Tuesday, February 9, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts



Blogs We Like

LA Connections

Points of Interest

The BlogFather


Daily Reports

Considering Risk of Reoffending, a $4.9M Settlement in Kelly Thomas Case, LA Justice System Portrayed in New Yorker, and New LAUSD Arts Money

November 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Jurisdictions across the nation are turning to risk and needs assessment (RNA) information for use during sentencing to determine whether a person can be safely and successfully supervised in the community, rather than locked up in a jail or prison.

Judges (and prisons and parole boards) using RNAinfo look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, employment, and sometimes where a person lives.

A new report by the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Sentencing Initiatives looked at initiatives in ten jurisdictions nationwide, including Napa, California, through which RNA information is used during sentencing.

The other jurisdictions were Coconino County, Arizona; Mesa County, Colorado; Bonneville County/7th Judicial District, Idaho; Grant County, Indiana; Douglas County/4th Judicial District, Nebraska; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Yamhill County, Oregon; Travis County, Texas; and La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

The initiatives included treatment programs, evidence-based supervision programs, and partnerships between the court system and probation departments.

The Napa County Probation Department employs risk and needs assessment info to assign offenders to a corresponding tier of supervision based on their risk of reoffending. Low-risk offenders report to their probation officers on a quarterly basis on the phone, and medium-risk cases were given to officers with a caseload of around 100. Thanks to the RNA system, Napa county is handing down lower jail sentences, utilizing more incarceration alternatives like electronic monitoring, and using treatment programs in probation case plans.

In Napa, probation officers also incentivize probation, reinforcing positive actions like going to a job interview, or being to the probation appointment on time with rewards, which include items from “a little basket of goodies.” Since Napa started using RNA information during sentencing, the probation department experienced a decrease in recidivism rates, but it’s still unclear whether the change can be attributed to using the RNA info.

Yamhill County, OR focuses specifically on offenders who would be sent to prison under Oregon’s sentencing guidelines or who are repeat property or drug offenders, but can be safely and successfully supervised in the community.

Travis County, TX has seen a 77% reduction in recidivism rates for low-risk offenders and a 50% reduction in recidivism rates for medium-risk offenders. The county estimates it saved $21.3 million between 2007-2011 by using RNA information during sentencing.

(The report is a companion to this 2011 report.)


On Monday, the city of Fullerton agreed to pay $4.9 million to the father of Kelly Thomas, the homeless schizophrenic man who died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by Fullerton police officers in 2011.

In a security video of police confronting Kelly Thomas, who was suspected of stealing personal items, Thomas can be heard screaming for his father.

Three former Fullerton police officers involved in the fatal beating, Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe, were fired from the Fullerton Police Department. Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty and the charges against Wolfe were dropped.

The settlement is not an admission of legal liability, said Diana Fox, the attorney representing Fullerton.

The OC Register’s Lou Ponsi, Theresa Walker, and Sean Emery have the story. Here’s a clip:

Dana Fox, an attorney for the city of Fullerton, said the $4.9 million settlement is not an admission of legal liability by the city or police.

But Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, disagreed.

“They know they were guilty of murder,” he said during a news conference that included blown-up photos of his son as a child playing with his family and holding up a fish he caught, and the now-familiar photo of an adult Kelly Thomas in a cowboy hat.

“By offering that amount, they feel they are getting off lucky.”

Civil rights lawyers and advocates for the mentally ill said the amount sends a strong message to all police and the public that the lives of the homeless have value.

“You can’t look at these folks on the streets and deal with them in any less a human manner than you would with a regular working Joe,” said Eric Traut, former president of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, said the amount “sends a message that something really wrong was done here.”

“If the amount was $10,000, that’s a very different message than $4.9 million. Obviously, the city would not have settled for $4.9 million unless they felt there was a substantial risk that they would lose much more before a jury.”

The wrongful death lawsuit named the city, former Fullerton police Officers Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli and Joseph Wolfe, who were all fired from the department. Others included in the suit: Fullerton Officers Kevin Craig and James Blatney, who remain with the department; ex-Chief Michael Sellers; and his predecessor, Patrick McKinley, who sat on the City Council at the time of the incident and was later recalled.

In a criminal trial that ended early last year, Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty and charges were dropped against Wolfe.

“These officers are trying to get their jobs back,” said Garo Mardirossian, an attorney for Ron Thomas.

“We wanted to make sure they can’t.”

Kelly Thomas, who was known as a transient in Fullerton and other North County communities, died five days after police tried to take him into custody at the Fullerton Transportation Center for possibly stealing small personal items.

A city security video that surfaced after the incident showed several officers threatening Thomas. Though the video isn’t clear on all that transpired, Thomas was unconscious at the end of the encounter and his injuries included a compressed trachea and broken bones in his face.


In Rachel Kushner’s “Fifty-Seven,” a short story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, a homeless man who is released from an LA County jail with five dollars and nowhere to go quickly finds himself locked back up, this time for killing a woman during a robbery. The story follows the man through the court system, and back into prison, where he stabs a guard and gets himself thrown in solitary confinement indefinitely.

In conversation with The New Yorker‘s Deborah Treisman, Kushner says that “Fifty-Seven” was inspired by her many interviews with men and women in Los Angeles jails and the rest of California’s justice system, whose childhoods involved “extreme situations of poverty and abuse.” Here’s a clip:

The story emerged from what has preoccupied me both as a person and as a writer for the past few years, which is the world of Los Angeles jails and criminal courts and California prisons, and who moves through these structures (needless to say, very poor people and people of color, disproportionately). The character in the story is released with no place to go (as are probably half of the people let out of the county-jail system downtown every day and night). He then commits a crime that puts him in prison for life. I have spent a lot of time listening to people who are serving life sentences and getting to know them and the circumstances of their lives.

I have never met anyone serving a long prison sentence who had anything close to what I could call a childhood; instead, the upbringings always—always—involve extreme situations of poverty and abuse. The second half of the story, when the character is in prison, was influenced by what I’ve observed on prison yards, especially the Level Four maximum-security facilities, like Salinas Valley, which is the prison my character initially goes to. C Yard there is an intense place, a very “active” yard. These yards have specific energies. You can feel it when something is about to take place. And meanwhile these guards, all puffed up in their stab-proof vests (they supposedly get paid extra to wear them), are yelling at you to stay close to the wall, not to talk to groups of people, and so on, as if you were on, say, a safari. But these are people, not lions, and in a way the people I feared most were the guards themselves.


On Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced a $1 million in funding for arts education—especially for schools lacking arts education—from the state.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the new (and much-needed) funding. Here’s a clip:

Money went out based on student enrollment and the results of the district’s new Arts Equity Index, which was released this spring. That survey was used to figure out which schools were providing arts education and which weren’t — to help the district determine the greatest need.

“We are bringing more equity and access to the funding and support of schools,” said Rory Pullens, head of the district’s arts education branch, in an interview…

Principals can decide how to spend the money. One school that ranked low on the index, Madison Middle School, received nearly $5,000. “Our school is in desperate need of supplies, so this will go into supplies for art enrichment programs,” said principal Estelle Baptiste in a statement.

Another school is starting a new music program from scratch.

Posted in Sentencing | 11 Comments »

Santa Clara Solitary Confinement Lawsuit, San Diego Makes Changes After Suicide in Juvie Lock-up, CA Leads on Lowering Suspension Rates, and Prop. 47 Funds

November 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Two Santa Clara County Jail inmates have filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the county’s use of solitary confinement as inhumane and in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

The complaint alleges Santa Clara jails isolate “hundreds of men and women in tiny, filthy concrete jail cells” for 22-24 hours per day, only allowing three hours of exercise in a concrete yard each week. The Santa Clara inmates who filed the lawsuit, Brian Chavez and Brandon Bracamonte, say the men and women are held in solitary confinement indefinitely, and left in their cells for 47 or more hours at a time, causing serious psychological damage.

Both Chavez and Bracamonte are pretrial detainees. Chavez was indicted on conspiracy, narcotics, and gang charges, and Bracamonte was indicted on conspiracy, robbery, and gang charges. Chavez says that he was stripped of his trustee status one day and thrown into solitary confinement with no explanation. Chavez says that he has had no serious jail infractions. The county accused Bracamonte of participating in a “gang assault,” but later backed down, saying there was no credible evidence of Bracamonte’s participation. The two men accuse the county of not giving them access to the “yard,” depriving them of fresh air and sunshine, for seven months. Both men say their prolonged isolation has caused them severe psychological damage.

“People isolated in tiny jail cells for 22 to 24 hours every day become depressed and suicidal. Those with pre-existing mental illness suffer from worsening symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia,” stated Kelly Knapp, a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office. “To make matters worse,” Knapp continued, “many of these men and women did nothing to deserve being placed in solitary confinement in the first place.”


In 2013, 16-year-old Rosemary Summers hanged herself with a bed sheet while locked up at Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. Rosemary was reportedly left hanging for several minutes before guards were able to locate the proper tools to cut her down. She died four days later.

Rosemary had been in and out of juvenile detention for about a year-and-a-half following an arrest for marijuana possession and resisting arrest. Her final arrest, in 2013, occurred because she violated probation by not telling her probation officer that she was attending a rally for Travon Martin, the Florida teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

San Diego County officials have agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit from the Summers family alleging San Diego County Probation Department employees made errors that led to Rosemary’s death. According to the suit, Rosemary was overmedicated, possibly contributing to increased suicidal thoughts. The detention facility was understaffed on the night Rosemary killed herself, and sent her to her room alone when she was upset.

San Diego County authorities said Rosemary’s death was the first suicide by a kid in a San Diego County detention facility in 32 years. An NBC 7 investigation found that suicide attempts in San Diego juvenile facilities jumped from eight in 2011 to 25 in 2013.

The county has started making changes to prevent other adolescent suicides. The changes include splitting doors to the kids’ rooms in half (so that unless privacy is needed, the top half of the door will be left open), removing door hinges that made doors swing shut automatically, and covering up vents.

San Diego reportedly plans to make other important changes, like installing cameras at the Girls’ Rehabilitation Facility, improving inter-agency communication about minors in custody and mental health, increasing access to mental health services at the girls’ facility, and making it easier for families to visit locked-up juveniles.

NBC 7′s JW August and Lynn Walsh have the story. Here’s a clip:

Summers spent a year and a half in and out of the juvenile facility after first being arrested for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. Her last arrest occurred when she attended a 2013 rally for Trayvon Martin, the African American teen fatally shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida, and didn’t tell her probation officer.

Her family previously spoke to NBC 7 Investigates and described Summers as a sassy and sensitive young lady; a young woman trying to find herself.

NBC 7 Investigates attempted to talk to a member of Summers’ family Thursday but the family’s attorney Gerald Singleton said the relative was too distraught to speak.


Singleton said his legal team used over 30 depositions and other “overwhelming” evidence to reveal how the suicide came to take place.

According to documents submitted for mediation, the juvenile officers “didn’t know their policies about suicide and didn’t train the line workers on these policies.”

“If they just had done that, trained on their policies and followed the policies, Rosemary would still be alive,” Singleton said.

The night of her death, when Summers asked to talk to one of the guards, a guard looked at her and said, “Yeah, she is distressed, I need to talk to her,” according to the mediation documents. The guard asked her supervisor’s permission to talk to Rosemary but the supervisor told her “no.”

“You just don’t do that,” Singleton said. “You have a kid who has tried to commit suicide twice. And the supervisor says no.”

According to Singleton, the 16-year-old kept a journal in which she described her pain and confusion. The journal was part of a timeline of statements and behaviors which was submitted as part of the evidence.


California school districts greatly reduced the number of suspensions issued between 2011-2014, according to a study from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

The study looked at the connection between suspension rates, which dropped from 709,580 in the 2011-2012 school year to 503,101 in 2013-2014, and performance on California’s Academic Performance Index (which was ended in 2013).

Not surprisingly, lower suspension rates were connected with better academic outcomes for kids, and that correlation was especially strong for black students who saw the largest reduction in suspensions (but are still suspended at higher rates than their white peers).

“If we are serious about closing the achievement gap we need to make serious efforts to close the discipline gap,” said Daniel Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and lead author of the study. “Most important, the study suggests that, as discipline reform expands, there is no reason to assume achievement will suffer.”

“There’s been a general movement across the nation [to lower suspensions] and California has been among the leaders,” said Losen.


Official state funds from California’s Proposition 47, which downgraded six low-level felonies to misdemeanors, will not be made available until August 2016. Critics say that one of the law’s flaws is the two-year delay in funds meant to increase rehabilitation and re-entry programs and diversion efforts.

An LA Times editorial says that the wait for state funding doesn’t mean those important programs have to wait. Instead, the Times editorial board says, counties could already be using the money they save from a reduction in felony cases, and initiating policy changes that make better use of freed-up prosecutorial manpower and other resources.Here’s a clip:

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office studied the numbers and projected savings to counties from Proposition 47 at “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Counties could choose, right now, to spend their savings on all those rehab and reentry programs that critics say are not yet funded.

Because the savings mostly come in the form of reductions in workload, though, they won’t easily translate into cash unless they are accompanied by sufficient staff reductions to keep the per-employee caseload constant. Most of a county’s costs are in payroll.

But even without workforce reductions — and just to be clear, The Times does not advocate layoffs — the decrease in caseload has a value that presents itself in the form of policy choices. With fewer felonies to prosecute, for example, the district attorney could choose to lighten each individual lawyer’s caseload, or take on felony cases the office previously would have let go. Or assign more lawyers to commendable new programs like the unit to review wrongful convictions or the task force working to provide treatment instead of incarceration for mentally ill people accused of crimes. Or assign more lawyers — or fewer — to the important task of reviewing petitions by inmates now serving felony time for crimes that Proposition 47 turned into misdemeanors.

Transforming the reduced prosecutorial and incarceration caseload into an increased drug rehab and reentry services caseload would require some creativity. But the first step is to quantify the savings and acknowledge the choices.

Los Angeles County has not yet done that. It is in the nature of bureaucracy — especially public bureaucracy — for increases in workload to be accompanied by demands for more funding but decreases in workload to be absorbed without anyone offering up or even acknowledging their savings. Spending decisions are still made, of course, but absent public discussion, they are generally made by default. They should instead be made deliberately and publicly by the Board of Supervisors, the district attorney and the sheriff, as well as by nonelected county officials, with full acknowledgment of the costs and benefits of selecting one option over another.

Service providers who are working hard to help eligible applicants clean up their felony records and apply for housing and jobs argue that the county has funding to help them but is instead spending it on prosecuting and jailing. More than a year after voters adopted Proposition 47, they ask, where is the county implementation plan that acknowledges the savings and brings advocates, community groups and providers to the table to discuss policy choices?

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas are working on such a plan, which is expected to come before the full board this month. It is a belated but welcome step in the right direction.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Lawsuit Says High-Priced Jail Phone Calls Are Illegal $$$ Machines for CA Counties

November 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Global Tel*Link guarantees to pay Los Angeles County $15 million
in cash each year for allowing the corrections telecommunications giant to provide the phone system for LA County jail inmates.

It pays a somewhat lower kickback, known euphemistically as a “commission,” to Orange County, for its jail phone contract

And how can GTL afford that kind of high dollar “commission?” .

It’s not a problem in that, while prison phones are relatively expensive to maintain, the prices charged for jail inmates to call home are so usuriously high—more than 10 times that of a non-jail-originated call—that there is still plenty of profit to go around for the service provider after it has paid off its county clients, according to a class action lawsuit announced last Thursday by attorneys Ron Kaye, Barry Litt, Scott Rapkin, and Michael Rapkin in behalf of families of inmates in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“Tens of thousands of California jail inmates… most of whom are not convicted of anything but are facing charges, have been held hostage to grossly unfair and excessive phone charges, forcing them to pay these charges in order to maintain contact with their loved incarcerated ones,” wrote the attorneys in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “These charges force family members desperately trying to maintain contact with their inmate husbands, parents and children to pay for totally unrelated jail expenses or give up their primary lifeline of communication.”


So how much in the way of profit are companies like Global Tel*Link actually making off their various jail and prison contracts, after expenses?

Good question.

Global Tel*Link (GTL) is the nation’s largest jail and prison phone provider with 50 percent of the business. However, GTL and Securus—the number two in the industry with 20 percent of the lock-up call business (including for Riverside and San Bernardino counties)—are both owned by larger privately held companies, which means their annual reports are not publicly available.

Luckily, however, earlier in the year the Huffington Post managed to get their hands on some leaked images from Securus’ 2014 report sent to investors, which showed that the company made $114.6 million in profit in 2014, and is expected to make more this year, if the cheery leaked image you see above is any guide.

Also, both telecommunications companies have been bought within the past five years, with acquisition prices that are also telling: Global Tel*Link was sold for $1 billion in 2011 to American Securities, a New York-based firm. Securus was sold in 2013 to ABRY Partners, based in Boston, for $640 million.

In other words, we can safely assume that those who provide phone service in jails and prisons are doing so with a healthy financial return.


As the legal complaint points out, the inmates themselves don’t pay for the high-priced calls. It is their families who are charged “unjust, unreasonable and exorbitant rates” to communicate with sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and friends.

It doesn’t help matters, the attorneys note, that inmates of the county jails in question are generally “relatively poor and lack significant financial resources…” This is true for the simple fact the majority of those residing in county jails—as mentioned above—are awaiting trial. And those who are not poor, who are awaiting trial, generally manage to bail out and go home while they wait—unless they are accused of a violent crime, thus they represent a threat to public safety.

Among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs is Star Salazar, a mother of two, who is enrolled in community college and has plans of becoming a medical radiologist. Since her husband entered LA County’s Men’s Central Jail, she juggles paying the family’s bills with the cost of letting her kids talk to their locked-up father. Her kids love and miss their dad, she says, “and my husband needs our support during this very difficult time. Why are we, a family simply trying to do the right thing, punished for keeping in touch with our loved one?”

Another plaintiff is Hilda Alarid, whose mentally ill son, Aaron Araiza, is in San Bernardino’s West Valley Detention Center. Alarid is close to her son, and worries that his problems will worsen without daily phone calls from her, which she simply can’t afford. “My son suffers every day from his psychological condition,” she says. “I am the person he turns to for comfort and support.”

It should be noted, by the way, that study after study on jail and prison recidivism shows that, among the main predictors that allow former inmates to succeed after release from lock-up is their ability to retain strong relationships with their families and communities. To put it another way, it is in the best interest of public safety for inmates to be able to have an affordable way to stay in regular contact their loved ones at home.


In 2001, I wrote a story for the LA Weekly that was critical of the ridiculously high priced inmate call system in California’s prisons and jails. But in 2007, the state of California began to phase out phone-generated commissions at its state prisons, ultimately eliminating the commission system by 2010. Prior to August 2007, calls from California’s prisons were $1.50 + $.15/minute for local calls, $2.00 + $.22/minute intrastate. Now, with no commissions, current per minute rates for intrastate and local calls are $0.13 and $0.09, respectively. Thus, a 15-minute intrastate call without the kick-back system is 61.70% less than when the State received commissions. It’s still more than one would pay when not in prison. But it is reasonable, and the state’s expenses are adequately covered.

So, if the state can manage to do without the money it used to rake from the overpriced phone call fees paid by poor families with incarcerated loved ones, shouldn’t the counties be able to manage too?

The lawsuit’s attorneys say yes. Moreover, if they prevail against the four counties named in the complaint, a legal precedent will be set, and they believe the rest of the state’s counties won’t have a choice.

Posted in jail | 3 Comments »

Well-liked Downey Police Officer Killed in Attempted Robbery Turned Tragic – UPDATED X2

November 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday night around 11 PM, Downey Police officer Ricardo Galvez—Ricky to his friends-
–was sitting in his own car in the parking lot of the Downey police department, when two young men and a teenager spotted him and, reportedly intended to rob him.

Instead reportedly two of the three ran up from behind, and one shot him. Galvez died while still in his car.

The 29-year-old officer had been on the force for five years and was well-liked. “A tremendous young man,” said Downey Police Chief Carl Charles, of Galvez. He was also a Marine reservist, serving two tours of duty, first in Iraq, then Afghanistan.

When the news of Galvez’ death was initially being reported Thursday morning, it was thought he may have been targeted. But that idea was dispelled when police apprehended the two men and a teenager—21, 18 and 16-years old, respectively—who are now being held as suspects responsible for the fatal shooting. The three admitted they’d been trying to rob the officer—whom they’d not recognized as a police officer.

According to a report by Cindy Chang, Richard Winton and Brittny Mejia for the LA Times, Glavez was just back from a K-9 training class, had gone off duty and was wearing his own clothes as he sat in his personal BMW.

The LA Times has more on the heartbreaking death of Officer Rickey Galvez.

Here’s a clip:

“The man was full of joy. He always brought a smile,” said Eleazar Aguilar, who served with Galvez in Pico Rivera.

“He was always the leader in the unit, there was no question about that. My heart goes out to his family. Every single Marine feels their pain today,”

Lloyd Vernis, 29, served with Galvez in Ramadi, Iraq. When Vernis opened a barbershop called The Pride on Firestone Boulevard, Galvez persuaded his fellow Downey police officers to patronize the business. Galvez got a haircut there about once a week, Vernis said.

“He loved the Corps. He loved the police force,” Vernis said before breaking down in tears.

Galvez is survived by a mother, a brother who is a jailer at the Downey Police Department, and two younger sisters.

UPDATE: Sixteen-year-old Abel Diaz is being charged as an adult with murder for his part in the killing of Downey Police officer Ricky Galvez on Wednesday night.

Diaz will be arraigned on Monday. Prosecutors are expected to ask for $1 million in bail. If Diaz is convicted, he will face life in prison.

The other suspects in the case have not been identified by name, but are describe as two young men, ages 21 and 18.

Diaz’s sister, Maricela Alvarado, 24, told reporters that her younger brother was not the shooter and had no intention of harming the officer.

According to the LA Times, Alvarado showed several reporters a text message she said her brother sent her a few minutes after Officer Galvez was fatally shot.

The text reportedly read: “Mari I love all y’all my homie fucked up n did something.”


Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detectives have identified the other two suspects in the murder of Downey Police Department Officer Ricardo Galvez.

The suspects have been identified as brothers Steven Knott, 18, and Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, 21.

Knott and Alvarez have been charged with murder and are being held without bail.

LASD detectives reportedly believe that Diaz and Knott crept up on Galvez, while Alvarez acted as the getaway driver.

Posted in law enforcement | 11 Comments »

Letter Asks DOJ to Deal With OC Prosecutorial Misconduct Scandal…Responses to Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s Prop 47 Videos…LA Launch of Coalition to End Child Exploitation…and More

November 19th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a 25-page letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, more than three dozen former prosecutors, legal experts, and organizations called for a US Department of Justice investigation into the Orange County District Attorney and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s use of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence from defendants.

“We the undersigned share a firm belief in our criminal justice system and its overall ability to produce fair and reliable results,” the letter begins. “Compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County, however, has caused us grave concern.”

The alleged misconduct resulted in Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals’ removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Among those undersigned are former CA Attorney General and LA District Attorney John Van de Kamp, former LA District Attorney Gil Garcetti, former Chief Assistant United States Attorney Richard Drooyan, as well as Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, of the UC Irvine School of Law, Harvard legal theorist Charles Ogletree, criminal justice scholar Angela Davis, Harvard professor Alex Whiting, and the ACLU.

The writers list reasons why they believe the Orange County’s justice system to have reached crisis-level: “Charges in extremely serious cases have been reduced or dismissed; violent crimes—including murders—have gone entirely uninvestigated; to date, four law enforcement officers have refused to testify in pending criminal matters, citing their Fifth Amendment privilege against self‐incrimination; and at least one prosecutor has been found by a court to have given ‘incredible’ testimony under oath. More troubling still, this all appears to be the tip of the iceberg.”

“Orange County requires a thorough investigation by an independent entity, one with the authority to investigate long-concealed evidence in the custody of the OCSD and OCDA,” concludes the letter. “The unwillingness of the OCSD and OCDA to acknowledge the due process implications of the alleged misconduct has become only more entrenched as attention to the situation has grown. Nearly two years have passed since many of these issues were first brought to the attention of the OCDA and OCSD, allowing them ample time to demonstrate their ability to bring themselves into conformity with core constitutional principles. It is our firm belief that the Department of Justice is the only entity equipped to conduct this investigation and restore public confidence in the criminal justice system in Orange County.”

(For backstory on the OC’s misconduct scandal, go here.)


At the beginning of November, as part of a series of LA Times editorials on Prop. 47 and its effects, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell videotaped a few short op-ed messages sharing his take on the law one year into its implementation. Sheriff McDonnell said that the law has removed consequences beyond citations for certain offenses, and has made Californians less safe than they were a year ago.

Mark-Anthony Johnson, wellness director for the nonprofit Dignity and Power Now, shot a series of op-ed videos in direct response to McDonnell’s videos.

You can watch the first video message above, but head over to the Times for the rest.


Today (Thursday), LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell will launch the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force along with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Supervisors, United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker, advocate groups, and young victims of sex trafficking.

Through partnerships with community groups as well as county, state, and federal agencies, and a $1.5 million grant from the DOJ, the task force will combat human trafficking, with a particular focus on protecting victims of child sex trafficking and prosecuting those who buy and sell children.

The launch of the new task force follows Sheriff McDonnell’s October announcement that there’s “no such thing as a child prostitute.” (WLA reported earlier this month on why the LASD’s focus on child sex trafficking is so important.)


In an op-ed for the LA Daily News, US Senator Dianne Feinstein says prosecution of buyers of children and teens, as well as better coordination between law enforcement and social service providers, must be top priority in the fight against sex trafficking.

Feinstein says that targeting youth homelessness would go a long way toward helping young victims. A bill introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Rob Portman, called the Homeless Children and Youth Act, would give kids who live in motels (or do not have a permanent home) access to programs and resources for the homeless. Here’s a clip:

In California, the number of homeless children has nearly quadrupled since 2003. According to recent data from the Department of Education, there are nearly 120,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties alone.

A 2013 Covenant House survey of trafficking victims showed that nearly half had been homeless. The University of San Diego study also confirmed that homeless and runaway children are at much greater risk of being trafficked.

The good news is that real progress is being made in Los Angeles. Sheriff Jim McDonnell and I convened a meeting in August with law enforcement, public officials and advocates to discuss how we can fight trafficking. There was consensus that this problem is growing quickly and meaningful action must be taken to address it.

The Board of Supervisors, with the support of Sheriff McDonnell, passed a resolution recognizing that child trafficking victims like Carrie are victims, not prostitutes.

Sheriff McDonnell has also partnered with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and regional colleagues to launch a task force to better coordinate investigations and rescue operations, and connect victims to services. Through collaboration, traffickers will end up where they belong — behind bars — and these girls will get help…

Coordination between law enforcement and social service providers must be continually improved so victims don’t fall through the cracks, and we need to do much more to address youth homelessness, one of the root causes of the trafficking epidemic.

Posted in Department of Justice, Homelessness, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sex trafficking | 5 Comments »

DOJ Interventions and Civilian Oversight for Law Enforcement

November 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Over the past 20 years, the US Department of Justice has intervened to overhaul 16 local law enforcement agencies plagued by officer misconduct (like frequent excessive use of force) and other systemic failures. But the Justice Dept. hasn’t closely examined the long-term outcomes of the interventions, according to Frontline’s Sarah Childress and Washington Post reporters Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich,who looked at the unintended consequences of those DOJ interventions, traveling to Los Angeles and some of the other 16 locations.

The reporters interviewed officials from the 16 law enforcement agencies, the federal monitors, and civil rights advocates about the interventions, their purpose, and what impacts they have on communities and law enforcement officers.

When the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by re-training officers and forcing policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s reform agreement. But once the feds leave, it’s up to the department to continue those reforms, and some backslide.

The Frontline and WaPo reporters looked at available use-of-force and budget-related data and reports from the monitors, and found that results have been mixed. Out of ten police departments for which enough data was available, use of force rates at five departments actually rose after federal intervention. In five others, use of force rates either stayed the same or dropped.

And when the DOJ steps in, taxpayers have to foot the bill. Thus far, Los Angeles has been the must expensive intervention with a price tag of $300 million for 12 years of post-Rampart-scandal federal oversight that ended in 2013. But the DOJ’s efforts produced desperately needed reforms in the scandal-plagued department.

Albuquerque is another of the more obvious success stories. The DOJ went in to address a spike in officer-involved shootings, particularly of the mentally ill. Since 2012, the Albuquerque police have dropped use-of-force incidents by 57% thanks to crisis intervention training.

For many law enforcement agencies, federal oversight lowered officer morale and led to a high officer turnover rate. During Detroit’s 11-year intervention, the police department went through eight police chiefs.

For New Orleans police officers, the DOJ’s 1996-2004 intervention was not enough to carry lasting reform. The feds returned in 2010 after cops were again racking up excessive use of force incidents and illegal stops and searches. One of the latest mandated reforms came in the form of officer-worn cameras. Capt. Mike Glasser told reporters that the enforced videotaping has stopped officers from proactive policing.

Here are a few clips, but the issue is a complex one, so be sure to go over to Frontline and read the whole thing:

Officer morale in some of the departments plummeted during the interventions, according to interviews. Collectively, the departments have cycled through 52 police chiefs as the agencies tried to meet federal demands. Some departments have struggled to sustain reforms once oversight ended, and in some cities, police relations with residents remain strained.

In interviews, Justice Department officials defended the interventions and said that in recent years they have significantly improved the reform process. Those changes have led to greater oversight of police departments and to policing that better protects the civil rights of residents, they said.

“The goal isn’t that we have a perfect police department when we leave,” said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department’s civil rights division. “The goal is that they actually know what to do when there’s a problem.”


“The police departments that we go into, small or big, are ones where there have been findings of pretty significant systemic pattern-or-practice constitutional violations,” Gupta said. “Whether they’re the worst, I don’t know. Whether they are in crisis, yes.”


The Justice Department’s only broad assessment of its interventions occurred as part of a 2010 roundtable with police chiefs from some of the departments targeted. One of the conclusions: Federal officials had no universal way to measure impact and needed better data to determine whether reforms worked.

But numbers will not tell the full story, experts said.

“The hard question – have you stopped doing the things that got you into court in the first place – is something that these consent decrees seem to have trouble answering,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University who has studied reform agreements.

Justice officials said the newest generation of reform agreements, starting with Seattle in 2012 and 11 police departments since, includes benchmarks to indicate whether the reforms are taking hold. Gupta, the civil rights division chief, said Justice can then adjust as needed. She also said Justice officials are working more closely with local law enforcement and community members to build trust.

She cited federal reforms of police in East Haven, Conn., Seattle and Los Angeles as successes that have produced “transformation.”

“And transformation is more than just…enactment of specific reforms,” Gupta said. “It really is a fundamental change in how the community relates to the police department and vice versa.”
But she said once the monitoring ends, so does Justice’s involvement.

“We don’t tend to evaluate…after we have left,” Gupta said. “There’s a limit to how much we can…remain engaged with a particular jurisdiction given our limited resources.”

Some critics have complained that federal interventions leave abusive officers in uniform because the agreements target policies and practices of an agency, not individual employees. But experts said reforming departments is more important than trying to punish officers.


Independent civilian oversight commissions are popping up in jurisdictions across the country as a way to hold law enforcement agencies accountable to the public. But how much power do they actually have to address problems within the agencies and investigate misconduct allegations?

Scripps News’ Ross Jones contacted 200 civilian oversight groups across the nation as part of a special “Focus on Force” series. Jones found that almost two-thirds of those watchdog groups don’t have their own independent investigators. Instead, the majority of the civilian panels work directly with law enforcement agencies’ own internal affairs officers.

Because most oversight groups don’t have teeth and can only make recommendations, they must rely on the cooperation of the departments they monitor.

This year, Los Angeles County officials has wrestled with whether to grant subpoena power to a planned civilian oversight commission that would be tasked with monitoring the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and how to best protect deputies’ privacy without compromising transparency and accountability. The working group tasked with making recommendations as to the reach and composition of civilian oversight recommended the commission use the county’s Office of Inspector General staff for investigation purposes.

Here are some clips from Jones’ story:

[Civilian oversight commissions] rely on police department internal affairs officers to determine if a fellow officer went too far.

And that’s troublesome, some experts say.

“They may not have asked the appropriate follow-up questions or investigated contradictions in what the officer has said,” said Samuel Walker, an expert in police oversight and professor emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“Some (boards) do have the power to reject what internal affairs does and send it back for further investigation,” Walker said. “That’s good, but you still have to take on faith that they’ve reinvestigated, asked the questions and have got it right this time. But I think taking it on faith isn’t good enough.”


Today, Walker and other experts advocate for another form of police oversight – one that reacts to complaints of misconduct and proactively audits officers’ investigations, collects arrest data and reviews department policies.

Posted in Civil Rights, Department of Justice, law enforcement | 4 Comments »

Criminal Justice System Involvement Means Higher Chance of Early Death for Youth

November 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


As the seriousness of a kid’s contact with the justice system increases, so does their risk of an early death, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Researchers split criminal justice system involvement into four categories, looking specifically at kids who were arrested, detained (for a short period), incarcerated, or transferred to adult court.

Youth who were only arrested had a mortality rate 1.5 times that of their peers who had never been arrested.

Kids who were transferred to adult court had the highest risk of dying young: 3.5 times higher than the general population.

About half of all recorded deaths were homicides.

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers followed 49,479 children and teens who were between the ages of 10 and 18 at the time of their first arrest in Marion County, Indiana. The study spans a period of 13 years, from 1999 to 2011, and is reportedly the largest study to look at the connection between kids’ justice system involvement and risk of early death.

The study did show, not surprisingly, that black males accounted for the majority of the deaths that were recorded. But researchers also found that more serious and prolonged justice system involvement was directly linked to higher mortality rates, regardless of race.

“It is well established that black youth, compared with white youth, are over-represented in the justice system and bear a disproportionate burden of death by homicide,” said head researcher Dr. Matthew Aalsma, who is a pediatrics professor at Indiana University School of Medicine. “However, the interaction between justice system involvement and race/ethnicity was not statistically significant. This suggests that the severity of criminal justice involvement, rather than race/ethnicity, is a strong driver of early mortality among youth offenders.”

The study points to the importance of reducing kids’ contact with the criminal justice system through evidence-based violence prevention programs and other diversion methods that target high-risk juvenile offenders.

Posted in juvenile justice | 2 Comments »

Civil Asset Forfeiture, the Grizzly Youth Academy, Unraveling the “Superpredator” Myth…and More

November 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to keep money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime (usually a drug crime). Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool, using it as a cash cow, by taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

In its latest “Policing for Profit” report, the Institute for Justice gave California a C+ grade for its civil asset forfeiture laws, which require “beyond reasonable doubt” for law enforcement officers to seize most property.

In CA, police cannot keep assets under $25,000 unless the owner is convicted, and for amounts above $25,000, officers have to be able to give “clear and convincing evidence” beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cash or property was connected to a crime.

But California and other states circumvent their own forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes law enforcement agencies to use seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, by bringing the feds into an investigation.

(This year, a California bill to reform civil asset forfeiture, which would have required a conviction for assets to be forfeited, could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.)

California ranks second-worst—50th out of 51 states (and DC)—for its heavy participation in the Equitable Sharing Program.

This second Policing for Profit report “highlights the continued need for forfeiture reform” and increased transparency, says Institute for Justice senior attorney, Scott Bullock. “Updated grades for state and federal civil forfeiture laws find that protections against unjust forfeitures still range from bad to worse, and too many laws incentivize revenue generation over the impartial administration of justice.”


While schools across the nation replace problematic “zero-tolerance” discipline practices with more gentle and healing “restorative justice” methods, there may still be a place for military-inspired schools that protect and nurture—rather than punish—kids.

Over a period of a year, the Atlantic’s Michael Godsey visited one such school, the National Guard-run Grizzly Youth Academy at Camp San Luis in San Luis Obispo, California. At Grizzly, leaders act as father figures, giving teens who have dropped out (or are at risk of dropping out) boundaries and teaching them discipline.

Kids voluntarily enroll at the charter boarding school (in fact, there is a waiting list), and at the end of the 22-week program, many students don’t want to leave.

While the model doesn’t work for most struggling students, it reportedly works for some kids who are suffering from a lack of structure in their lives. Those teens come away from Grizzly feeling empowered, rather than defeated, according to Godsey. Here’s a clip:

When I visited Grizzly Youth Academy on Orientation Day, I observed as the new students waited in long lines, wearing identical gray sweats and black baseball caps, carrying their minimal belongings in clear garbage bags. Near the entrance, military personnel silently inspected their bags, while a sergeant in the distance yelled out instructions to a large group of boys, demanding that they answer him with a loud “Yes, sir!” I also heard a sergeant firmly promising an anxious new student: “Do not think for a second that I will let you fail here.”

Grizzly is a charter boarding school run by the National Guard that’s designed for high-school dropouts (or would-be dropouts) and operates using “quasi-military” style of governance. Its authoritarian structure is aimed at fostering the kind of protective and caring environment many of these kids—who often have track records of disciplinary issues and substance abuse—are seeking.

And it seems to work. A three-year study conducted by the nonpartisan think tank MDRC showed significant statistical success in the program; participants are more likely than their control group counterparts to have obtained a high-school diploma, to have earned college credits, and to be working.


…the waiting list for enrollment indicates that this school is fulfilling a need in a unique and valuable way. In contrast with the high suspension rates often found at schools with a strict discipline policies, Grizzly makes a point to keep its students within its vision and reach. “We make it very hard for your son or daughter to quit,” one sergeant explained to the parents on Orientation Day. The school even takes custody of the students in cases of emergency. “For the five months they’re here at Grizzly, it’s like they’re our kids,” I heard a sergeant promise a group of parents, “and we take full responsibility for them.”

On the first day of classes, I stood with a Grizzly teacher as the kids jogged to their respective classrooms along designated clockwise paths, forming lines in front of classrooms and each staring at the head of the person in front of them as they waited for permission to enter the room. “If you saw this without any context, you might think it’s oppressive and question the purpose of it,” the teacher told me. “But many of these kids come from an absence of structure, and they really respond to this. A lot of them lack stability—family stability, home stability, economic stability—and the environment here is safe and predictable. They come to appreciate all the routines and rules.”


In the early 90′s a wave of teen violence prompted a small cluster of academics led by political scientist John Dilulio to forecast the emergence of a new breed of children—”superpredators”—impulsive kids without compassion who would commit innumerable violent crimes.

The superpredators never arrived, and the myth was eventually debunked, but not before the theory did a great deal of damage, producing harsh sentencing laws for juveniles.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s Ben DeJarnette has compiled five studies that have shifted the conversation about youthful offenders and their brains, their conditional culpability, and whether they should face the same criminal consequences as adults. Here’s how it opens:

Princeton political scientist John Dilulio dubbed them superpredators—murderous teenagers who could commit heinous acts of violence without feeling a trace of guilt. “They fear neither the stigma of arrest nor the pain of imprisonment,” Dilulio wrote in 1995. “They live by the meanest code of the meanest streets.” According to Dilulio, the country was on track toward a scourge of youth superpredator violence, precipitated by troubling demographic shifts (read: more black kids) and a perceived morality deficit. The crisis, it seemed, was inevitable. Harrowing true-crime headlines splashed across the covers of Time and Newsweek. State and federal lawmakers scrambled to toughen sentencing laws for juvenile offenders. And Americans everywhere braced for the insurgence of some 30,000 new teen superpredators that Dilulio predicted would roam the streets by the end of the decade.

But for all the fear and frenzy, America’s teen violence apocalypse never arrived. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Juvenile violent crime rates that were forecast to double instead dropped by more than 50 percent, and advances in modern neuroscience began to complicate the prevailing superpredator caricature. Soon even Dilulio was walking back his claims. “Thank God we were wrong,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “I’m sorry for any unintended consequences.”

Yet those unintended consequences now litter the country’s federal and state justice systems. Today, kids as young as 11 years old are still being tried as adults, and many mandatory-minimum sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and ’90s remain on the books—even in progressive states like Oregon.

The mythical superpredator continues to cast a long shadow over American politics, but a promising reform movement—helped along by the Supreme Court—has recently made some major strides…

Read on.


Last week, we pointed to the launch of the College Track program in Watts, which helps kids in underserved communities attend and finish college.

Laurene Powell Jobs, Apple founder Steve Jobs’ widow, co-founded the College Track program, which has 55 Watts participants this year, but hopes to expand to 300 students by 2019. The College Track program has also served Roosevelt High students in Boyle Heights since 2012, where it is expected to hit the 300-student mark by 2016. The program has a college graduation rate 2.5 times higher than non-participating low-income college students.

“It’s our privilege to work with College Track students as they chart their course toward a college degree,” Powell Jobs, said. “They bring persistence, creativity, and extraordinary discipline throughout their academic journey.”

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has more information on Powell Jobs’ college success program and involvement in education reform. Here’s a clip:

In the first year, 55 Jordan students, who were selected after a brief interview process, will participate. The program accepts students in the summer before ninth grade and works with them through college graduation, providing academic support, leadership training, college and financial aid advising and scholarships totaling up to $5,600 per student.

“I am thrilled to see College Track bring its incredible program to Watts, which will help us ensure this great community is a platform for educational, social and economic mobility,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement. Garcetti joined Powell Jobs in last week’s ceremony at Jordan High. “This complements broader efforts across Los Angeles, as we tell our young people that we don’t just want them to go to college — we expect them to go to college, and we’ll give them the tools to get there.”

The program hopes to serve 300 students per year at Jordan by 2019. The Boyle Heights location, which opened in 2012, expects to reach 300 students per year by 2016.

Powell Jobs is one of the wealthiest individuals in the United States, with a net worth of $19.1 billion, according to Forbes. Although known for keeping a low public profile, Powell Jobs attracted attention recently with her announcement of a $50-million project to reshape the American high school.

Posted in Education, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Not in Our Name: Southern California Muslims Gather To Discuss the Terrorist Attacks…& Their Fears of Reprisal

November 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


When a large and frightening terrorist attack occurs, like the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, we are all deeply shaken—and angry.

For many U.S. Muslims, however, there is the additional worry that some of their fellow countrymen and women will conflate ISIS with Islam in the wake of the attacks.

On Saturday night, young Muslim Americans gathered in Los Angeles at the Islamic Center of Southern California to listen to speakers on the topic, then to talk about their own anger at ISIS and their personal fears about backlash,

Still earlier in the day, there was a press conference at ICSC, featuring various local Muslim luminaries, including Dr. Najeeba Syeed, an award winning Assistant Professor of Interreligious Education at the Claremont College of Theology, who is known for her skill at conflict resolution.

“We are in solidarity with you. Parisians, we are in solidarity with you.” said Dr. Syeed, her voice full of emotion.

Similar sentiments were express in a notice on the ICSC website calling members to the Saturday evening meeting, and to the candlelight vigil that occurred earlier. “As Muslims, we unequivocally condemn ISIS and its latest heartless, faithless act of terrorism that has killed over 120 innocent people, injured scores more and betrayed Islam’s core teachings and values, ” read the notice.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has more on the ICSC meeting. Here are some clips:

Terrorism and its ripple effect on Muslim young people was one the main topics discussed Saturday night at the Islamic Center of Southern California, which brought together several speakers to condemn the terrorist attacks in Paris.

“There is absolutely no tolerance or room for this type of behavior, these types of actions in the faith of Islam,” said Center Chairman Omar Ricci, who called on Muslim youth to show pride in their faith and to resist those who might want to recruit them into radical groups. Many Muslims, he said, actually choose careers in law enforcement and the armed forces because they feel a special responsibility to protect the United States.


Edina Lekovic said her 4-year-old son was puzzled to see his mother turn serious as she made dozens of calls about the violence in Paris.

“He loves superheroes, and I had to explain to him that there were bad people who happen to also be Muslim – I couldn’t hide that from him – who did something awful and hurt other people and I had to work to do everything I could to help people who were hurting.”

Muslim kids could also face bullying, Ricci said, suggesting that parents confront anti-Muslim comments when they come across them in person or on social media.

While we’re on the topic of bullying, it bears mentioning here that a study released at the end of last month found that Muslim students in California schools report bullying at twice the rate as non-Muslim students. The study, which was statewide, found that 55 percent of Muslim students surveyed said they’ve been “bullied or discriminated against,” which is double the number of students who reported being bullied nationally.


Also on Saturday night, hundreds of San Diego-based Muslim Americans and friends gathered at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel for a yearly fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of San Diego. But, what would have normally been a festive occasion, of necessity, turned into a forum to discuss the horrific news that Friday brought, as speaker after speaker condemned the terrorist attacks in Paris in the strongest terms.

Speakers also spoke about the greater role their community must take to root out extremism.

Tatiana Sanchez of the San Diego Union has more. Here’s a clip:

Jérôme Gombert sat watching news reports about the assaults in the hotel lobby just minutes before the banquet commenced. He looked on quietly as images of the carnage in Paris unfolded before him.

The native Parisian said he’s been hit hard by the violence. He remembers frequenting the Bataclan concert hall — where the majority of victims were killed — before moving to San Diego 20 years ago. He walked the streets and ate at the restaurants now pictured in the news.

“They attacked the average Parisian’s life,” he said.

“It’s crazy that (the dinner) is today after what happened at home, but it’s still important to understand that there’s no connection between that and the reality of the Muslim religion,” he said. “It’s a peaceful religion, it’s a beautiful religion in many ways.”


In September of 2001, when I was still writing for the LA Weekly, my editors asked me to report on how Muslim Americans in Los Angeles were fairing after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The answer was, in short: it was damned scary to be Muslim and American in LA—or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter—during that period. For what it’s worth, here’s a clip the opening of the story I wrote nearly a decade and a half ago.

The King Fahad Mosque, located on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, is a gracefully domed structure with an imported marble facade, a 72-foot-high gold-leafed minaret and intricately painted Turkish tiles adorning the place both inside and out. The facility was completed in late August of 1999, funded by a donation from Prince Abdul-Aziz, the son of Saudi Arabia‘s ruler, King Fahad bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. I spent much of the past week there. The following snapshots are the result.

On the morning of September 11, Tajuddin Shuaib wakes up at 5:30, performs the first of his five daily prayers, then falls back to sleep. He wakes again just before 7 a.m., then, as is his habit, flips on the TV as he gets out of bed. He likes to watch CNN while he gets ready to go to work. For Tajuddin Shuaib this means driving to his office at the King Fahad Mosque, where he has been its director and spiritual leader — or Imam, as he is called — since the facility opened three years ago.

On normal days, Shuaib leaves his house around 7:30. But on September 11, like most Americans, Shuaib finds himself immobilized by shock at the images that are playing across his TV screen. Like most Americans, he exchanges frantic, disjointed phone calls with members of his congregation. Like most Americans, Shuaib prays for the safety of the people who might still be caught in the collapsing towers. But unlike most Americans, Shuaib also mouths a special prayer as he watches the expanding devastation: “Please don’t let a Muslim be responsible for this horror.”

“As an American,” he says later, “I was sick inside at what I saw. As a Muslim, I was scared to death.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., Shuaib finally drives to the mosque and sees some of his fears coming to pass. At the building‘s front, a 30-ish woman clutches an oversize Magic Marker with which she scrawls the word MURDERERS in huge letters on the white marble. When she spots Shuaib, she begins screaming. “Murderers! Go back where you came from, Palestinian murderers!”

While another mosque official calls the police, Shuaib attempts to talk the woman down. “Ma’am, look at me,” he says. “Do I look like a Palestinian?” The woman stops shouting long enough to stare at him. Shuaib is a black-skinned man who was born in Ghana. He is also humorous, intelligent and possessed of the charm of a natural storyteller. “It‘s true,” he continues, hoping the woman isn’t armed with anything worse than the marker, “Palestinians come to pray here. We also have Egyptians and Pakistanis and Arabs and Africans and Sudanese. The whole United Nations comes to pray here.” The woman starts to shout again, but Shuaib keeps on talking. “The thing is, I am as upset as you are because I have family in New York and I have not been able to speak to them. But I‘m also terrified because, unlike you, I can be a target.”

By the time the police arrive, Shuaib has talked the woman’s fury into remission. Nonetheless, the officers search her car and find cartons of eggs plus a pile of stones. They ask Shuaib if he wants to press charges. He shakes his head no. Her anger spent, the woman turns sheepish and asks if she should clean the wall.

“That‘s okay,” Shuaib says wearily. “We’ll clean it up ourselves.”

On Wednesday, the mosque‘s community liaison — Usman Madha, who emigrated here from Burma 35 years ago — is crossing the street when a car slows to a stop right in front of him and the driver motions him over. Madha approaches the car with trepidation. He recognizes the driver as a Culver City resident who, for the past three years, has been vocally opposed to the mosque’s presence in the community. But to Madha‘s surprise, the man only extends his hand to shake. “For whatever it’s worth,” he tells Madha tersely, “I don‘t hold you guys responsible for what happened in New York City.”

Later, Shuaib and Mahad continue to field a weird mixture of phone calls — a few obscene messages, a few calls of support, and a couple of inquiries from the press. Most of the calls, however, are from worried congregation members who want to know if it’s safe to come to the mosque. The King Fahad Mosque is the primary Islamic center for L.A.‘s Westside, and typically draws a crowd for each of its five daily prayer services, plus upward of 500 worshipers for the big service at midday on Friday. But since last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, the place has been almost deserted.


In Los Angeles, hundreds of students gathered at Cal State Long Beach on Sunday afternoon, to honor the memory of Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old CSULB senior who was studying at the Strate College of Design in Paris for a semester. Gonzales was one of 19 killed when gunman opened fire at the popular Parisian bistro La Belle Equipe on Friday where Gonzalez was eating with three friends.

Anh Do and Javier Panzar, writing for the LA Times, have more on that story. Here’s a clip:

[Gonzalez's three] friends managed to escape, but Gonzalez was wounded and later died of her injuries at a hospital, said Jeet Joshee, associate vice president for international education at the university.

Friends and family described Gonzalez as a diligent and committed worker with lofty dreams, including studying abroad in Paris.

She worked as a teaching assistant at Cal State Long Beach and as a shop technician, overseeing lower-division students on their design projects.

“She was a warrior, she fought for her dreams,” said student Alysia Elnagar, who took a basic design class in which Gonzalez served as an assistant.

“Even as a freshman, she exhibited leadership. She owned the stage whenever she presented,” recalled David Lee, design instructor who taught Gonzalez in foundation drawing and advanced drawing classes. “Her magic and beauty was so effortless.”

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »


November 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Friday night we grieved with our brother and sisters in Paris. Today we stand beside them.

With the same sad but determined hearts, we stand beside our brothers and sisters in Beirut.

Posted in Life in general | 5 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »