to the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, almost exclusively. After questioning Brown, LASD investigators further learned that the phone had been smuggled to him in return for money by a jail deputy, and that the smuggling operation was a covert sting designed by the FBI’s civil rights division as part of a widening probe into corruption and brutality inside the LASD-run county jail system.

Once Brown’s informant status was established, according to testimony heard earlier in the trial, the department brass ordered that the inmate be hidden from federal law enforcement. To accomplish this aim, Brown was moved between several far flung corners of the county jail system while, at the same time, all traces of his presence were made to vanish from the department’s computer database, making him impossible to locate for any but the small cadre of department members in the know.

Two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies have been indicted for obstruction of justice and related charges, for their part in the Brown affair.

James Sexton, the defendant in this trial, is one of the seven.

An important part of Sexton’s defense, has been to illustrate to the jury that, when it came to the Brown operation, Sexton— who was 26-years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy at the time—was the last guy in a very long line of people who were following orders that came—and continued to come— from the very top of the sheriff’s department, specifically from then undersheriff Tanaka, with the approval of Lee Baca.

Prior to Tanaka’s appearance in court Friday afternoon, the jury had heard from a cluster of department member witnesses who placed Tanaka as the main boss of the informant-hiding operation. In addition to that testimony, the jury had seen a number of emails that would seem to solidly back up the primacy of the former undersheriff’s involvement.

It was in this context that Tanaka took the stand.

After a flurry of context-establishing questions, Sexton’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, asked him about when and how he first learned about the cell phone and Brown.

Tanaka said initially learned through a call from the sheriff, placing the date on August 18 or 19, 2011. Tanaka also said that there was “concern that the cell phone had been introduced by a rogue FBI agent.”

(As it happened, the whole notion of the “rogue agent” had been pretty convincingly refuted an hour or so earlier when Steven Martinez, the man who, in 2011, headed up the FBI’s enormous LA office, described how he had called Baca on August 18, and explained in detail about the informant and the cell phone, and how both were part of a fully sanctioned FBI undercover operation that was part of a civil rights investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. In other words, Baca knew there was nothing “rogue” about it.)

In the next series of questions, O’Brien asked Tanaka if he had given the order for various individual parts of the operation. The former undersheriff readily admitted to giving certain orders but danced away from questions pertaining to what his part had been in relation to other elements of hiding Brown, in specific the ones that, should the feds manage to prove obstruction of justice, would be where that obstruction was most likely to be demonstrated.

For instance, Tanaka said that the Brown matter was a high priority for the sheriff and acknowledged that it was actually he who had personally authorized the large amount of overtime for the team that had worked on what would come to be known colloquially as Operation Pandora’s Box. “We had to put a 24-hour guard on [Brown] to make sure he was kept safe.

“It’s not always easy to control what every deputy sheriff does,” Tanaka said. “When somebody has been labeled a snitch and that’s against deputy sheriff’s we have a real concern for that person’s safety. “

So if he ordered the overtime, who actually ordered the 24/7 security? At this, the vagifiers switched on: It was “possible,” it was him, said Tanaka. “Possible,” it was the sheriff. “Likely,” it was one of them.

When asked if he gave the order to change Brown’s name or his housing, Tanaka backpedaled further and answered No to both questions. But he learned of it, possibly when it was being done, and he probably didn’t object, he said.

“I didn’t specify how to do it. I just ordered [Brown] to be kept safe. This unit,” he said, referring the Operation Safe Jails elite unit in which Sexton works, and that is lead by Lt. Greg Thompson, who is also indicted. “They’re the experts. I might be the undersheriff, but they’re the experts.”

In that Tanaka is known to be a very hands on manager, to the point of often disregarding the command structure to micromanage, the notion that he would blindly delegate such a tricky assignment as the hiding of Brown, without any knowledge of how it might be accomplished, did not sound terribly credible, especially given the matter was purportedly, according to Tanaka himself, of such concern to the sheriff.

Tanaka did at least admit that the approval had to come from him for the FBI to be able to talk to or see Brown, . And that he had not given approval. “The FBI visit was a security breach,” he said, referring to an hour interview that FBI special agent Leah Marx and a colleague had with Brown after the discovery of the cell phone, an interview that was abruptly shut down once LASD higher-ups realized it was occurring.

But when asked if he authorized the complicated machinations that allowed Brown’s disappearance from the jail database, Tanaka’s answers were again swaddled in legal vagaries.

“That one I’m not sure I was aware of until long after the fact,” he said then repeated the thought for good measure. “I don’t recall learning about that until long after the fact.”

In other words, the part of the Brown operation that was the most significantly unique, that would have required the most planning—and that either skated the edge of legality or, as the prosecution has been working to prove, crossed well over the legal line—were all authorized without his knowledge by persons five or six ranks below him.

Tanaka’s answer was similarly hazy when it came to any knowledge of the court order that was issued requiring Anthony Brown to be released to federal custody so that he could appear before a federal grand jury.

“I don’t believe I knew about it until long after….” he said.

At the very end of Tanaka’s testimony, O’Brien asked one last question.

“Mr, Tanaka, you have not been indicted.”

“No, sir,” Tanaka replied.

And with that, the witness was permitted to step down.


AND THEN, THERE IS THE DEFENDANT

In high contrast to Tanaka’s testimony, a few hours earlier, the prosecution called its final witness, who was not really a witness at all, but a man who took the stand and read aloud from James Sexton’s grand jury testimony while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

The dramatic recreation was weirdly affecting. Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, as if he was doing his best to be helpful—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that many of his answers would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

He talked about how the team was told that, if there was any “static,” about the elaborate mechanism required to move and hide Brown, one of four people should be “invoked,” most prominently, Greg Thompson, Sexton’s immediate supervisor, and Paul Tanaka.

Sexton described the plan to repeatedly “release and “rebook” Brown every 48 hours under different phony names and personal details, in order to avoid fingerprints, and thus remove Brown’s presence from the jail systems database. He characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he explained.

What they did in hiding Brown was akin to “kidnapping,” Sexton said. “We had [Brown] in places that we weren’t authorized [to have him]. He didn’t consent to have his identity changed, so we kidnapped him.”

And so it went.

After the reading of Sexton’s grand jury testimony, the prosecution rested.

And also, right around that same time on Friday, as his grand jury testimony was being read to the jury, Sexton had been scheduled to walk across a stage in a cap and gown to receive his master’s degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Instead, of course, he was inside the Spring Street federal court building facing federal charges.


On Monday, Tanaka will be cross-examined by the prosecution. Closing arguments are expected near the end of Monday’s session or first thing on Tuesday.



AND IN OTHER RELATED NEWS…

TEAM OF UCLA LAW STUDENTS RESEARCH AND HELP PROPOSE A “COMPREHENSIVE SYSTEM OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT” FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

At 9:30 am Monday (when, unfortunately, we’ll be in federal court), the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails will launch a report researched and drafted by students from the UCLA School of Law International Human Rights Clinic, which outlines a comprehensive model of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

In late June, the County Supervisors are expecting the new Inspector General, Max Huntsman, and Sheriff Scott to present their report and findings on the notion of a permanent civilian oversight body for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The eight-page report synthesizes research of civilian oversight models across the country. The document provides a thorough breakdown of the functions and capacities of an effective community based civilian oversight body.

· The report proposes that the Civilian Review Board will direct the functions of the new Office of Inspector General while prioritizing the input, complaints, and voices of communities directly impacted by Sheriff violence.

The report has already been submitted to the five County Supervisors, the Office of Inspector General, and the Sheriff’s Department. The Coalition urges them to “support permanent civilian oversight that has the power and community backing to hold the largest Sheriff’s Department in the country accountable for any future abuses.”

On Monday, the report will be presented at 9:30 a.m., at the Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave 90007

Speakers will include:

Patrisse Cullors – Executive Director of Dignity and Power Now/ The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence
Reverend Cecil Chip Murray – Former Commissioner of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Miriam Krinsky – Attorney and former Executive Director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Sandra Neal – Member of the Coalition and mother of a survivor of deputy violence.

For still more on the report, read Abby Sewell’s story for the LA Times.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 3: Lee Baca Personally Signed Off on Massive Overtime Hours for Deputies Hiding Brown

May 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Among the biggest revelations of Thursday,
the third day of trial for LA County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, was a document showing that former sheriff Lee Baca personally approved of the extensive and costly overtime required to pull off the elaborate scheme of hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Baca’s name was one of three approvals necessary for the overtime—two to pre-approve, one to sign off that the work had been completed.

The other pre-approval name was Lt. Greg Thompson, then Sexton’s direct supervisor, now retired and, along with Sexton, one of seven charged with obstruction of justice for their respective parts in the Anthony Brown affair.

The significance of Baca’s name on the overtime docs was not, of course, the approval of the overtime itself, but as an indication that Baca was in a position of some kind of oversight.


CONCERNED ABOUT THREATS TO THE DEFENDANT, FBI GIVES SEXTON A CELL PHONE

It was yet another day when indicted defendant James Sexton’s name was barely mentioned during the prosecution’s questioning of its various witnesses.

But when Sexton’s name finally did come up it was in a surprising context.

According to FBI special agent Leah Marx, when the FBI set up the first meeting with Sexton that would result in 37 different contacts by phone and in person, he had been already been talking for a while to another LA special agent named Patrick Hampel, whom he considered a friend.

Marx said she passed a message to Sexton through Hampel, that “there were credible threats against him and his life might be in danger.”

We are genuinely concerned for your safety. That’s all, bro. Please don’t think this was ever about the case, more like she found out some stuff that makes her think you are in jeopardy. She’s a good person and so is Dalton [her partner]. I’ve drank, played vball, hung out with both of them, and I trust them like I trust you. They know we are friends and are trying to do the right thing by me; ie warning my friend who may need some help…

(WitnessLA reported more on the email from Hampel earlier this year.)

After that, according to Marx, she and her colleagues communicated on a regular basis with Sexton either by phone or in person for the next two years.

In order to make communication with the FBI easier and safer for Sexton, given the possible threats, Marx and her team gave him a phone he could use to call the feds.

In return, Sexton gave Marx’s team information and documents.


On the topic of phones, much of Thursday’s testimony came from special agent Marx who was questioned particularly closely by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien. who challenged the wisdom of the FBI’s use of inmate Brown as an informant. O’Brien pointed out that Brown was a convicted armed robber notorious for his embroidering of the truth, and had just been sentenced to 423 years in prison.

O’Brien also questioned the ethics of smuggling a contraband telephone into a custody facility.

KPCC’s Rina Palta was at court Thursday and has focused her report on the matter of the cell phone. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Leah Marx told the jury that Brown gave information on “more than” 50 use-of-force incidents before being discovered by sheriff’s deputies working the jails.

“He provided a significant amount of information on deputies,” Marx said.

Defense attorney Tom O’Brien, however, put a less flattering pall on the relationship, pointing to the $1,500 in phone cards and toiletry money deposited into Brown’s account by the FBI over the years. O’Brien also noted Brown’s dozen or so felony convictions that have landed him a sentence of more than 400 years in state prison.

Particularly, O’Brien focused on an FBI sting in which agents smuggled a cell phone with video and photo capability to Brown through an allegedly corrupt deputy sheriff who was later charged for smuggling contraband in an unrelated case.

“The FBI has published reports on the dangers of cell phones behind bars,” O’Brien said, even as agents provided one for Brown. The dangers include making it possible for inmates to order crimes on the outside and coordinating unrest in the jails, O’Brien said.

Marx said the FBI monitored any calls or texts sent via the phone and had the option to cancel service at any time.

Under questioning, Marx also told the jury the FBI had unsuccessfully attempted to outfit Brown with prescription glasses and a cross equipped with hidden cameras to record inmate beatings.

ABC-7 also has a report on the testimony of special agent Marx.

The trial continues on Friday.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

Pandora’s Box: the Sexton Obstruction of Justice Trial Continues, Tanaka Drops F-Bombs, Baca Unlikely to Testify

May 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday is Day Three of the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton,
who is charged with engaging in a conspiracy to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal law enforcement agents.

Day one consisted of jury selection and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. Then, on Wednesday, Day 2, the prosecution called its first four witnesses.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, is the youngest and the lowest ranking of seven who were indicted pertaining to the Brown matter. (His trial has been “severed” from the trial of the other six. That trial with multiple defendants will begin after Sexton’s case is completed.)

His defense team, led by former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, intends to show that, while he participated in the Brown matter, Sexton—at the time 26-years old and 3 years out of the sheriff’s academy—was following the orders from multiple layers of supervisors, most of whom have not been indicted.


SUDDEN CHANGE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY & TANAKA INVOLVEMENT

The prosecution, for its part, intends to show how Sexton and other department members conspired to keep Brown away from the reach of any federal agents.

In this regard, among the interesting points that arose in Day two, came in the testimony by two witnesses that, after investigators at the LASD figured out that Anthony Brown was a federal informant, the department suddenly changed its policy about how members of “outside law enforcement” could meet with or interview inmates.

Prior to the discovery that Brown was part of a covert FBI investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, FBI agents and others had only to sign in, show a picture ID, explained Sgt. Robert Bayes, who was, at the time of the Brown incident, working as an investigator in the jails. Afterward, any visit required a lengthy series of permissions and approvals

And, according to an internal LASD email admitted as evidence on Wednesday, when it came to Brown himself, any visit by federal agents had to be approved directly by then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Yet in a second email about the permission chain distributed more widely to department supervisors, Tanaka’s name was removed at his direction (according to another email), thereby masking the direct nature of his involvement in the hiding of Brown.

According to yet another LASD email distributed to the jury, permission to produce Brown for a writ of habeas corpus to appear in front of a federal grand jury must include the opinion of county counsel. However, the email specified—without apparent irony—that the county lawyer selected to be part of the permission process should be a particular man who conveniently happened to be on vacation for a month.

(There was also a lively moment in Bayes’ testimony when he described standing outside Tanaka’s office while his supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, briefed Tanaka about some part of Brown’s federal involvement. At one point in the meeting, according to Bayes, Tanaka expelled himself from his office with a loud and long series of f-bombs.)


FOR HIS OWN GOOD

The sheriff’s department official explanation for the hiding of Anthony Brown has always been that, once he was outed as an FBI informant, he needed to be hidden for his own good, so that no vengeful deputies would do him harm now that he’d been outed as a snitch.

Yet, in other emails entered into evidence and recordings played in court on Wednesday, various other high level department members, including then ICIB Captain, Tom Carey, and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, appeared to be involved in the direction of elaborate actions that were primarily designed to keep Anthony Brown away from any federal agents so that LASD team members could find out what he’d told the feds about wrongdoing in the jails.

Any possible danger from deputies was not mentioned, except on a couple of instances by Brown himself in a recording made when he was being questioned and expressed his reluctance to spill what he knew of deputy misconduct to the two deputies who were interviewing him.


AND WHERE IS SEXTON IN ALL THIS?

Interestingly, very little of the evidence presented on Wednesday pertained at all to the defendant, James Sexton. And when his name did come up in the testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, it was when Marx described some of what Sexton had told her and her colleagues about the Brown operation in the more than 30 meetings Sexton reportedly agreed to in order to provide information to the FBI and members of the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Among the things that Sexton told the FBI about the matter of hiding Anthony Brown, Marx testified, was that he had never heard of another instance when an inmate had been hidden from a law enforcement agency.

On Thursday the prosecution team—led by Assistant U.S Attorneys Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes—will continue with its witnesses.

When it is the defense’s turn, Sexton’s attorneys are expected to call Paul Tanaka, among others.

Although former sheriff Lee Baca is also on the defense witness list, we have learned that he is unlikely to be called.


FOR ADDITIONAL COVERAGE OF THE SEXTON TRIAL…. See ABC 7′s excellent rundowns on the first two days (here and here) and the smart report by KPCC’s Rina Palta. Plus the LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting story on the trial’s first day.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney | 14 Comments »

Suspending & Expelling Preschoolers, SF District Attorney Says to End Capital Punishment, AG Eric Holder Says Juvenile Facilities Overuse Solitary Confinement

May 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENDING AND EXPELLING THREE AND FOUR-YEAR-OLDS…IN CALIFORNIA AND NATIONWIDE

Back in March, the Civil Rights division of the US Dept. of Education released a report on school discipline that revealed nearly 5,000 preschoolers were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year.

Many California school districts say they do not suspend or expel preschool-aged children, LAUSD included, but Yale professor Walter Gilliam discovered California schools are, indeed, suspending and expelling three and four-year-olds. In 2005, Gilliam conducted a national study that found California schools were expelling preschoolers at a rate of 7.5 per 1000 kids, a number higher than the national average.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has the story. Here’s a clip:

In March, the U.S. Department of Education released statistics showing that 5,000 preschoolers nationwide were suspended at least once during the 2011-12 school year. Half of them were suspended more than once.

That’s not even the complete picture; those numbers only include children at public schools, not private preschools or home-run childcare centers…

And one national expert doubts the federal numbers are accurate, even for public-school-based programs.

Some of the largest school districts in California – Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Oakland, San Francisco – showed zero preschool expulsions in the 2011-2012 federal data, the first year the federal government required school districts to report it. The state doesn’t require school districts to break out expulsion reports by grade.

L.A. Unified school district has an unwritten policy against suspending or expelling preschoolers, said Maureen Diekman who runs the district’s early education programs.

“When there’s a child with challenging behavior, we work with the family and work to find out how best to meet that child’s individual needs,“ she said.

California Head Start officials also said they enlist the help of parents and guardians to curb behavior issues, rather than expel children.

Yale professor Walter Gilliam doesn’t believe that California’s preschools are not suspending or expelling kids. When he set out to conduct the first major national study on preschool expulsion in 2005, he said officials told him they had policies against it, too.

But when his research team surveyed teachers directly, they found that – whatever schools’ policies may be — teachers were indeed asking problem preschoolers to leave. Often.

“Pre-kindergarten children were being expelled at [a] rate well over three times that of K through 12 combined,” he said.

In California, the expulsion rate was 7.5 children per thousand preschoolers, well above the national average of 6.7 per thousand. That made it the 16th highest state in the nation for preschool expulsion rates.

And, just like in upper grades, both Gilliam’s study and the new federal data show suspension rates are higher for African-American children than students of other races – even in preschool.

For 2011-2012, the federal data shows half of the preschool children suspended were black, even though black children made up only 18 percent of all preschoolers.

Read the rest.


SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY (AND FORMER ASSISTANT CHIEF OF LAPD) SAYS TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY

In an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury, San Francisco DA George Gascon says that the death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gascon says the death penalty is both costly, and an ineffective crime deterrent.

And the most urgent reason to end capital punishment, he says, is the alarming percentage of death row inmates found innocent. (A recently published study by the National Academy of Sciences found that one in 25 people handed a death sentence between 1973-2004 were wrongly convicted.)

The stand is particularly significant because of Gascon’s background in law enforcement—he has served as the Assistant Chief of the LAPD, Chief of Police for Mesa, Arizona, and Chief of the SFPD.

Here is a clip from DA Gascon’s op-ed:

Arriving at my current views involved a process that was highly analytical and deeply emotional. Like many people, I have gone through an evolution in my thinking that has led me to believe the death penalty is irreparably flawed and marred by a history of incorrect information.

My journey began with the realization that in my 30 years in law enforcement, the death penalty has had no impact on public safety. Strengthening families and neighborhoods, holding criminals swiftly accountable and ensuring every child receives a quality education are more effective in deterring violent crime than remote threats of execution.

This is especially true in California, where the 745 people now on death row likely will die of old age rather than execution. The truth is that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is the most severe punishment and the most effective solution to deal with the most dangerous murderers.

The costly reality of our death penalty system also played a critical role in my evolution. Study after study in California, including the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, has concluded that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole will save California $130 million every year. That is $130 million of precious taxpayer money that should be spent to prevent crime, to solve crime and to educate our kids.

But the most important stop on my journey was innocence. Even under the most scrupulous practices, the legal system occasionally makes mistakes. Just since 1973, more than 140 people on death rows around the country have been exonerated, thankfully before they were executed. To me, this number was evidence enough that the death penalty invites deadly mistakes.

Last week’s report escalates a disturbing situation into one that deserves public outcry. The researchers calculated that 4.1 percent of the 7,482 accused sentenced to death in the United States from 1973 to 1984 were wrongly convicted. This, according to the researchers, is a “conservative estimate.” That means there may be 30 innocent people on California’s death row right now.


US ATTORNEY GENERAL CONDEMNS OVER-USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN JUVENILE FACILITIES

On Wednesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against excessive solitary confinement of kids—especially those with disabilities—in detention centers.

Holder said, moving forward, the DOJ would work with states to rein in the use of isolation in juvenile facilities. (It should be noted that LA County Probation still uses isolation in their juvenile probation camps.)

Here is a clip of the transcript from the Dept. of Justice website:

“In a study released last year by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 47 percent of juvenile detention centers reported locking youth in some type of isolation for more than four hours at a time. We have received reports of young people who have been held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often with no human interaction at all. In some cases, children were held in small rooms with windows that were barely the width of their own hands.

“This is, to say the least, excessive. And these episodes are all too common.

“This practice is particularly detrimental to young people with disabilities – who are at increased risk under these circumstances of negative effects including self-harm and even suicide. In fact, one national study found that half of the victims of suicides in juvenile facilities were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent of victims had a history of solitary confinement.

“Let me be clear, there may be times when it becomes necessary to remove a detained juvenile from others in order to protect staff, other inmates, or the juvenile himself from harm. However, this action should be taken only in a limited way where there is a valid reason to do so, and for a limited amount of time; isolated juveniles must be closely monitored, and every attempt must be made to continue educational and mental health programming while the youth is in isolation.

“At a minimum, we must work to curb the overreliance on seclusion of youth with disabilities. And at the Department of Justice, we are committed to working with states to do this going forward.

Posted in Death Penalty, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Trial: Day One, Cities Reconsidering Banning Ex-Inmates from Public Housing, Oregon Reduces Recidivism with Parent Training, and Wolves

May 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DAY ONE OF THE FIRST “OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX” TRIAL

Trial began Tuesday for L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who is one of seven LASD officers accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice by allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI. (Backstory here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a good rundown on Tuesday’s happenings. (And we at WLA will have more as the trial moves forward.)

Here’s a clip:

Federal prosecutors say Deputy James Sexton hid a jail inmate working as an FBI informant from federal investigators, moving him from jail to jail under fake names, and was part of a conspiracy to try to intimidate an FBI agent by showing up at her home and threatening her with arrest.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argue the FBI’s “well meaning but poorly planned” jails investigation sparked a turf war between the federal agency and the local sheriff’s department, and Sexton was a bit player in a game between high powered law enforcement agencies.

Sexton’s charges for conspiracy and obstruction of justice stem from a 2011 incident.

In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Rhodes said members of the sheriff’s department working in Men’s Central Jail found a cell phone in inmate Anthony Brown’s jail cell on August 18, 2011. From there, they figured out that the FBI had provided Brown with that phone — and that he was working as an informant for the federal government.

Immediately, the group of deputies and their lieutenant began a campaign to “shut down” the federal investigation, Rhodes said.

“Now they started down the road to obstructing justice,” Rhodes said…

Read on.


MAJOR CITIES RETHINKING BANS ON FORMER OFFENDERS LIVING IN PUBLIC HOUSING

A new Wall Street Journal article draws attention to the issue of banning former inmates from public housing on both the city and federal levels.

As efforts to lower recidivism by increasing rehabilitation and re-entry services for those returning to their communities, Los Angeles, New York, and housing authorities in other cities are beginning to consider and test programs to allow certain low-level offenders to access public housing.

The Wall Street Journal story by Matt Peters is behind a paywall. Here are some of the relevant clips, for those who don’t subscribe:

Most ex-convicts are locked out of public housing when released, a vestige of “one strike and you’re out” approaches that rose to prominence in the 1990s as housing authorities reeled from rampant crime and mismanagement. Housing officials said some families have long allowed ex-offenders to move into public housing illegally, while others see the risk of losing their apartments as too great.

But now, as crime rates across the U.S. have declined and many of the most notorious housing projects were torn down, an increased focus is being put on the buildup of prison populations and how the barriers ex-offenders face upon release may feed high rates of unemployment, homelessness and recidivism.

While comparative data on the situation among ex-convicts before such housing bans became prevalent and now are almost nonexistent, housing advocates increasingly are looking at the connections between homelessness and incarceration. New York department of corrections data, for example, show 22% of inmates from New York City paroled last year from state prison listed a homeless shelter as their first address. And a recent federal study tracking 405,000 prisoners in 30 states found two-thirds were arrested for a new crime within three years of release.

Encouraged by federal housing officials, Chicago and other large cities are starting to rethink the restrictions. The New York City and city of Los Angeles housing authorities are testing programs to allow certain inmates to move in with family in public housing upon release, while Chicago is planning a similar trial. The New Orleans Housing Authority is going further, with a policy that states a criminal background won’t automatically result in rejection.

Still, not everyone would qualify, as federal rules ban from public housing certain former criminals such as sex offenders and those convicted of producing methamphetamine. Local housing authorities are also setting other requirements as they test the changes…

Public housing authorities and voucher programs in many cities have considerable waiting lists. So for now, authorities are targeting inmates who want to return to family already in public housing. The New York City authority, which manages nearly 180,000 apartments, is allowing 150 former inmates, who must go through special screening and follow-up monitoring, to join family.


OREGON STUDY SHOWS SIGNIFICANT RECIDIVISM REDUCTION WHEN INCARCERATED MOTHERS AND FATHERS RECEIVE PARENT TRAINING

An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmate mother and fathers who participated in parent training were 95% less likely to report new offenses in the first year after release than the study’s control group. Mothers were 59% less likely to be arrested in that first year, and fathers were 27% less likely. The study is part of ODC’s Children of Incarcerated Parents Project, which has been in effect for 11 years, and aims to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for kids with locked-up parents.

ThinkProgress’ Nicole Flatow has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kids whose parents are in prison are not only missing emotional support. About half of these parents had been the primary providers of their children’s financial support before going to jail.

So Oregon has good reason to be looking at ways to keep parents out of jail. And after 11 years of trying, it’s found one that seems to serve its purpose of curbing the cycle of crime. An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmates who underwent parenting training while behind bars were 95 percent less likely than those in a control group to report criminal activity in the year after the training. They were also significantly less likely to be arrested again. Women who underwent parenting training were 59 percent less likely to be arrested a year later, while men were 27 percent less likely to be re-arrested.

Fathers who participated in the program were also significantly more likely to give their children positive reinforcement after being released. And parents were more likely to have regular family contact, which has been associated with lower rates of repeat offenses in many previous studies.


AND IN CHEERING WOLF-RELATED NEWS…

In late 2011, the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, made history when he wandered across the state line from Oregon into California (likely looking for a mate). He was the first wild wolf in California since 1924. In March 2013, OR-7 returned to Oregon, but has crossed the border often since.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced on Monday that it believes OR-7 has finally found a mate. ODFW has photographed a female wolf in OR-7′s territory and believe minimal movement from OR-7′s tracker means that they have denned and produced a litter. (Hooray!)

Sacramento Bee’s Matt Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Monday it has photographic evidence that OR7 has found a female companion somewhere in the state’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest region. Officials, following usual policy, won’t reveal exactly where the two are located. But the agency has identified a large spear-shaped region of land as OR7’s territory, stretching north from the California border between Medford and Klamath Falls.

In early May, the same remote cameras in the national forest captured images of a female wolf as well as the first images the agency has ever captured of OR7 himself. The coinicidence of these images, as well as data from the GPS collar worn by OR7, “strongly indicate” the two have mated, said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon wildlife agency.

A recent relative lack of movement by OR7 also suggests the wolf couple has denned up and produced a litter of pups, especially given that the time of year is typical for mating.

Posted in LASD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, wolves | 2 Comments »

First Pandora’s Box Trial Begins: The Big Q: Who Called the Shots?

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday morning, the trial for Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton will begin.

Sexton is one of 7 LASD personnel indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice, pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

The other six indicted on the Anthony Brown matter will be tried together. They are deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins.

Sexton’s trial is interesting for a number of reasons.

For one thing, his case alone has been severed from the rest into a separate trial, because he revealed details of the LASD’s actions regarding Anthony Brown under oath when he appeared before a grand jury, revelations that could implicate some of the other defendants—and Sexton himself.

According to sources close to his defense, Sexton did so (rather than invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment), because he had agreed early on to cooperate with federal investigators and was told—according to his attorneys—that he was not a target of the FBI’s investigation.


Sexton’s trial also will be the first real look into the thinking behind a case that has grown increasingly perplexing due to the fact that, according to LASD supervisors, present and retired, it is all but impossible that the orders to engage in the kind of acts with which the seven Anthony Brown indictees are charged originated with any one of the seven, including the two lieutenants, Thompson and Leavins.

In fact, in a motion filed in March, deputies Manzo and Smith stated categorically that their actions in dealing with Brown were “duly authorized and supervised by LASD Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and numerous other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials.” (One of the other high ranking officials named was Captain Tom Carey, at the time a supervisor in the LASD’s internal criminal investigative unit, known as ICIB, for which Leavins then worked.)

Yet, as the motion noted, none of the LASD higher-ups have been charged with any crime. Whereas Sexton and the other six could face ten to fifteen years in a federal prison.

So, do the feds intend to move higher up in the LASD hierarchy with the Anthony Brown conspiracy, as was originally assumed they would do? Or will they call a halt with the seven underlings now indicted? If the latter is true, what is behind the decision to stop short?

Perhaps Sexton’s trial will provide some clues.

The prosecution is expected to present evidence that, at Lt. Greg Thompson’s request, Sexton, who had expertise with computers, came up with a way to make Anthony Brown appear to vanish from the LASD database (using false names and altered personal data), thus hiding him digitally from any FBI attempts to find him. (For details and backstory see this and this.) Sexton is also accused of being one of those who guarded Brown when he was hidden, and of knowing that federal agents were to be denied access to the informant, should they show up.

Sexton’s defense is expected to maintain, among other things, that Sexton—-26 at the time—was following orders from his supervisors that he believed to be lawful, that they were orders he furthermore was told were given at the direction and with the knowledge of then Sheriff Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

The defense is also expected to present evidence of Sexton’s reported early and extensive cooperation with the feds in the belief that the information he provided to the FBI would not be used to form a case against him.

We will keep you posted as Sexton’s case unfolds.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 22 Comments »

LA’s Use of “Split Sentencing” Gets Worse (Can DA Jackie Lacey Help?)…..When CA Kids are “Double Charged” ….Pilot of Drug Smuggling Boat Sentenced for Coast Guard Murder

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TUESDAY’S AB 109 REPORT SHOWS LA’S USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ board meeting, Probation Chief Jerry Powers will present a report about what is going on with the various AB 109 offenders who have been passed to LA County for oversight rather than the state since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

The report is dry, extremely detailed and statistic heavy (you can find it here if you’d like to peruse). However, amid the welter of figures a few numbers do jump out, namely the stats showing the progress that LA County is making when it comes to beefing up its use of “split sentencing,” an approach that justice advocates, Governor Jerry Brown and the top brass at probation—among others—would like to see expanded.

And what kind of progress are we making? Um, none. Zero. Zip. As a matter of fact, rather than progressing, LA seems to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, split sentencing is a sentencing strategy that has been adopted to greater and lesser degrees by California’s counties as part of California’s AB 109 public safety realignment system. With a split sentence, the court can divide a low-level felon’s time to be spent half behind bars, with the other half (or more) spent out of jail but under the supervision of county probation. The idea is that most offenders do better when they receive some kind of help and oversight when they get out of jail or prison rather than just getting dumped on the street with no further follow-up.

Moreover, split sentencing has the pleasant collateral effect of lowering the jail population.

Riverside county has over 60 percent of its AB 109ers serving split sentences.

In constrast, LA County was using the strategy only around 5 percent of the time in year one and two of realignment.

Looking at the first five months of year three, that percentage has dropped to closer to 2 percent—or 109 split sentences out of 5151 sentences handed down in that period.

(See line 2 of the “Custody” table on p. 14 of the report.)


CAN JACKIE LACEY HELP? (PLEASE!)

Thus far it has reportedly been prosecutors, public defenders and judges who mostly stand in the way of split sentencing.

With that in mind, perhaps this is another issue in which DA Jackie Lacey can take a strong part, as she has with her recent—and much welcomed— leadership in diversion for the mentally ill and other forms of alternative sentencing she has begun championing.

As the members of the board of supervisors listen to Tuesday’s realignment report, perhaps they could bring up such a possibility.

Can’t hurt.

PS: For a good rundown on split sentencing in general see last summer’s story by KPCC’s Rina Palta.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…. “DOUBLE CHARGING” FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA’S COUNTIES

In most California counties now, when a kid is arrested, the meter starts ticking for the boy or girl’s parent or guardian. This means that, in addition to whatever stress occurs when one’s child breaks the law and is sentenced to juvenile hall, probation camp or some other form of placement, there are the mounting bills.

Myles Bess of Youth Radio has a well-reported story for Marketplace about this double charging and the impact those charges have on families.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you’re arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000.

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states.

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen.

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.

NOTE: In 2009, the LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske did some excellent reporting on the aggressive billing going on in LA County for the parents and guardians of incarcerated kids.


DRUG SMUGGLING PANGA BOAT PILOT GETS LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDER OF COAST GUARD OFFICER TERRELL HORNE

The Mexican national who was found guilty of second degree murder in the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was sentenced to life in a federal prison without parole on Monday, reports the office of U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. A second man was given ten years in federal prison for his part in Horne’s death.

Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified a second suspicious vessel nearby, a 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

After spotting the panga themselves, Coast Guard officers launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. As the four in the small boat approached the 2nd suspicious boat, the four officers activated their own boat’s police lights and ID’d themselves as law enforcement. The pilot of the panga boat reacted by throttling his engines and steering the panga boat directly toward the small Coast Guard inflatable.

Despite the coast guard officers’ frantic efforts to avoid a collision, the pilot of the panga boat deliberately rammed into the smaller boat, ejecting Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. However, just before the boat was about to be
rammed, rather than dodge, Horne reached forward—toward the point of impact—pushed his coxswain to safety.

Once in the water, Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and died of the injury.

The 34-year-old Horne was an extremely well-liked father of two with a baby on the way and, along with his devastated family, Horne’s colleagues reacted with heartbreak. He was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927.

U.S. Attorney Birotte told LA Times columnist Patt Morrison that the day Terrell Horne was killed was one of his two worst days on the job. (The other worst day was in 2013 when a man walked into LAX and opened fire killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez.)

Birotte said he keeps a note from Rachel Horne (Horne’s wife) on his desk “to remind me what this job is about.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation | No Comments »

Los Angeles DA Speaks Out Against Over-Incarceration, NYC Theater Troupe Hires Troubled Teens to Write & Perform…and Mother’s Day

May 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS LA NEEDS TO BE DOING MORE TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL

Last Tuesday, during the Board of Supervisors’ discussion about whether to move forward with a new $2 billion jail plan, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented to the board a plan in progress that would divert a considerable portion of the county’s mentally ill inmates away from jail and into community treatment programs.

While the board voted in favor of the jail proposal, they also asked DA Lacey and her jail diversion task force to report back in 60 days with a more complete picture of their plan.

In a refreshing interview with the LA Times Steve Lopez, DA Lacey discusses LA’s over-incarceration of people who would experience better outcomes in community-based treatment, other counties with successful diversion programs, and some of the justice reforms she wants to help Los Angeles achieve. Here are some clips:

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

If you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone.

The supes also voted to study diversion, which was nice, except that they got it backward. If they’d scoped out better options first, they might have discovered that it makes sense to build a smaller and less expensive jail and invest more in drug and alcohol and mental health treatment, cutting into both the jail and homeless populations. The county already has roughly 1,200 people in diversion programs, a number that could grow if not for funding and resource limitations.

Lacey didn’t want to talk about the politics of the matter when I visited her Thursday. But she was happy to explain how she came to believe in diversion as the more humane and effective option in some cases.

“It has been an evolution,” she said. “If you spend day in and day out in a courtroom, it becomes like Groundhog Day…. You’re seeing the same people with the same issues — drug addiction and mental illness,” many of them in for low-level, non-violent crimes. “You start to wonder: Are we really making a difference, especially when you consider that California has such a high recidivism rate?”

[SNIP]

On a tour of the overstuffed mental wards in county jail last year, Lacey was disturbed by conditions there — specifically the chaining of inmates to tables for therapy sessions. She and jail commander Terri McDonald began sharing ideas last December on a better system, and Lacey formed a task force that includes McDonald, court and law enforcement officials, the county mental health department and numerous other public and nonprofit agencies.

Lacey sent Assistant D.A. Bill Hodgman to Miami and San Antonio to study successful diversion programs, and she went to see another one for herself.

“I’m the district attorney of progressive Los Angeles, and I’m down in Memphis, Tenn., where police officers are spending 40 hours of training learning how to deal with mentally ill people so they don’t have a Kelly Thomas situation like they had in Orange County,” she said of the young mentally ill man who died after an altercation with police officers in Fullerton.

Lacey said she wants that same kind of training to be mandatory for all police officers. She wants more emergency units composed of police officers and mental health workers, and pre-arrest diversion to crisis and referral centers. She wants guidelines for prosecutors on which cases to divert. And she wants to explore funding options for more community-based treatment and housing.


STARGATE THEATRE PROGRAM IN NYC AN ALTERNATIVE-TO-INCARCERATION PROGRAM THAT PAYS KIDS TO WRITE AND ACT

Last week, we pointed to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s announcement that the state would begin funding vital prison art programs once again.

Yet another example of why arts programming is so important for justice system-involved kids and adults, in NYC, the Stargate Theatre Company (a pilot program of the Manhattan Theatre Club) hires at-risk teenage boys, mostly low-level offenders, to write and act in their theatre troupe. The program is run by entertainment professionals, including four-time Emmy-winning writer Judy Tate, and the kids get to rehearse on the same stage as big-name actors in the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Nationswell’s David Wallis has more on the Stargate program, and the ways it empowers the kids involved. Here’s how it opens:

Last summer, on his first day on the job as an actor and writer for the Stargate Theatre Company in New York City, Christopher Thompson contemplated quitting. While many might consider getting paid to create performance art a step up from janitor’s assistant — his previous summer job — Thompson initially thought otherwise. Fear consumed the 17-year-old from Flatbush, one of Brooklyn’s less fashionable neighborhoods; he worried about being mocked for his grammar, handwriting and morbid humor. “I was afraid of people finding my form of expression really bad, really effed up,” says Thompson, who bears a resemblance to the Cat in the Hat with his lanky frame, long striped-knit cap and mischievous grin. He remembers feeling “extremely defensive” and thinking to himself, “This is awful. Why am I here? I’m not a talker, but I need the money.”

Thompson’s bumpy path to the stage began after a brief stint in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. Police arrested him last year for punching a classmate; it was his first offense. He contends that the kid he slugged during lunch harassed him about his black skin, but Thompson acknowledges that he has “anger problems.”

An alternative-to-incarceration program recommended Thompson to Stargate, a pilot project founded last year by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), which produces Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. The unconventional Stargate theater troupe pays “court-involved” and at-risk teenage boys (most participants have committed low-level crimes) to stage a performance piece in a quest to reduce recidivism, teach literacy and provide work experience that looks far better on a CV than time in jail. The cast members — who applied to be part of the program — worked for a minimum of 12 hours a week for six weeks last summer to develop an autobiographical show, which they performed at New York City Center – Stage II, a sleek theater in Midtown Manhattan. After the premiere in August 2013, the teens returned to high school, though they reconvened for an encore performance of the show in October.

“We’re hiring these young men to be members of a theater company,” says David Shookhoff, education director of the Manhattan Theatre Club and an acclaimed director, most recently of the Off-Broadway hit “Breakfast With Mugabe.” “Their job is to write and to perform and to operate as an ensemble.” Shookhoff believes Stargate’s seven charter members learned to be timely, collegial and cooperative, valuable traits in the workplace.

Read on.


MOTHER’S DAY BEHIND BARS

With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day around the corner, Mother Jones’ Katie Rose Quandt reminds us that over three percent of kids in America have at least one parent behind bars.

Here’s the intro, but head over to the actual story (infographics abound):

My foster sister is in prison. Her four children see her briefly once a month, as part of a 368-mile round-trip that takes up their entire Saturday. (Before she was transferred last month, the trip measured 404 miles). She has missed so many milestones and special events in her children’s lives: first days of kindergarten, Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens, first school dances.

More than three percent of American children have a parent behind bars; so many that even Sesame Street thought to address the issue in a heartbreaking video and a recent initiative. With Mother’s Day upon us, I have to wonder: As kids grow up, what’s it like when the person they love most is locked away?

(For other WLA posts about kids with incarcerated parents, go here, and here.)

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

LA’s New Program to Tackle Recidivism, Funding the New Jail Plan, KPPC Interviews Todd Rogers, and R.I.P. Farley Mowat

May 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AG KAMALA HARRIS ANNOUNCES COMPREHENSIVE NEW LOS ANGELES PROGRAM TO LOWER RECIDIVISM

On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a welcome new LA County recidivism-reduction pilot program called “Back on Track LA.”

Participants will receive a case manager and 12-18 months of education and other crucial re-entry services while incarcerated, and 12 more months of services once they are released. Inmates eligible for participation will be non-violent non-sexual offenders between the ages of 18-30.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ website:

“We must reject the false choice of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime,” Attorney General Harris said. “It is time for smart on crime policies that keep our communities safe, hold offenders accountable, and reduce our prison population. Back on Track LA will work to reduce levels of recidivism by connecting offenders with the education and job opportunities that get their lives back on track.”

The “Back on Track LA” pilot program will deliver critical education and comprehensive re-entry services before and after an individual is released from jail. The pilot program will build on LASD’s “Education Based Incarceration Program,” through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District – specifically, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade Tech College to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated participants that include prerequisites to community college degrees, credentials and certificates. The program will focus on the critical time following an individual’s release from jail, by providing the seamless re-entry services essential for success, including employment and life skill services.

“Back on Track LA” will emphasize accountability by assigning participants a case manager or coach to develop a plan that holds individuals accountable to their families, communities and victims.

Individuals will be enrolled in the pilot program for 24-30 months—divided into 12-18 months in-custody and 12 months out-of-custody. Participants will consist of non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between the ages of 18 to 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system following the implementation of Public Safety Realignment.


HOW WILL LOS ANGELES PAY FOR ITS NEW JAIL?

Now that the Los Angeles County Supervisors have approved a plan for replacing the crumbling Men’s Central Jail with a price tag nearing the $2 billion mark, county officials have to figure out how to fund such a costly undertaking. The county will likely have to issue bonds, which could require a tax increase, but there may be additional ways to pay for the new jail.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

As with most big government projects, the funds are likely to come from borrowing through the issuance of bonds. But whether repaying those bonds will require a tax increase is yet to be determined.

“There’s no other way to fund this than out of the general fund, so the county is going to have to borrow money,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said in an interview.

He warned that servicing the debt, and paying the interest, would be “very expensive.”

But Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said the county seems to have the capacity to issue bonds for the jail plan, which includes tearing down Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and then building a Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility in its place, as well as renovating Mira Loma Detention Center to accommodate female inmates.

“Right now, our level of debt is extremely low, very low,” Fujioka said Tuesday in response to a question from Supervisor Michael Antonovich during a public hearing.

[SNIP]

Voter approval would be necessary if the county were to issue general obligation bonds, which would likely be repaid through a tax increase. But for previous infrastructure projects such as the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall and the acquisition of electronic health records systems, the county instead issued general indebtedness bonds, which do not have to be placed on the ballot for approval and don’t require tax increases.

County Assistant CEO Ryan Alsop said another way to finance the jail plan is by asking the state of California to cover at least a portion of the bill. He pointed out AB 109, also known as Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, diverted thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” Alsop said. “Something must be done.”

“The governor has proposed $500 million towards (jail funding) in his January budget, most of which we would like to see allocated to counties like Los Angeles, who have been hit the hardest by AB 109,” he added.

[SNIP]

The board gave the CEO up to 60 days to come up with a plan for financing the infrastructure projects, but Yaroslavsky is worried that the $1.7 billion price tag may be understated.

He said Vanir Construction Management, which provided the estimate, said the numbers should change.

“They told the board that the (almost) $2 billion estimate of construction could go up by 30 percent, could go down by 30 percent,” he said.

Read on.


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES TODD ROGERS

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers as part of Stoltze’s ongoing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates. (Stoltze also has profiles on James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell that are worth reading, if you missed them.)

Here’s a clip from the Rogers story:

Rogers, 52, is relatively new to the position of assistant sheriff. Only a handful of people hold that rank, which is just below the undersheriff — the number two person in the department.

Last year, then-Sheriff Lee Baca promoted Rogers to assistant cheriff from his rank as commander, leapfrogging the rank of chief. Some have accused Rogers of cutting a deal with Baca by promising not to run against him. Rogers had been weighing a challenge to the powerful sheriff for several years.

“I did not sell my soul,” Rogers says. “I agreed to help him reform the Department.”

When Baca abruptly resigned in January, he named Rogers as a “highly qualified” candidate, prompting some to suggest he is too close to the old regime to be a reformer.

Rogers says while he respected the sheriff for some of his policies, there clearly was a “catastrophic failure of leadership.” He and Baca had “plenty of differences,” especially over the sheriff’s penchant for pet programs. One program involved assigning deputies to monitor social media.

“We had over 400 deputies on loan from street patrols to these unfunded programs,” said Rogers, who oversees the department $2.8 billion budget.

Like his fellow candidates, Rogers doesn’t have much name recognition with voters. But his campaign got some attention for a hilarious online ad featuring the cast of Comedy Central’s former sitcom “Reno 911.” Rogers knows the cast because the show was taped at the Carson station.

This isn’t to suggest Rogers isn’t a serious law enforcement executive. He’s one of a growing number willing to look at crime as a health problem.

The 28-year veteran, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Dominguez Hills, described how he began a program where a deputy developed customized treatment plans for at-risk kids and young adults in collaboration with a panel of community-based experts in Carson.

“We can’t have one cure for every disease,” Rogers says. “We can’t have one cure for every kid or young adult that shows an inclination to be a gang member.”


R.I.P. FARLEY MOWAT

Farley Mowat, kilt-wearing Canadian author of 45 books, including Never Cry Wolf, has died at the age of 88.

Mowat’s publisher and friend, Doug Gibson, fondly remembers the environmentalist author on NPR’s All Things Considered. Take a listen.

Posted in international issues, International politics, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, race, race and class, racial justice, women's issues | 5 Comments »

LA Times’ Steve Lopez on the Jail Plan….Former Inmate Sues LASD for Alleged Abuse….Unusual Measure Would Drop Some Felonies to Misdemeanors….and California Judge Restores Voting Rights to Realignment Probationers

May 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE LOS ANGELES SUPERVISORS’ DECISION TO MOVE FORWARD WITH A $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN

Yesterday, we reported on the LA County Board of Supervisors’ decision to move forward with a $2 billion jail plan before a new sheriff could be involved in the decision-making process, and despite opposition. (More backstory here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez also reported on the issue, and had some interesting things to say about the supes’ decision. Here’s a clip:

This was not a brand new topic for the supervisors. And what I mean by that is that the supes have been dithering over the matter for about a decade.

That’s not necessarily a long time for this crew. But to put it in perspective, James Hahn was mayor back then. Barack Obama was an obscure state legislator in Illinois. And no one had heard of “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” or “Downton Abbey.”

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina, quite clearly, were ready to move on. I’m not sure whether they truly believe that building a $2-billion jail downtown and a women’s facility in Lancaster is the best option, or if they were just tired of talking about it. But they introduced a motion to move forward on that proposal, and Supervisor Don Knabe decided he was on their side.

Here’s what seemed a little crazy, though:

After a decade of putting off a decision, why decide to act just a month before an election to pick a new sheriff?

I know, I know. I’ve just criticized them for taking forever, and now I’m wondering why they’re moving so fast. They would argue that it’s because the federal government might crack down because of inhumane conditions, but that’s been the case for a long time. My point is that we might want the new sheriff to weigh in on the jail he’s likely to be overseeing one day.

Aside from all that, though, the supervisors — as usual — didn’t disappoint. It was remarkable to watch two conservative supervisors, Antonovich and Knabe, team with a liberal woman of color, Molina, in support of one of the biggest public projects in L.A. County history.

But it was just as remarkable to watch Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky go through their moves.

Sure, the county needs a new jail, they agreed. But why hadn’t there been a harder look at diversionary programs aimed at getting more inmates with mental illness and drug addiction into community programs instead of locking them up?

That’s a very good question, and it’s been raised by many people — including me — for years. So why were Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky suddenly acting like it was breaking news?

I think because the votes had already been counted, and Tuesday was about covering the bases.

Or covering something.

Read on…


AND IN RELATED NEWS…

On Wednesday, Bret Phillips, a mentally ill former inmate at Men’s Central Jail, filed a lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Dept., accusing four deputies of beating him unconscious while he was in handcuffs and chains. Jail chaplain Paulino Juarez witnessed the beating and reported it to a sergeant, and later recounted it to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. (Click here for the backstory and what Phillips story suggests about LASD leadership.)

In February, two of the deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, were federally indicted for the alleged assault on Phillips.

Phillips lawsuit names former Sheriff Lee Baca and the four deputies allegedly involved as defendants. (And Phillips is being represented in the lawsuit by high-profile civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred.)

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Bret Phillips, 43, says four deputies at Men’s Central Jail punched him in the face and body while he was handcuffed and chained. The lawsuit claims deputies also used pepper spray and a flashlight during the beating, which left Phillips unconscious.

Nicole Nishida, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said the agency has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and was unable to comment on the case.

“However, we take all allegations of inmate abuse very seriously and investigate every allegation appropriately.” Nishida said.

Phillips suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is bipolar, according to the lawsuit. Gloria Allred, his lawyer, said the Sheriff’s department should have known Phillips had serious mental health issues because he had been placed in a psychiatric section of the jail during a prior incarceration. He was in the jail’s general population when the beating occurred.

“Because he suffered from mental impairment, he was completely vulnerable to any deputy who wished to abuse him and escape punishment,” Allred said.

A priest visiting the jail that day witnessed the beating and later reported it to a sergeant. But in wasn’t until February of this year that federal authorities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles indicted two deputies…

Phillips was jailed for failing to provide his new address to his probation officer, said his long-time companion and caregiver Christine Chopurian. She said they had just moved 30 hours before he was arrested for the probation violation.

“I truly believe that if Father Paulino Juarez wasn’t there visiting the jail that day, Bret might have died,” she said…

Allred said that if Phillips had been placed in a mental health facility with trained personnel, this wouldn’t have happened to him.

“This county has been aware for quite a long time about the vulnerability and the needs and perhaps even the abuse at L.A. County jails of mentally impaired inmates,” she said.


PROPOSED BALLOT INITIATIVE WOULD REDUCE CERTAIN LOW-LEVEL FELONIES TO MISDEMEANOR STATUS

An intriguing measure likely headed for the November ballot would bring down the status of certain low-level non-violent offenses (like drug possession and petty theft) from felony to misdemeanor. In addition, the money the state saved in prison costs would be allocated for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation, trauma services, and crime prevention efforts.

The initiative is co-sponsored by San Francisco DA George Gascón and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and has garnered more than 800,000 signatures. (We will have more on this measure in the coming weeks.)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has more on the welcome initiative. Here’s a clip:

Supporters of the proposal, intended for the November ballot, said they had a surprisingly easy time collecting more than 800,000 signatures to place the measure before voters – far more than the 555,236 needed – and were delivering those petitions to county registrars across the state Monday and Tuesday.

The measure is backed by a politically diverse and somewhat unlikely group: Its official sponsors are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and recently retired San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, and its supporters include conservatives including businessman B. Wayne Hughes Jr. They believe it could save taxpayers $150 million to $250 million on jail and prison spending each year, money that would be redirected toward crime prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and trauma recovery services.

Hughes, who made his fortune from self-storage facilities, said he has become increasingly interested in incarceration issues in recent years and founded a foundation that is currently providing “moral and ethical” training to 2,000 California prisoners. He said his firsthand experience helping inmates prompted him to support the measure.

“I am not an apologist for people who break the law … (but) folks are coming out of prison better criminals than when they came in, and that is not helping to get the state where we need to be,” he said.

“When a mom or dad or kid goes to prison, a grenade goes off and the shrapnel hits everybody, and when enough homes experience this, we lose whole communities, and that’s what we have here. Twelve to 14 cents of every dollar spent in California is on incarceration, and meanwhile our infrastructure is falling down. … This is a situation where the walls of partisanship ought to come down immediately.”


CALIFORNIA JUDGE’S RULING RESTORES VOTING RIGHTS TO PEOPLE IN COMMUNITY SUPERVISION UNDER REALIGNMENT

Back in February, the ACLU of California filed a lawsuit accusing California Sec. of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of potential voters on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and mandatory supervision under Realignment.

On Wednesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled in favor of the ACLU and the former state prisoners shifted to community supervision under California Realignment (AB 109), and ordered the probationers’ voting rights be restored.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s announcement:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the fact that the California legislature passed the Realignment Act with the legislative goal of better facilitating the reintegration of people with felony convictions back into society suggests legislators would have wanted people on PRCS and mandatory supervision to retain their right to vote, writing that “the plain language of the statute suggets that the integration of adult felons into society would be facilitated by allowing” these individuals to vote.

”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”

Judge Grillo also followed California’s longstanding rule that every reasonable presumption be given in favor of the right of people to vote.

“The significance of this victory cannot be overstated. The right to vote gives meaning to every other right we have as citizens, and it is for this reason that our laws require every reasonable presumption in favor of the right to vote,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The court’s decision affirms the voices of Californians returning to their communities, assuring them the opportunity to contribute as equal members.”

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

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