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Alleged Abuse at a Boot Camp for LA-Area Kids….Disclosing LA County’s Legal Bills….LAUSD Program Re-Enrolls Kids Exiting Juvie Detention….Fight in Men’s Central Jail

June 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SEVEN KIDS SAY THEY WERE ABUSED DURING A BOOT CAMP PUT ON BY HUNTINGTON PARK AND SOUTH GATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS

Out of 36 kids who attended the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp program in May, seven say they were punched, slapped, stepped on, and beaten by officers running the program. LEAD is sponsored by the Huntington Park and South Gate Police Departments.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused them, stepping on them as they did push-ups.

The program leaders would take them into a “dark room,” where the they would hold kids against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers from an officer stepping on his hand.

The kids said those responsible threatened physical harm if the kids broke their silence.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating the allegations. The Gomez brothers have been suspended from the kids’ program, but are still on patrol, according to lawyers.

KTLA’s Ashley Soley-Cerro, Eric Spillman, Christina Pascucci, and Melissa Palmer have the story. Here are some clips:

Bridget Salazar said her 13-year-old son was punched, slammed up against a wall and choked.

“He just couldn’t stop crying,” Salazar said. “Right there, I knew something happened.”

Araceli Pulido said her daughters, aged 12 and 14, were among the seven alleging abuse. There are more campers who were hurt but they are too scared to come forward, Pulido said.

The children were allegedly told they were worthless and their parents did not love or want them, and that the camp was three months long rather than a week, according to Owen.

The “Gomez brothers” were primarily responsible for the mistreatment, the children reported.

“Many of the children are suffering from nightmares and other emotional trauma because the Gomez brothers are out on the streets. They are afraid the Gomez brothers will come after them,” Owen’s news release stated.


EDITORIAL: COUNTY SHOULD DISCLOSE TO TAXPAYERS $$ AMOUNTS SPENT ON PRIVATE LAW FIRMS FOR LAWSUITS AGAINST LASD

Last June, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel (particularly the ones alleging LASD misconduct, abuse, and excessive use of force that typically drag on for a year, or three, presumably while the meter is running).

But this April, an appeals court agreed with the county that any information between lawyer and client, including invoices, is confidential. Last week, Preven and the ACLU petitioned the CA Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

An LA Times editorial says the Supes answer to the public, and should be forthcoming with how much taxpayers are forking over for these lawsuits, and preferably before the Supreme Court has to deal with it. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven is one such county resident, and he sought the invoices for a handful of cases under the California Public Records Act. When the county rejected much of his request, he and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued. A judge ruled in Preven’s favor a year ago, but in April an appeals court sided with the county, accepting its argument that billing records — indeed, anything at all that passes between a lawyer and client — are protected from disclosure.

That’s an unduly expansive reading of the attorney-client privilege, which is widely understood to apply to a lawyer’s advice, a client’s directives and other substantive communications made in the scope of the lawyer’s representation, but not to billing records of the type sought by Preven and the ACLU, cleansed of sensitive information. In the case of Los Angeles County, where voters or residents might understandably believe they are collectively the clients and ought to have access to relevant information, the privilege protects not them but their elected representatives, the Board of Supervisors.

The public should be pleased that Preven and the ACLU are not taking the ruling lying down. Last week, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

As intriguing as the legal issue is, however, it should not obscure the basic fact that the supervisors, as the client, have the authority to waive the privilege and release the documents right now — but have opted instead to fight.


PROGRAM RE-ENROLLS AND RE-ENGAGES LAUSD HIGH SCHOOLERS WHEN THEY ARE RELEASED FROM JUVENILE DENTENTION FACILITIES

As of last year, California law mandates juvenile justice systems connect with school systems to keep kids who are released from juvenile detention facilities from slipping through the cracks. According to the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, more than 80% of kids leaving lock-up are not enrolled in school within the first month of their release.

An LA Unified School District counseling program works to catch those kids and help them re-enroll in school and keep up with classes, and also to direct them to other important services.

More than 100 LAUSD kids are released from lock-up every month. In fact, there are more LAUSD kids cycling in and out of the detention centers than in any other school district. But because of budget cuts, the program cannot sustain enough counselors to meet the needs of every justice system-involved kid.

And when the counselors do reach out, those kids have to be receptive to the idea of returning to (and completing) high school. Some are not.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the program.

Gilbertson’s story follows two formerly incarcerated high school kids, one who completes high school and moves on to community college while working for Homeboy Industries, the other who, unfortunately, does not triumph over the statistics. Here are some clips:

When 19-year-old Liliana Flores was in fifth grade, her parents immigrated into the United States from El Salvador. Her family was fleeing gang violence, but it only followed them to Los Angeles.

“I never had a happy home,” she said.

Social workers thought Flores would be safer in foster care. She was tossed from group home to group home packed with troubled teens.

“I started doing the same things they were doing,” Flores said.

She got into drugs, and it led to a series of stints in juvenile detention centers scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In between her time away, she attended continuation high schools filled with other at-risk students struggling to stay within the law.

[SNIP]

Even after her incarceration, Flores wears a uniform: a long-sleeve, button-down shirt with a neat collar.

It conceals the tattoos climbing her arms, inked across her chest and spread around her scalp. On her neck, a tattoo she got when she was 14 years old says “f— love” in swirling letters.

Valli Cohen, a nurse practitioner, is taking a laser to Flores’ tattoo at the Homeboy Industries medical office, which specializes in gang tattoo removal…

It’s hard to tell if the attempt to track students exiting juvenile detention is having an impact. LAUSD declined to provide the numbers of students who re-enroll and go on to graduate.

But Flores said it is working for her…

“Right now, I’m taking Criminal Justice I, and I’m taking Criminal Justice II,” she said.

Flores plans to transfer to University of California, Santa Cruz, and eventually become a probation officer. Her report card is full of Bs and she said the fact that she’s undocumented is her motivation.


FIGHT BETWEEN 80 INMATES AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

At 12:30p.m. on Wednesday, a fight broke out between around 80 inmates in Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA. Deputies succeeded in quelling the disturbance in about ten minutes. One inmate was stabbed and three others were wounded in the fight. There were no serious injuries. Both Men’s Central and Twin Towers jails, which are across the street from each other, were placed on lockdown.

CBS has more on the incident.

Posted in ACLU, California Supreme Court, children and adolescents, Education, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

WitnessLA Story Wins New Award for Reporting on Baca, Tanaka & the LASD

June 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The City and Regional Magazine Association, sponsored by the Missouri School of Journalism, gave out its journalism awards on Monday night.
We learned in real time that a story I’d written had won first place in the reporting category, because people at the CRMA awards dinner in Texas were tweeting the names of the winners as they were announced. Mary Melton, Editor of LA mag, was one of the happy tweeters.

The winning story ran in Los Angeles Magazine in March 2014, but much of it was based on reporting originally done for WitnessLA when we were covering the Los Angeles Shreriff’s Department the most intensely. The material was compressed and rewritten into the longread story you can read here at Los Angeles Magazine. It is called Downfall

Posted in LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, writers and writing | 21 Comments »

LASD Deputy to Donate Liver to Partner….a Misused Federal Sentence Enhancement…and More

June 3rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTY FINDS HE IS COMPATIBLE TO DONATE PARTIAL LIVER TO HIS DYING TWIN TOWERS PARTNER

On Thursday, LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Javier Tiscareno will donate part of his liver to save the life of his deputy partner, Jorge Castro, whose own liver is failing.

After numerous unsuccessful treatments, and learning that none of his family members were a match for a liver transplant, Castro was placed on a waiting list.

California is not an ideal place to live if you need a liver transplant. Once you’re on the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) waiting list, the wait in the golden state is commonly 12-36 months. (With this in mind, Apple founder Steve Jobs got on the list in Tennessee, instead of California.)

When Castro, told his partner about his health issues, Tiscareno decided to get tested for liver donation. The two deputies were a match.

At a press conference outside Twin Towers jail, where both men are correctional officers, Tiscareno said, “He told me he would be dead by the end of the year. That was unacceptable to me.”

A partial liver transplant is considered a relatively safe procedure for the donor, but it is still a major surgery, and complications do sometimes occur. Tiscareno said, regarding his decision, “I’m not going to a funeral knowing I could have helped.”


OP-ED: FED PROSECUTORS MANIPULATING A 45-YEAR-OLD STATUTE TO FORCE LOW-LEVEL DRUG OFFENDERS TO TAKE UNFAIR PLEA DEALS

Enacted in 1970, statute “851″ was originally intended to give federal prosecutors the ability to seek double or more the usual sentences for serious drug dealers, while exempting those with lower-level drug charges from the sentencing “enhancement” that 851 provided.

But that’s not how things turned out.

Mona Lynch, a professor of criminology, law, and society at UC Irvine, says federal prosecutors have severely misused 851, employing it, instead, as a tool to force low-level drug offenders to take plea deals.

By filing the 851 enhancement against defendants with prior convictions, prosecutors can turn what would normally be a 10-year mandatory minimum into life without parole in the most extreme cases.

Lynch says this weapon federal prosecutors use to coerce plea deals must be eliminated.

Here’s a clip from Lynch’s op-ed for the NY Times:

I have conducted in-depth qualitative research and interviews in four federal districts; in each, the 851 threat loomed for nearly everyone with the eligible prior record. In the words of one of my interviewees, “the 851 is the ultimate lever” used by prosecutors to force a guilty plea. And it almost always worked: Defendants were compelled to waive their rights and plead guilty to ensure that their sentences were not doubled, or worse.

What happens to the defendant who doesn’t go along? The threat becomes a reality. Take the case of a former defendant whom I’ll call Brandon.

Brandon may not have been squeaky clean when he landed in federal court on drug charges, but he certainly was no drug kingpin. A week or two before his arrest, he reignited a friendship with a high school classmate — I’ll call him Frank — at the time a relatively large-scale crack dealer. After reconnecting, Brandon went for a drive with Frank and Frank’s girlfriend on a single drug-supply run, something the couple did on a weekly basis.

On the way home, a state trooper pulled over Frank’s car, searched it, retrieved the drugs and arrested them. Each was charged with conspiracy to distribute hundreds of grams of crack cocaine.

All three had prior drug convictions, so the 851 threat loomed. Frank and his girlfriend succumbed to the pressure and pleaded guilty. But Brandon had a strong case. By all accounts, including law enforcement’s, he was neither Frank’s partner nor involved in any continuing conspiracy with the couple.

So Brandon went to trial. And the prosecutor played her ace card, filing the 851 on the eve of trial. He was convicted. At sentencing, Frank received 20 years in prison and his girlfriend received probation. Brandon, who chose to exercise his right to trial, received a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

[SNIP]

Between 1992 and 2012, about 2,300 black men have been sentenced to life for federal drug convictions, 72 percent of whom had asserted their right to trial. While data cannot pinpoint the 851 as the trigger of those life sentences, it does indicate that 96 percent were subject to drug mandatory minimums at sentencing.


LEGAL EXPERT GIVES 40 REASONS WHY POOR AND MINORITY PEOPLE MAKE UP SUCH A LARGE PORTION OF THE US JAIL POPULATION

Bill Quigley, Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans and Associate Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, put together a noteworthy list of 40 reasons why jails across the US are full of racial minorities and poor people. Here’s a clip:

One. It is not just about crime. Our jails and prisons have grown from holding about 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.2 million today. The fact is that crime rates have risen and fallen/a> independently of our growing incarceration rates.

Two. Police discriminate. The first step in putting people in jail starts with interactions between police and people. From the very beginning, Black and poor people are targeted by the police. Police departments have engaged in campaigns of stopping and frisking people who are walking, mostly poor people and people of color, without cause for decades. Recently New York City lost a federal civil rights challenge to their police stop and frisk practices by the Center for Constitutional Rights during which police stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication that the people stopped had been involved in any crime at all. About 80 percent of those stops were of Black and Latinos who compromise 25 and 28 percent of N.Y.C.’s total population. Chicago police do the same thing stopping even more people also in a racially discriminatory way with 72 percent of the stops of Black people even though the city is 32 percent Black.

Three. Police traffic stops also racially target people in cars. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Connecticut, in an April 2015 report, on 620,000 traffic stops which revealed widespread racial profiling, particularly during daylight hours when the race of driver was more visible.

Four. Once stopped, Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely to be given tickets than white drivers stopped for the same offenses.

Five. Once stopped, Blacks and Latinos are also more likely to be searched. DOJ reports Black drivers at traffic stops were searched by police three times more often and Hispanic drivers two times more often than white drivers. A large research study in Kansas City found when police decided to pull over cars for investigatory stops, where officers look into the car’s interior, ask probing questions and even search the car, the race of the driver was a clear indicator of who was going to be stopped: 28 percent of young Black males twenty five or younger were stopped in a year’s time, versus white men who had 12 percent chance and white women only a seven percent chance. In fact, not until Black men reach 50 years old do their rate of police stops for this kind of treatment dip below those of white men twenty five and under.

Six. Traffic tickets are big business. And even if most people do not go directly to jail for traffic tickets, poor people are hit the worst by these ticket systems. As we saw with Ferguson where some of the towns in St. Louis receive 40 percent or more of their city revenues from traffic tickets, tickets are money makers for towns.

Posted in jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Prosecutors, racial justice, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 8 Comments »

CA Senate Approves Bill to Limit Solitary for Locked-Up Kids

June 3rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BILL TO PUT HUGE LIMITATIONS ON WHEN KIDS CAN BE PUT IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT MAKES IT PAST CA SENATE

On Tuesday, the California Senate approved SB 124, a bill to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in state and county juvenile correctional facilities. Next, the bill will head to Assembly policy committees. If SB 124, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, makes it past the Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, California will join 19 other states that ban the use of solitary confinement as punishment for locked up kids.

“We applaud members of the Senate for their leadership in voting for SB 124 to protect our incarcerated youth from the trauma of solitary confinement,” said Alex M. Johnson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California, one of the four groups co-sponsoring the bill. (The others are the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the California Public Defenders Association, and the Youth Justice Coalition.)

Specifically, the bill would ban isolating kids except in extreme circumstances in which a kid poses a serious threat to staff or others, and when all other alternatives have not worked. The bill would also clearly define solitary confinement as “involuntary placement” in isolation away from people who are not staff or attorneys. Kids would also only stay in solitary for the least amount of time needed to handle the safety risk.

Last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed Supe. Sheila Kuehl’s motion to back the important bill. (Read more about that here.)

Posted in Juvenile Probation, solitary | 1 Comment »

What Happens When Predictive Analytics Enters the World of Child Protection?….How Do You Define a Gang Member?……The LAPD & the Guardian’s Count

June 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WHERE ABUSED CHILDREN MEET THE WORLD OF PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS AND BIG DATA

Much has rightly been made of the unbearably tragic child deaths in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state, at the hands of those who should have kept them safe, deaths like that of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez. To refresh your memory, when paramedics showed up at Gabriel’s mother’s home in May 2013, they found the little boy with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, bruises and burns in too many places to count, and his mouth absent two of his teeth. BB pellets were embedded in his lungs and his groin.

Both LA County’s Department of Children Services and the LA County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints that Gabriel was being abused. But somehow nobody acted. And the two-agency non-action resulted in the torture and violent death of an eight-year-old.

Yet, there are other documented cases where DCFS seems to act too quickly, yanking kids out of less-than-ideal but non-dangerous homes and putting them through encounters with the foster care system that were, at best, traumatic and, at worst, deeply damaging.

So how does one tell the difference? Certainly, in some cases, it seems that a modicum of caring attention and common sense would have helped. But in others, the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

Some counties and states around the nation think they might have found at least part of the answer in the realm of what numbers geeks call predictive analytics.

Take for example, the case of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, which had nine child deaths in the state’s Hillsborough County area between 2009 and 2012. All of the kids were under three years old, and all but one were killed by either a parent or paramour.

At the time, the region’s child protective services were contracted out, at a cost of $65.5 million a year, to private youth services agency called Hillsborough Kids.

Florida dumped Hillsborough Kids, bumped up the budget for social workers and, perhaps most significantly, Florida officials contracted to use a new decision-making tool to help the agency prioritize calls of suspected child abuse. It is called Rapid Safety Feedback.

Darian Woods, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at where predictive analytics has entered the world of child protection, who is involved, and what that entry could mean in terms of the future safety of kids.

Here’s a clip:

So in 2012, the department made changes. It commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the data behind the child deaths that were concentrated in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kids lost out on the $65.5 million contract and went into liquidation. A private youth services agency, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, was selected by the department to take care of approximately 2,900 abused children in Hillsborough County. The next year, Florida Governor Rick Scott boosted funding for new social workers. Perhaps most radically, a new decision-making tool called Rapid Safety Feedback was introduced in the county.

Rapid Safety Feedback uses — in the parlance of big data crunchers and, increasingly, social scientists — predictive analytics to prioritize calls of suspected child abuse.

Predictive analytics in child protective services means assigning suspected abuse cases to different risk levels based on characteristics that have been found to be linked with child abuse. These risk levels can automatically revise as administrative data is updated. Administrative data may be as simple as school reports or could delve deeper into other information that the state holds: the parents’ welfare checks, new criminal offenses or changing marital status.

Combining predictive analytics with more investigators seems to be producing results in Hillsborough County. According to Eckerd, who also holds contracts in Pasco and Pinellas counties, since it took over the contract in 2012, the quality of reviews has improved 30 percent. There is a significant increase in completed documentation by caseworkers. There have also been zero child homicides in the county since the handover.

LA County is one of the counties that is looking hard at the use of predictive analytics, but they are less positive that big data can solve the problem.


HUMAN JUDGEMENT VERSUS THE MACHINE: CAN SAVVY PEOPLE KEEP KIDS SAFER THAN PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS? OR IS BIG DATA THE ANSWER?

Holden Slattery, also writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, looks further into what LA County is doing as it “struggles to strike the right balance between human judgement and increasingly sophisticated predictive tools when determining the risk that a child will be abused.”

Here’s how Slattery’s story opens:

On weekdays, calls to Los Angeles County’s child abuse hotline reach their peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.—right after school. On average, 70 to 80 calls about child maltreatment in Los Angeles County reach the hotline per hour during that span, according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the agency charged with responding to alleged abuse.

There are about 85 social workers manning the phones at any given time. They ask callers to explain how child abuse or neglect took place.

The number of calls made to the largest child welfare system in the United States creeps up each year, said Carlos Torres, an assistant regional manager for the DCFS hotline. In 2014, the hotline received 220,000 calls, he said.

After listening and marking down answers on a computer program, the social workers decide whether a situation meets the criteria for an in-person response. They also decide whether DCFS should respond by the end of their current shift, within 24 hours, or within five days, Torres said.

These decisions, based on small bits of information shared by a caller, determine where DCFS directs its limited human resources. DCFS responds with an in-person investigation to 35 percent of the calls, Torres said. In these cases, a social worker drives to the home, interviews the family, gathers information, and enters his or her findings into a web-based decision-making tool, which, like a questionnaire that an insurance company gives to prospective clients, estimates risk; in this case, risk that a child will be abused.

When everything goes right, DCFS can save a child from harm. When something goes wrong, the result can be heartbreaking. A 2011 report on recurring systemic issues that led to child deaths in Los Angeles County put the onus largely on flawed investigations and problems with the decision-making tool employed. In the search for solutions, public officials have looked toward new technologies, such as analytics software used primarily by private companies, to see if that can keep more children out of harm’s way. As public officials make these kinds of inquiries, in Los Angeles County and across the globe, they confront the conundrum of human judgement versus machine. Some say technological advances hold the answers, while others say that only savvy people are up to the task.

Slattery notes that a number of experts cite research that suggests all this predictive analytics isn’t particularly effective when it comes to assessing if a kid is safe or not.

In any case, read on.


IS IT TIME TO REFORM CALIFORNIA’S “STEP ACT?”

One night in January 1988, rival gang members were shooting each other on the streets of Westwood and mistakenly hit and killed a young woman named Karen Toshiba.

The murder of Karen Toshiba became a flashpoint, as such tragic deaths often do, and 1988 became the year the so-called war on gangs was declared in Los Angeles and, in Sacramento, the state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code.

Among its other functions, the the STEP Act imposed greater punishment for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a criminal street gang. In the beginning, the sentencing “enhancements” were no more than a few years. But it 2000, crimes that were “serious” or “violent,” as defined by the California Penal Code, could be enhanced by five or ten or, in certain cases, a life sentence.

The STEP Act can be brought to bear even when a young man or woman is at the periphery of a gang, with a relationship that has more to do with where he or she lives, than any kind of actively committed or formalized association.

It has resulted in multi-decade sentences for juveniles tried as adults as a consequence of their proximity to violent acts in which they did not participate, even in cases when no one was injured.

If a so-called gang expert can successfully label a defendant as a gang member, even if he or she is not, then the enhancement can kick in, and conviction is also much more likely.

In a story by Daniel Alarcón in this week’s New York Times Magazine called “How Do You Define a Gang Member?” Alarcón
describes a case that shows the STEP Act in action.

The story has to do with a case in Modesto, California, where the primary gangs are variation on the theme of Norteño, or northerners, or Sureños—southerners.

Here’s a clip:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

But this time the defense has a gang expert of its own, a former gang member turned PhD named Jesse De La Cruz…

In any case, read on.


THE LAPD HAS THE MOST POLICE KILLINGS IN 2015 OF ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY IN THE NATION, SAYS THE GUARDIAN, WHICH HAS DECIDED TO COUNT

The Guardian newspaper has launched a project it is calling The Counted, the purpose of which is to count people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015.

It’s an interactive project, which you can find here.

Over at KPCC, Aaron Mendelson writes that, according to the Guardian’s database, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people (10), than any other law enforcement agency in the United States this year, that’s twice as many as the four law enforcement agencies, one of which is the LASD, that are in second place.

Anyway, it’s interesting so take a look, both at what KPCC has isolated from the database, and at the Guardian database itself.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, families, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 17 Comments »

Two Deputies Take Deals on Fed Jail Beatings Indictment & Abruptly Change Stories – UPDATED

June 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


One of the largest difficulties in proving cases of brutality by deputies toward inmates
in LA County’s troubled jail system is that, absent a camera, it is the word of two or three or four deputies against that of an inmate.

Even if the inmate is telling the truth, and has injuries that support his story, the deputies have traditionally almost always unfailing supported each other, going so far as to accuse the inmate of criminal wrong doing to support their reports.

Such was the case with the four deputies and one sergeant who were indicted in December 2013 for the cluster of alleged beat downs and brutalizing of visitors to Men’s Central Jail. The case is set to come to trial later this month.

But while the case (known, for short, as U.S. v. Gonzalez) involves accusations of brutality in the LA County jail system, as mentioned above, the alleged abuse was not visited on inmates, but on family and friends who came to visit jail inmates. And it wasn’t one instance, but a series of incidents that involved the same five people, four deputies and one supervisor.

The events described in the charges include the alleged abuse of five different visitors to the jail, in one instance, the bizarre manhandling of an Austrian consular official who, by the way, had diplomatic immunity.

Prominent among the incidents named is the the beating of Gabriel Carrillo, allegedly when Carrillo was in handcuffs and not resisting the officers, after Carrillo had come to the jail to visit his brother.

(Arresting officers had also reportedly beat up the brother. But that’s another story altogether.)

The indictment involving the visitors’ center differs from the other federal indictments alleging abuse inside the LA County jails in that there were civilian witnesses to at least some part of the defendants’ actions. Recently, however, the case gained a pair of very large advantages when two of the indicted deputies abruptly changed their descriptions of events in the process of making deals with the feds.

Joel Rubin at the LA Times broke the story of the deputies’ deals, which are thought to be in return for likely no prison time (although the judge could modify the no-prison part of the deal).

Here’ s clip from Rubin’s story:

Under the terms of the agreement he signed last week, Deputy Noel Womack gave prosecutors a new version of the violent 2011 encounter in a windowless, secluded room in the Men’s Central Jail facility. Deputies, he said, beat the jail visitor even though the man was handcuffed and not resisting as he was held on the floor, according to a copy of the agreement reviewed by The Times.

Womack has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge that he lied to FBI agents during an interview last month when he told them he did not know if the visitor was handcuffed, the agreement said. He admitted to lying again when he told the agents his supervisor had ordered him to punch the man and a third time when he said the strikes he inflicted on the man had been necessary, the agreement said.

The second deputy, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, entered a guilty plea earlier this year, court records show. The agreement between prosecutors and Zunggeemoge, who faced several allegations of abuse and dishonesty, was sealed by U.S. District Judge George H. King, keeping its details secret.

[SNIP]

The plea agreements mark the first time in the last two decades that a sheriff’s deputy has been convicted in federal court of crimes related to excessive force, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said. Last year, the office secured convictions against seven sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing the FBI’s investigation into claims of brutality by deputies in the jail.

A Rubin wrote, one of the deals is sealed by the court, but there is some paperwork for the other indicating the changes in the deputies’ stories, in particular the admission that Carrillo was, in fact, handcuffed and non-resistant.

This should be a very interesting trial, involving as it does what the indictment describes as a supervisor—namely former LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez—who allegedly created an environment where abuse could flourish. Gonzalez, states the indictment, “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if those visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’” the deputies through words or conduct.

Gonzalez would also reportedly “encourage” deputies under his command “to make unlawful arrests, engage in unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force.”

He allegedly “praised overly-aggressive behavior” by his deputies, and “criticized” those who were not aggressive enough.

Again, these were not inmates against whom the behavior was aimed, but visitors.

And, although it has no real legal bearing on the case, it might be instructive to note that, on Thursday of last week, Carillo’s lawyer, Ron Kaye, announced that his client is being paid nearly $1.2 million by the county to settle his civil rights lawsuit.


NOTE: This story was updated on Monday afternoon, June 1, 2015.

Posted in FBI, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 47 Comments »

The Power of “Freedom Schools” to be in 7 Juvenile Probation Camps in Alameda & LA Counties, But Will Probation Staff Fully Buy In?

June 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Freedom School Program Liberates Kids in Probation Camp from Mark Ridley-Thomas on Vimeo.

This summer, the kids in seven California juvenile probation camps located in LA and Alameda counties will experience something called Freedom School—a combination literacy enrichment program and self-esteem building strategy that is the brain child of the Children’s Defense Fund.

For decades, Freedom school has been used to improve literacy and a love of learning for kids in communities around the nation, through the use of some unique strategies including a sort of noisy, high-energy pep rally called the Harambee (Swahili for Let’s Pull Together) that occurs at the beginning of each school session.

Eight years ago, CDF brought the program to juvenile justice facilities in four states: Minnesota, Texas, Maryland, and New York. Then, in the summer of 2013, with the sponsorship of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Probation agreed to try out Freedom School in two of the county’s juvenile probation camps on a pilot basis—Fred C. Miller Camp in the hills of Malibu and Afflerbaugh Camp in the LaVerne.

Although there was initial resistance from some of the probation staff at the LA camps, particularly during the morning Harambee—which featured cheering, singing, energetic jumping and dancing—the two-camp pilot was deemed a success.

When a team from UCLA, USC and Vital Research evaluated the before and after effect of Freedom School on the camps probationers in the two camps, researchers found that the kids’ reading scores went up an average of 51 points. Their love of/interest in reading increased as well, as did their own anecdotal ratings of their reading ability.

But, the researchers noted that one of the areas was in need of improvement. There was a lack of “buy-in,” they said, by many of the probation officers in the two camps. “The role of Probation Officers was observed as being limited…only sticking to their traditional roles of disciplining and monitoring students,” wrote the evaluators.

More specifically, although some of the staff seemed to embrace the program, others declined to participate in any of the group activities and instead stood off to the side frowning, barking at kids for minor pretexts.

With the idea of improving staff “buy-in,” in preparation for this summer’s expanded Freedom School, the California Children’s Defense Fund (CA-CDF) brought a larger than ever group of probation officers, teachers and others involved in the program, to the week-long preparatory, Harambee-heavy training that began over the weekend in Knoxville, TN, and which featured superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson as one of the weekend’s kick-off speakers.

And this year, the event in Knoxville includes special juvenile justice training sessions, during which those working with the programs inside youth justice facilities can exchange ideas.

“In the CDF Freedom Schools program children learn to fall in love with reading and are engaged in activities that develop their minds and bodies and nurture their spirits,” said Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “The children are encouraged to dream about college and set goals for themselves, and for many of them, the program is a life-changing experience.”

The same appeared to be true in 2013 for many of the kids at LA County’s Camps Afflerbaugh and Miller.

“I used to get Ds and Fs in school,” said one sixteen-year-old who participated in the Freedom School pilot at Camp Afflerbaugh. “Now I want my family to know I get Bs and Cs. And I want to go to college and become a counselor so I can help other kids learn how to read.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

Moving Away from Solitary Confinement in LA and CA – UPDATED….Bills, Bills, Bills….Mental Illness….and LYRIC

May 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

ADVOCATES AND OTHERS WHO WERE HELD IN SOLITARY AS KIDS PRAISE LA COUNTY SUPES FOR SUPPORTING CA BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support CA Sen. Mark Leno’s important bill to limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities.

In the days immediately following, various advocates, some of whom had personally experienced the trauma of solitary confinement as kids, praised the board’s decision to back the measure.

Sheila Kuehl, authored the motion, which was co-sponsored by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth Justice Coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, and the CA Public Defender’s Association. In response to the positive vote, Kuehl said, “I’m proud to be part of this rehabilitative movement working to change our treatment of incarcerated youth, and want to thank my fellow Supes for joining with me on this critically important issue.”

In her motion, Supervisor Kuehl said the board’s hope is that the county will set a precedent—the “LA Model”—at both the state and national levels by overhauling the way LA County supervises the 1,200 kids in its juvenile detention facilities. As the first step in that model, Kuehl points to the $48 million transformation of the dilapidated Camp David Kilpatrick, now under construction, that will turn it into a facility focused on “relationship-building, trauma informed care, positive youth development, small and therapeutic group settings, quality education, properly trained staff, a relational approach to supervision and an integrated group treatment model.”

An overuse of solitary confinement is not in keeping with the rehabilitative focus of the LA Model, thus the Supes have moved to support Sen. Leno’s proposed legislation.

Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California said that the support of the supervisors for Leno’s bill “moves the state one step closer to ending the use of solitary confinement for youth in California,” and helps “to ensure that youth in L.A. County and across the state receive the healing and rehabilitation they need to succeed rather than be re-traumatized.”

Specifically, the bill would ban isolating kids except in extreme circumstances in which a kid poses a serious threat to staff or others, and when all other alternatives have not worked. The bill would also clearly define solitary confinement as “involuntary placement” in isolation away from people who are not staff or attorneys. Kids would also only stay in solitary for the least amount of time needed to handle the safety risk.

Francisco Martinez, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition described solitary confinement as “horrible – like an animal in a cage.” Martinez lived through solitary confinement at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA. “The conditions were a small, dirty concrete room,” he said. Food, dirt, and spit covered the walls and windows, and the mattress was i, according to Martinez. “We were kept in our boxers with a tee shirt and socks, and a thin blanket.” Martinez said the air conditioning, which blew 24-7, “was even worse for me, because I have asthma. I had shortness of breath when I woke up until I went to sleep.”

The passage of Sen. Leno’s bill, say advocates, would be meaningful not only for the kids who are locked away in isolation, but also for their loved ones on the outside, the family members to whom they return, often more damaged than before their incarceration.

“My godson was incarcerated for almost 10 years since the age of 15. His time in solitary confinement hurt him the most, and I was worried the damage would be permanent,” said LaNita Mitchell, board member of the Ella Baker Center. “Our children need help, not torture.”

“Troubled youth need treatment, not isolation,” said Sen. Leno. ““Deliberately depriving incarcerated young people of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air is inhumane and can have devastating psychological effects for these youth, who are already vulnerable to depression and suicide.”

The LA Supervisors’ move came one week after the Contra Costa County Probation Department agreed to ban solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, as part of a groundbreaking settlement.


CA ASSEMBLY TAKES ACTION ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE BILLS

On Thursday, the California Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees took action on a number of weighty criminal justice and foster care bills.

Among other noteworthy justice-related bills, the Assembly Committee addressed measures that aimed to reverse portions of California’s Prop 47—the reclassification of certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.

AB 150 by Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elisnore) which would have bumped gun theft back up to a felony, was blocked, while SB 333 by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), a bill to reinstate the felony classification to the possession of date rape drugs, was sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

Three bills addressing the state’s over-drugging of foster kids made it out of the Senate Committee alive: SB 238 from Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-LA), which would require the state to collect data on how many kids in foster care are prescribed psychotropic (and other potentially dangerous) meds; SB 319 by Sen. Jim Beall, which would establish a monitoring system for public heath nurses to oversee foster kids who have been given psychotropic drugs; and SB 484, also by Beall, which would make the state identify and inspect foster care group homes in which kids are being over-drugged, and create drug reduction plans for those homes.

Other bills that advanced Thursday, and are worth tracking:

AB 1056 by Assemblymember Toni Atkins would use money saved by Prop 47 to house former offenders through the “Second Chance Program for Community Re-entry.”

SB 674 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, (D-LA) would require cops to issue certificates to immigrant victims of crime who have aided law enforcement during investigations. Those certificates could then be used by immigrants to avoid being deported.


MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE AGE OF MASS INCARCERATION

The Sacramento Bee’s Daniel Weintraub has an interesting profile of MacArthur Genius Elyn Saks, a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at USC, in the midst of her own battle with schizophrenia, has become a champion for the mentally ill, fighting against the criminalization of people with mental illness, and pushing for legislation that brings treatment to the community level.

Here’s a clip from Weintraub’s story:

“Everything about my past says I shouldn’t be here,” Saks says.

But here she is – a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California. She is a researcher, an author and the recipient of a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

Thirty-five years ago, however, Saks was first-year law student at Yale University suffering a terrifying mental breakdown. Studying with friends one night, she started speaking gibberish and singing the Florida “sunshine song.” Then she withdrew inside herself.

That episode eventually landed her in the emergency room and led to five months in a psychiatric hospital. She was placed under restraints for up to 20 hours at a time. Her doctors described her prognosis as “grave.” Some expected her to live out her life in board and care homes, doing menial jobs – or living on the streets.

But with the help of a few close friends, her family, regular therapy and medication, Saks held her life together, and then some.

Her experience led her to become a leading opponent of the use of force to control people with mental illness, a practice she says is largely unnecessary. She also believes it is dehumanizing and probably counterproductive, because it keeps many people from seeking the care they need.

The first time she was “retrained,” Saks said, a sound she had never heard came out of her mouth: “It was a half-groan, half-scream, barely human and pure terror.”

In an op-ed for CNN, Newt Gingrich and Van Jones lay out the ways incarcerating mentally ill Americans does a colossal disservice to taxpayers, cops, and, of course, the mentally ill, and stress the importance of identifying and implementing research-based strategies to keep people with mental illness out of jails and prisons.

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed. Van Jones is a former presidential advisor and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

America’s approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes — locking them up without addressing the problem — is a solution straight out of the 1800s.

When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn’t replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails…

Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With 2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago…

Cycling [the mentally ill] through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who’ve committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.

The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.

Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE PROGRAM TO TEACH KIDS THEIR RIGHTS WHEN INTERACTING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT

Alameda County Public Defender’s Office recently visited an 11th grade class at Oakland Technical High School to teach them the things they should say and do (and things they should not say and do) when stopped by law enforcement. The purpose of the Public Defender’s Office’s unique program, Learn Your Rights in California (LYRIC), is to make sure young people of color—many of whom have been stopped by officers before—are aware of their rights, and to help them have better interactions with cops. The public defenders taught the Oakland Tech students through role-play and skits in addition to a thorough Q&A session.

KQED’s Sara Hossaini has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Good morning, My name is Brendon Woods, Jennie’s boss,” Woods says, introducing himself to the class as Alameda County’s first African-American public defender.

“We’re here to talk to you about L.Y.R.I.C.”

He tells the class of mostly black and brown students that the L.Y.R.I.C. program stands for Learn Your Rights in California. He says it’s something that has personal meaning for him.

“Because when I was your guys’ age, I got stopped and harassed all the time,” Woods explains. “And it’s important for me to make sure that you guys know your rights and are able to assert them.”

Deputy Assistant Public Defender Jennie Otis hopes that helps keep kids out of the system.

“I think it plays many roles,” Otis says. “One is hopefully to reduce our clientele.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Foster Care, Mental Illness, racial justice, Reentry, solitary | No Comments »

LA County Selected for 1st Round of MacArthur $75 Million Jail Reform Challenge (This is a Very Good Thing)….& Holding on to Humanity at Pelican Bay

May 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY ONE OF 20 SELECTED OUT OF 200 ENTRANTS IN $75 MILLION NATIONAL CHALLENGE TO REFORM U.S. JAILS

On Monday, Los Angeles County received news that it has been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation that will take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

This is very good news.

The 20 areas selected for this first phase of the challenge include New York City, New Orleans, LA, Pima County, AZ, Harris County, TX, Pennington County, SD, and the entire state of Connecticut. (Full list below.) The idea is for these cities and counties (and one state) to be mentored by the nation’s experts in such things through the process of creating and refining a plan to reform their respective jail systems.

Then in phase two of the Justice Challenge, the 20 jurisdictions, will be whittled down to ten. Those fortunate ten will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement their respective plans for reform.

In other words, those who are part of the 20 are, by their participation, committed to a real, no-kidding substantive plan for jail reform, which will include strategies to reduce the jail system’s population and more. Then if they’re chosen to be one of the ten, they’re committed to implementing that plan, and will get an infusion of cash to better make that implementation possible.

(The 20 that were recently selected have jails systems that range in size from 239 beds in Mesa County to LA County’s 21,951 bed system, so for the second phase, the yearly funding for the remaining ten, will depend on the size of the jurisdiction’s jail system.)

According to MacArthur, the criminal justice organizations that will provide “technical assistance and counsel” to the 20 jurisdictions as they design and prepare their “comprehensive plans for local reform” are the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

The Vera institute of Justice in particular, has been deeply involved in MacArthur’s jail reform initiative with two MacArthur-funded studies released this year that both illuminate problems in the nation’s jail systems and point toward the way toward solutions.

For instance, we learned from this month’s study by Vera that U.S. jails are draining a lot more dollars from our public coffers than most people think. And in February of this year, another Vera study, Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, showed the ways that the nation’s jail policies can do harm.

Vera’s February study makes clear that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

Yet, according to what the study’s authors found, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report states, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

It is these problems and others that the Justice Challenge of which LA County is now a part hopes to help cure.

The fact that jails can do harm is, of course, a fact with which LA is very familiar, what with the scathing report on our jails delivered in September 2012 by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, the looming federal consent decree pertaining to the way the mentally ill are treated in LA’s jails, and the recent landmark settlement of “Rosas v. Baca,” the giant federal class action lawsuit brought by the So-Cal ACLU that has resulted in a court enforceable roadmap to correct the use of force policies inside the jail that led to a pattern of brutality by sheriffs deputies against inmates.

Back in February, when the challenge was first announced we spoke to one of the MacArthur people, and also to one of the Vera study authors, both of whom said they hoped very much that LA County—the home of the nation’s largest jail system—would be one of those jurisdictions that applied.

To its credit LA County—which, in this instance, means the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departmentdid apply and, as we know now, was selected.

We look forward to hearing about LA’s strategy for reform of its massive system as that plan evolves.

And, of course, but we cannot help but hope that LA will be one of the final ten that get MacArthur bucks to put their stellar plans into action.

The full list of jurisdictions selected for the first round of Justice Challenge is as follows:

· Ada County, ID
· Charleston County, SC
· Cook County, IL
· Harris County, TX
· Los Angeles County, CA
· Lucas County, OH
· Mecklenburg County, NC
· Mesa County, CO
· Milwaukee County, WI
· Multnomah County, OR
· New Orleans, LA
· New York City, NY
· Palm Beach County, FL
· Pennington County, SD
· Philadelphia, PA
· Pima County, AZ
· St. Louis County, MO
· Shelby County, TN
· Spokane County, WA
· State of Connecticut


AND IN OTHER NEWS…..A USC DEAN OF SOCIAL WORK ENCOUNTERS MEN WORKING HARD TO HOLD ON TO HUMANITY IN CALIFORNIA’S PELICAN BAY PRISON

In the Chronicle of Social Change, Wendy Smith, an Associate Dean and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work has written an extraordinary story about her trip to Pelican Bay Prison to meet with men who were incarcerated for crimes they’d committed as teenagers.

Smith traveled to Pelican Bay with a group of lawyers, advocates, and law students with the purpose of talking to 250 of these inmates convicted as juveniles about California’s Senate Bill 260, a law passed and signed in 2013, which allows youth offenders given life sentences, the possibility of a new type of parole hearing at their 15th, 20th or 25th year of incarceration.

But the trip was much more than simply an imparting of information. In many instances, it was a walk back into humanity with men who were terrified that humanity was lost to them.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole thing. It’s more than worth it.

During the small groups, we learned that some men had not been to the visiting room to receive a visitor for a long time; some had never been there. Some had exchanged no conversation with anyone but another prisoner or a guard in months or years. During the groups, described in the evaluations by many as the best part of the workshops, some men spoke and asked questions readily; others did not speak at all.

In the insight groups, some struggled with the distinction between excuses and explanations of crime, wondering if there was one. We spoke of examining and reflecting on the people and events in their early lives, and the environments in which they grew up as steps along the road that led to the crime and to where they are now.

Several men recognized aloud that they did not know how to begin this work. They wondered if there could be someone to ask the questions that could help them see into their own lives, to see the boy who was and the man who might yet be. Hope had entered the room, bringing with it fear and worry about how to make a turn from habitual ways of feeling and being, and especially, how to conceive of such a turn without help.

And then here’s a section from her meeting with men in solitary:

I told them that their crime was not the total of the person they were, and asked them to try to remember the very first illegal act they ever committed. In a moment or two, they all did. Most told me they were eight, nine, 10, or 11 at the time. A few were five or six, and a few were teenagers. All were old enough to remember a self that existed before that first act. I asked them to remember the boys they were before the crime.

We talked about how to begin to remember and piece together what happened after that, trying to dig deep to include the many steps along the road to the moment of a crime, and the decisions they made at the time and since. We acknowledged together the difficulty and shame of thinking and talking about their crimes.

In the SHU, as in the general population the day before, many men told me that they wished there were someone they could speak with on a regular basis to be able to do this work—they could not imagine how they would be able to do it. Some believed their inability to put things into words would make it impossible, now and at any parole hearing in the future.

Our conversations were brief and constantly interrupted by movement – our own as we rotated among the groups, and those of the guards and inmates, as bathroom trips and meal and water deliveries were made, as men were taken back to their cells and new groups of men were brought in.

Somehow, amid the locking and unlocking of cells and cuffs, and the congestion in narrow halls crowded with our group and guards, conversations continued. It became clear that for many of these men, we were the first people other than prison personnel or other inmates that they had spoken with in years. Some were nevertheless able to engage with little apparent difficulty, asking questions, enjoying the opportunity to interact with us.

For others, speech came slowly or not at all, and for some, even eye contact was too much to manage. These men spend all their time alone, in their cells or in the exercise area. The solitude of their confinement is absolute. Many had been there for five or ten years. Some had been there 20 years or more.

One man had spent the previous four months “debriefing,” telling what he knew about the gang life he had decided to renounce. Debriefing is the primary avenue by which inmates can obtain transfer out of solitary confinement. It is dangerous, as gang members often retaliate when someone leaves.

Those who debrief must be isolated from other inmates and their locations kept secret. For this reason, each of us met individually with this man in a separate visiting corridor. It was a relief to have the relative quiet of this space and a full twenty minutes in which my focus could be undivided.

He had been incarcerated at 17, already the father of two very young children. Now he is 41 and a grandfather. We spoke little about his crimes—he lived the gang life both before and during his imprisonment—but rather about the rocky course of his marriage over many years and how his wife helped him to get sober and to find the religious faith that strengthened his will to leave the gang life.

His eyes filled as he described his hopes for the future and his pain over how he had lived his life. Only lately had he begun to understand the impact of events of his early life: the loss of his baby brother, his mother’s wild grief that led her to cruelly abuse him, habitually pouring scalding water over his hands and body.

We wept together. There was much more he needed to say, but already the next advocate was waiting to meet and speak with him, and another group of inmates waited around the corner for me. It was awful to leave him with only the hope that he had found comfort in the humanity of those few shared moments….

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

The 22-Hour Standoff, Sentencing Videos, and a Promising Housing Program in SF

May 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD 22-HOUR STANDOFF WITH ELDERLY WOMAN A MODEL FOR HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERACTIONS WITH THE MENTALLY ILL CAN GO RIGHT

Last Thursday, beginning at 5:30a.m. in a mobile home park on the 4200 block of Topanga Blvd., a mentally ill 74-year-old woman armed with a revolver engaged members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in an intense standoff that lasted more than 20 hours.

On Tuesday, LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell called a press conference to lay out the details of the crisis situation, which would have tested “the resolve, training and tactics of any law enforcement agency.”

The woman reportedly brandished the gun at paramedics and officers who had responded to her distress call, as well as mobile home park residents (who were quickly evacuated), before taking over a neighboring mobile home. The LASD sent in its Crisis Negotiations Team, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” commanding officers, and special equipment.

The raving elderly woman reportedly shot at a robot sent in to negotiate with her, as well as at officers during the standoff. At one point, the woman approached officers, saying she had lost her gun, before pulling it out and firing two rounds.

Sheriff McDonnell said the incident “provided rare insight in to the continuum of decisions that our deputies make in life or death situations…decisions that balance the need for control in the name of public safety…with the safety and welfare of an individual.”

Officers deployed a great deal of less-than-lethal resources, including foam projectiles, tear gas, and even a fire hose, all of which failed to subdue the woman. Despite believing the woman had at least one live round left, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” stripped out of their gear, helmets, and vests. Five Blue Team members very carefully crawled under the house, and were able to take the woman into custody—all at great danger to the unarmed officers.

McDonnell praised the officers’ skillful handling of a situation that could have easily ended in tragedy. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that the SWAT team was ‘held at bay,’” said McDonnell. “The Special Enforcement Bureau’s SWAT team held themselves at bay of out an overriding desire to end the incident without having to resort to using deadly force.”

Sons of the elderly woman, who they said had never been in trouble or caused any disturbances before, expressed deep gratitude to the members of the Lost Hills Station and SWAT team: “…everyone we came into contact with exhibited the utmost in compassion, concern, patience, discipline  and restraint: for the residents of the mobile park, their fellow officers, our family and most importantly, for an elderly woman in need of help.”


SENTENCING VIDEOS BRING DEFENDANTS HUMANNESS INTO THE COURTROOM, BUT WILL THE COST KEEP THEM OUT OF REACH FOR POOR DEFENDANTS?

It is becoming increasingly more common for defense lawyers to submit mini biographical documentaries during sentencing. The new defense tool, commonly called a “sentencing video” focuses on a defendant’s history, hardships and traumas, and potential, in an effort to humanize defendants and sway judges toward handing down lighter punishment.

Advocates are concerned, however, that as the trend grows, the use of often-costly sentencing videos will not be possible for indigent defendants using public defenders.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice non-profit, seeks to level the playing field.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has the story. Here’s a clip:

Even in cities with robust public defense programs, like New York, lawyers may be handling as many as 100 cases at once, and they say there is little room to add shooting and editing videos to their schedules.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that public defenders could possibly spare the time to do that,” said Josh Saunders, who until recently was a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, adding that lawyers there are often physically in court for the entire workday. He sees the humanizing potential of videos, he said, but “I would also be concerned that defendants with means would be able to put together a really nice package that my clients generally would not be able to.”

Mr. Jayadev’s nonprofit, Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice group and community center in San Jose, Calif., believes that videos are a new frontier in helping poor defendants, and is not only making videos but also encouraging defense lawyers nationwide to do the same. The group has made about 20 biographical videos for defendants, one featuring footage of the parking lot where a homeless teenage defendant grew up. With a $30,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation, De-Bug is now training public defenders around the country.

Given that a defendant has a right to speak at sentencing, a video is on solid legal ground, said Walter Dickey, emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, “though the judge can obviously limit what’s offered.” Professor Dickey said that because, at both the state and federal levels, the lengths of sentences are increasingly up to judges rather than mandated by statute, it followed that videos that “speak to the discretionary part” of sentencing were having a bigger role.

Mr. Jayadev takes a standard approach to his projects: The producers identify the defendant’s past hardships and future prospects, then select supporters or family members to describe those, usually in a visual context, like a pastor in a church pew. Mr. Jayadev said he found it was more natural to have the defendant talking to someone off-screen, rather than staring at the camera.

For Mr. Quijada, “this story is around this young man’s transformation from a life that had sort of run its course,” Mr. Jayadev said.


A COLLABORATIVE SF PROGRAM TO PROVIDE FORMER OFFENDERS WITH FREE HOUSING AND REHABILITATION SERVICES TO HELP THEM GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

Forty-two recently released low-level former offenders and more serious offenders who are currently on probation will soon move into their own studio apartments at Drake Hotel in the heart of San Francisco. Through a united effort between the SF Superior Court, Probation Department, and Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a single-occupancy hotel is being transformed to specifically house homeless former offenders who struggle with addiction.

The move is particularly meaningful in a city where the average apartment runs $3,458 per month. The goal of the housing program, which is funded with realignment money, is to help tenants find permanent housing within one year of living at the Drake Hotel.

Tenants will be given a set of responsibilities and a curfew and will be paired with case managers who will help them access public benefits and save up for a deposit and first month’s rent on their own apartment.

The SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight has more on the program. Here are some clips:

…asked why criminals should get free housing in San Francisco when law-abiding low-income and even middle-class families struggle to afford apartments, court officials seemed to be caught off guard.

“The kind of housing these folks are getting is not something to be envious of, honestly. It’s just a room,” said Lisa Lightman, director of the Superior Court’s collaborative courts, which include special courts for drug-addicted people and mentally ill people and the Community Justice Center, which handles low-level crimes committed in the Tenderloin.

Asked the same question, Krista Gaeta, deputy director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said the public will benefit if people who have committed crimes are living in decent housing and provided case management.

“You can’t let someone out of jail, give them $5 and say, ‘Good luck,’” she said. “The better plan is to do things like this so they can go out and get permanent housing, find work and not commit the crimes that got them in trouble in the first place.”

[SNIP]

Fletcher said it has become increasingly difficult to help people on probation in San Francisco find any sort of housing because of the city’s sky-high rents. Last month, San Francisco landlords with available apartments were asking a record average rent of $3,458 a month.

The Drake Hotel will specifically serve people on probation who are homeless and are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The facility will be considered a clean and sober building, but tenants won’t be evicted for having relapses, Fletcher said.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

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