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Summer Jobs Curb Teen Violence, Survey of Foster Kids Nearing Adulthood, a New Jail, and How Cops React to Scandal

December 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHICAGO TEENS’ VIOLENT CRIME RATE GETS CUT NEARLY IN HALF AFTER SUMMER JOB PROGRAM

For the last few years, the City of Chicago has provided thousands of disadvantaged kids with summer jobs in the hopes of reducing crime.

The One Summer Plus program provides kids with part-time work for eight weeks and pairs them with an adult mentor to help break down barriers to future jobs.

This year, the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania ran the numbers to see if (and how well) the program was working to divert kids from violent crime.

The study took 1,634 teens from 13 high-violence neighborhoods in Chicago and split them into three groups: kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (25 hours a week), kids that were to receive part-time summer employment (15 hours a week) as well as a cognitive behavioral therapy component, and kids who were to receive neither.

The study found that One Summer Plus reduced teens’ violent crime arrests by a whopping 43% over 16 months. And that reduction happened, for the most part, in the months after the program had ended. The positive effect was equal in both groups—those who were given part-time work only, and those who were given the combination of work and the emotional learning element.

Here’s a clip from the University of Chicago’s website:

This research comes as youth employment in the summer months, when teenagers are most likely to work, is near a 60-year low. The challenges facing minority and low-income youth are particularly stark; the 2010 employment rate for low-income black teens in Illinois was less than one-fourth the rate for higher-income white teens: 9 percent vs. 39 percent.

Study author Sara Heller, PhD‘13, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that acts of violence kill almost 150 people daily in the United States, and injure more than 6,000—a level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a public health crisis. Individuals ages 10 to 24 are twice as likely as adults to be victims or perpetrators of violence, and the problem is concentrated among disadvantaged minority youth. Joblessness has been identified by experts as one of the major causes of these racial violence disparities.

[SNIP]

“The city of Chicago was courageous enough to put its One Summer Plus program to the test, and turns out that just eight weeks of summer programming decreases violent crime arrests by a huge amount for over a year after the job ends,” said Heller. “This is an incredibly encouraging finding.”

Heller noted that the decline occurred largely after the eight-week summer job program ended, indicating that the program did not just keep youth busier over the summer: It changed their behavior after the job had ended as well.

Previous youth employment programs have targeted young adults who have dropped out of school and are struggling to find jobs. But intervening before the students drop out of school and helping them develop skills needed to be successful on the job, like impulse control and decision-making, might do more with less by focusing on prevention rather than remediation.

The results of this study show that when such an intervention is offered to students while they’re still in school, it does not have to be lengthy or costly to change behavior.

And this isn’t the first study to find that summer jobs significantly lower teen violence. A 2013 Northeastern University study found that after employment, fewer kids reported getting into fights or threatening or attacking someone with a gun.

An Education Week story about the Northeastern study also pointed out that last year, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti boosted funding for Hire L.A. Youth Summer Employment Program to provide jobs to 5,000 more teens.

Elsewhere in the state, San Jose has been doing an excellent job of keeping teens busy during the summer, and thus lowering gang violence, through its Safe Summer Initiative.

In LA, Homeboy Industries helps formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated young people with job training and placement, in addition to many other crucial programs and services.

“Clearly, if you ask any inner city kid what would help them, not a single one would say anything other than…job, says Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder. “It gives them a reason to get up in the morning and honest money in their pocket, and if they are even remotely ‘gang involved,’ a reason not to engage in gang activity. There are always too few summer jobs and too many hoops and too many requirements for kids to secure them.”


CHECKING IN WITH CALIFORNIA FOSTER KIDS TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD

A five-year survey (half-way through its 2012-2015 span) assessed the conditions of California foster kids nearing adulthood, specifically 16 and 17-year-olds.

Ninety percent of the 727 transition-aged kids surveyed said they feel at least “fairly optimistic” about the future, 92% have at least one person they can turn to for support, and 70% said their caregivers had been helpful overall, according to the survey conducted by University of Chicago’ Chapin Hall.

These numbers are heartening considering the fact that foster kids aging out of the system face daunting statistics.

One-third of respondents said they had dropped out of middle school or high school because of a change in foster care placement. Twenty-seven percent said they had been expelled from school. Nearly half said the highest level of education they had completed was 11th grade. Only 11% reported finishing high school. A fifth of one percent finished a year of college.

Twenty-four reported having attempted suicide. Nearly 40% reported having been arrested, and 25% said they had been locked up in a detention facility.

Twenty-six percent of the foster teen girls said they had been pregnant at least once, compared with 10% of the general population.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the study and statistics. Here’s a clip:

The study is the first part of the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study, a collaborative effort among the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, and five private foundations.

In 2010, the state passed Assembly Bill 12, which offers foster youths the option to remain in care until age 21. The bill guarantees transition-oriented options for older youths, including supervised independent living and more intensive transitional housing programs…

Researchers will re-interview the participants when they are between the ages of 19 and 21, years in which California now offers foster youths the chance to remain in care. Two-thirds of the survey participants indicated that they wanted to remain in care after age 18.

“In the next three years, the study will take a deeper look into the needs of subgroups of youth and will also compare young people’s and caseworker’s perspectives,” said Dr. Mark Courtney, who is leading this research for Chapin Hall, in a statement issued with the release of the survey. “This work will offer important guidance to California as well as other states that are extending foster care.”


SAN BERNARDINO CITY TO BUILD NEW JAIL…FOR LA COUNTY

On Wednesday, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 to move forward with building a new 3,264-bed jail, in the hopes that LA County will lease the facility and fork over some much-needed cash.

LA County has not signed a contract with the city, but private developer Doctor R. Crants says he expects to pitch the idea to the Board of Supervisors soon.

We at WLA sincerely hope that before the board signs on the dotted line for this new jail (while rebuilding and expanding Men’s Central Jail to the tune of $2 billion), they will run the numbers and figure out how much jail space LA really needs if: the county pushes for large-scale mental health diversion, increases its use of split-sentencing, and replaces a portion of economic-based bail practices with a risk-based pre-trial release.

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has the story. Here’s a clip:

…critics say the vote was premature because the city has not yet signed a contract with the county. They also question whether the county will have a need for an overflow jail facility after the passage of Proposition 47, a voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

“There will possibly be no need for the county to send innmates elsewhere,” said Christina Fialho, who heads a campaign against jail expansion in Adelanto.

County officials are still assessing how the new regulations will affect the size of its inmate population.

Several county supervisors have said they would consider leasing space in Adelanto, with Supervisor Don Knabe expressing support for the proposal.

But this week, newly elected Supervisor Hilda Solis suggested she may oppose it. Solis, who warned at her inauguration earlier this month against an “incarceration-industrial complex,” said in a statement that her priority was investing in mental health and substance abuse treatment, not new jail beds. “It is fiscally reckless to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year housing and feeding people who could be out working,” Solis said.

We agree.


FORMER POLICE UNION SPOKESMAN EXPLAINS LAW ENFORCEMENT’S SIDE OF A DEPARTMENT CRISIS

In a smart commentary for the Crime Report, Eric Rose, longtime spokesman of the Los Angeles Police Protective League who recently parted ways with the union, shares the law enforcement side of a crisis or scandal. Rose stresses the necessity of being transparent and honest with the public and media from the beginning.

Rose also explains what goes through the minds of officers and department leaders when their organization gets “lit up,” and what those leaders must do to confidently lead their rank and file through the trouble. Here’s a clip:

The reputation of every police or sheriff’s department depends on the confidence of its key stakeholders: the public, employees, the union, the media and sometimes outside government regulators. Sooner or later, virtually every law enforcement organization faces a crisis that has the potential to destroy its public reputation.

While that day is almost inevitable, it always comes as a huge shock.

No one is ever really prepared, no matter what contingency planning the organization has done. More often than not, the issue arises from an unexpected source without any prior notice.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of being responsive, credible and accurate early in the crisis. Every law enforcement organization struggles at this point with multiple anxieties that often paralyze management and labor and lead to indecision and non-communication. Hesitation, vagueness and unwillingness to factually communicate destroy credibility and plant the seeds of future disaster.

[SNIP]

The recent high-profile law enforcement events in Ferguson and New York demonstrate the contrasts in responses. In Ferguson, there was little factual response by the Police Department to the narrative being created around the shooting, ensuring that anything released when the investigation was concluded had little effect in either informing or changing minds of the public.

Without a coherent and organized response for a long period of time, subsequent events and agendas simply overwhelmed the police, and made virtually irrelevant any subsequent statement by the Police Department.

In New York, following the grand jury decision not to indict an officer in connection with the chokehold death of Eric Garner, what happened in the original incident was captured entirely on videotape. So the response did not need to concern itself with “what” happened—but how the New York Police Department (NYPD) would respond.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton was brilliant. He made himself available for national and local media, took the hard questions, and repeated calmly the procedures the department would follow after the grand Jury decision. Although the essence of what he said was not new to the media, nor to anybody who is aware of police procedure, the availability and measured response to questions has kept Bratton and his department relevant players in the fallout from the grand jury decision.

Commissioner Bratton has two terms every executive should use when getting out information quickly: “the information is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation proceeds” and “the first story (version) is never the last story (version).”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPPL, law enforcement, Violence Prevention | 1 Comment »

Two Cities on Opposite Ends of the School Discipline Spectrum, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and Drugging Foster Kids

December 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

OAKLAND LEADING THE WAY ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

In 2007, an Oakland’s first restorative justice program was piloted at a middle school. That school improved student-teacher relations and reduced suspensions by 87%. Seven years later, nearly 30 schools in Oakland follow the restorative justice model, which fosters healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers. A forthcoming report shows that from 2011-2014, the Oakland Unified School District saw suspension rates drop by 40%, while academics and graduation rates improved.

Oakland is also dedicated to implementing restorative practices in the juvenile justice system. And families, communities, and police are working together to keep kids out of lock up.

In a guest commentary for the San Jose Mercury, Fania Davis, co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, shares some of Oakland’s powerful restorative justice triumphs, as it sets an example for the rest of California, as well as the nation. Here’s a clip:

Inspired by the successes of New Zealand’s Maori-influenced Family Group Conferencing, Oakland’s Community Works West has launched a restorative diversion pilot that is dramatically reducing recidivism.

The Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency is helping other jurisdictions initiate similar pilots.

Insight Prison Project is launching an in-custody restorative program. RJOY is pioneering a restorative re-entry model. The North Oakland Restorative Justice Council paints murals, plants trees, and facilitates healing circles after youth homicides.

Residents and police are working together to keep children out of prison. Police, probation officers, youth and others are being trained in restorative justice.

Youth and police are sitting together in healing circles, creating new relationships based on increased trust and recognition of one another’s humanity. Given the epidemic of police killings the nation is now grappling with, our work with law enforcement offers hope.


BUT OVER IN GEORGIA…

In stark contrast to the situation in Oakland, over in Atlanta, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings faced serious criminal charges for writing on the walls of a bathroom at school after her family was unable to pay $100 in restitution. Through a deal with the state to have the charges dropped, Mikia was placed on probation and had to do 16 hours of community service. Mikia’s white friend who wrote on the walls with her, saw no legal consequences. Her parents were able to pay the restitution, and the girl received a few days suspension. And Mikia’s not the only one.

The NY Times’ Tazina Vega has Mikia’s story, and more on Georgia’s serious racial disparity in school discipline. Here are some clips:

To hear Mikia Hutchings speak, one must lean in close, as her voice barely rises above a whisper. In report cards, her teachers describe her as “very focused,” someone who follows the rules and stays on task. So it was a surprise for her grandmother when Mikia, 12, and a friend got into trouble for writing graffiti on the walls of a gym bathroom at Dutchtown Middle School in Henry County last year.

Even more of a surprise was the penalty after her family disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution. While both students were suspended from school for a few days, Mikia had to face a school disciplinary hearing and, a few weeks later, a visit by a uniformed officer from the local Sheriff’s Department, who served her grandmother with papers accusing Mikia of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.

As part of an agreement with the state to have the charges dismissed in juvenile court, Mikia admitted to the allegations of criminal trespassing. Mikia, who is African-American, spent her summer on probation, under a 7 p.m. curfew, and had to complete 16 hours of community service in addition to writing an apology letter to a student whose sneakers were defaced in the incident.

Her friend, who is white, was let go after her parents paid restitution.

[SNIP]

Michael J. Tafelski, a lawyer from the Georgia Legal Services Program who represented Mikia in the school disciplinary hearing, and advocates for students say the punishment Mikia faced was an example of racial disparities in school discipline.

In response to the actions taken against Mikia, Mr. Tafelski said his office had filed a complaint with the Justice Department claiming racial discrimination and a violation of the Civil Rights Act. “I’ve never had a white kid call me for representation in Henry County,” Mr. Tafelski said.

“What kid needs to be having a conversation with a lawyer about the right to remain silent?” he said. “White kids don’t have those conversations; black kids do.”

According to Mikia, her only offense was writing the word “Hi” on a bathroom stall door, while her friend scribbled the rest of the graffiti. “I only wrote one word, and I had to do all that,” Mikia said in a recent interview. “It isn’t fair.”


BRINGING BACK THE JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION ACT

A bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002), was introduced Thursday.

The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.

The bill proposes important changes to the JJDPA. Over the course of three years, an exception to the rules allowing courts to detain kids for status offenses via a “valid court order” would be eliminated. The new bill also would require states to record and report data on issues like the solitary confinement of kids, the detainment of kids for status offenses, and how many offenses occurred at school.

Because the bill reauthorization was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toward the end of the Senate’s session, it will have to be reintroduced next year.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

In exchange for compliance with those requirements, states receive no less than $400,000 in federal funds, and more populous states typically receive millions. Forty-nine states at least try to comply with the act; Wyoming is the lone holdout.

The bill introduced today would phase out over three years the “valid court order,” an exception that permits courts to jail children for status offenses, which include truancy and running away.

While judges are not permitted under JJPDA to detain a youth directly for a status offense, a judge can issue a court order to any offender instructing them not to commit a status offense.

If the juvenile then commits one of the listed offenses, it would be permissible under the federal law to detain them. In 2012 alone, the exception was used more than 7,000 times, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

The bill would also require states to report data on several controversial issues regarding youth in detention or confinement. Among the reporting requirements:

- Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities

- The number of status offenses who are detained, the underlying reason for the detention, and the average length of stay

- The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody

- The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds


THINK TANK: WHAT TO DO ABOUT PHARMACEUTICALS’ TARGETING OF DOCTORS TREATING FOSTER KIDS

Last month, part three of Karen de Sá’s powerful series on drugging foster kids exposed pharmaceutical companies’ flagrant targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care. (If you haven’t, go back and read that story, and parts one and two, here.)

California Healthline put together a think tank that includes advocates, officials, and physicians to answer how California should deal with this issue.

Here’s what Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the state medical board, had to say (but do go read the other contributions):

The Medical Board of California takes the issue of inappropriate prescribing very seriously. The board is committed to consumer protection, and enforces this commitment through the education and oversight of its physicians. The board is currently working with the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Department of Social Services to identify physicians who may be inappropriately prescribing medications to foster children.

It is very important, for this issue and other cross-cutting issues, that state agencies collaborate and work together to share information that will allow each agency to take the necessary actions against their licensees. In addition, working together on a “united front” to tackle such an issue can provide more comprehensive solutions in order to continue to protect California consumers.

The board encourages any individual, agency, media or court official to notify the board and file a complaint if they believe a physician may be inappropriately prescribing. The board needs to be notified in order to investigate and take appropriate action against a physician’s license who is found to be inappropriately prescribing medications. It is critical for the board to be involved in this issue, as the board is the only state agency that can take the appropriate action against a physician’s license and his/her ability to practice.

The board is thoroughly committed to addressing the inappropriate prescribing issue by taking the appropriate action when necessary and providing and disseminating education to physicians, consumers and other state agencies.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Further Delayed, LASD Oversight, Long-Term Price of Locking Kids Up…and More

December 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS RESTART THE SEARCH FOR A CHILD WELFARE CZAR

In a closed session last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors broke off their contract with the firm chosen to identify candidates for the new child welfare czar. (If you are unfamiliar: this czar will be appointed to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services.)

The board, unsatisfied with the people recommended by the headhunting firm, will now restart the search for viable contenders for the position. Other reasons for the change of course included uncertainty about how much power the czar will have, and the arrival of two new Supervisors, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

One key question is how much authority to give the new position. Antonovich cited this as another reason the board decided to change headhunters.

“The position was being sold as having more authority than it was really going to have,” he said. Oppenheim said county officials decided on the job description, not him.

Solis suggested any new job description should provide the child welfare director more authority, not less. McCroskey said the current description was unclear because of conflicting views on the board.

“It wasn’t clear what it is that the primary responsibility would be,” she said. “Are you there to coordinate different agencies ? Or are you there to direct other agencies?”

Solis said the board’s decision to hire a new headhunter and re-write the job description reflects a new day at the county Hall of Administration – especially as it relates to her and fellow newcomer Kuehl.

“We’re not just going to sit by and keep with the status quo or listen to the naysayers who say ‘oh, you don’t know enough about this,’ ” Solis told KPCC. “We are taking a new refreshing look at it, a new bite at the apple.”


FORMING THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of creating a citizen’s oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. But what will that commission look like?

An LA Times editorial says the commission should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five Supes. That configuration would not have enough independence from the board. The editorial (as well as Sheriff Jim McDonnell), calls for a larger commission, one with non-board-appointed members who can only be ousted with good cause. Here’s a clip:

Will this new body remain a creature of the Board of Supervisors, or will it be granted some independence? Will it oversee the work of the department’s inspector general, or instead will it work in cooperation — or competition — with that office? Will it have power to subpoena documents? What sway will it hold over the actions of the sheriff, who will continue to report directly to voters and will, at least on paper, be accountable only to them? Can oversight be accomplished by a body that is merely advisory?

The answers to these and other questions are fundamental to the proper operation of the commission, which could become a useful tool for good sheriff-community relations and for transparency and accountability. Or, if the panel is put together with too little care, it could become another sedimentary layer of bureaucracy that consumes resources but offers little in return.

[SNIP]

The new oversight commission should be seen differently, not as a instrument of the board but rather as something more independent, with a focus more on disclosure and accountability than on limiting financial liability.

A five-member panel would almost certainly consist of one appointee from each of the supervisors, serving as extensions of their offices, removable by them.

That’s one reason that Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in Los Angeles Jails and The Times editorial board support a larger panel with members other than board appointees, each with staggered terms and removable only for cause.

The editorial also suggests county officials look to other municipalities with civilian oversight to see what’s working.


INCARCERATING KIDS COSTS BILLIONS DOWN THE LINE

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute examines the long-term costs, including the collateral consequences, of locking kids up.

Examining data from 46 states, the study found states spent an average of $148,767 a year locking up just one kid in the most expensive kind of confinement. California was among the 10 states spending the most on incarceration ($570.79 a day, $208,338 a year). Beyond that, the report estimates the US loses between $8-$21 billion in long-term secondary costs of needlessly incarcerating kids, including lost education time, lost future earnings, and lost future taxes.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests community-based treatment and supervision, investing dollars in diversion programs, better tracking of recidivism and outcomes.

Here are some clips from the accompanying story:

“Every year, the majority of states spend $100,000 or more to lock up youth who are mostly imprisoned for troubled behavior or nonviolent offenses,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of Justice Policy Institute. “And compared to the huge long-term costs to young people, their families, victims, and taxpayers, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a poor investment and we must do better.”

The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future…

Beyond these costs, the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.

“The significant and multi-faceted costs of incarceration paint a troubling picture for young people, their families and communities, as well as taxpayers,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Fortunately, proven alternatives to incarceration for holding youths accountable are not only cheaper, but most importantly are almost always the best answer for protecting the public and putting kids on the right track to being productive, law-abiding citizens.”


CONSIDERING THE INQUEST: A POSSIBILITY ALTERNATIVE FOR HANDLING POLICE KILLINGS

The non-indictments of both Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo—the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner—have prompted conversations about ways to eliminate bias in police killing cases generally handled by local District Attorneys. Appointing special prosecutors or handing cases to the state DA’s office have emerged as potential work-arounds.

Slate’s Josh Voorhees has the story on another idea that is entering the discussion: an inquest. Here’s a clip:

How do we resolve this disjoint between a binary system that sees things only in black and white and the public’s need for an honest investigation of the shades of gray in between? One little-discussed option comes from Paul MacMahon, a law professor at the London School of Economics. He argues in a forthcoming Yale Law & Policy Review article that the solution may be an inquest, a quasi-judicial proceeding with medieval roots that has largely fallen by the wayside in the United States. Inquests—which are still common in England and Ireland—are called in the aftermath of an unexpected or unusual death. Typically, a jury, with the help of a judge or coroner, seeks to establish the facts of the case but, importantly, has no legal authority to indict or convict. Think of this as akin to a civilian review board, but with more power, a clearer task, and an actual platform to make sure its conclusions are heard.

How would such an inquest work? MacMahon proposes launching one automatically anytime a police officer kills someone in the line of duty. Having either a judge or coroner lead the jury would remove the apparent conflict of interest of a district attorney investigating an officer who he relies on to do his job. The inquest would have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath, but unlike a grand jury, the proceedings would play out in public. The bigger wrinkle, though, is that the jury would have no power to decide the question of criminal or civil liability. The findings wouldn’t necessarily even be admissible as evidence in a court of law. Prosecutors would still be the ones to decide whether to take the case to the grand jury; the grand jury would still decide whether to indict the officer. But an inquest would bring a heavy dose of public accountability. In England, for instance, when an inquest concludes a homicide was an “unlawful killing,” the state doesn’t have to prosecute the case. If it chooses not to, however, it has to formally explain that decision.

The inability of an inquest to bring charges itself may sound like a weakness, but it’s what makes the process so valuable. Because the panel wouldn’t be preoccupied with the guilty/not guilty or indictment/no indictment binary, it would have more leeway to pursue the facts wherever they lead. “The inquest, more than any other institution, is charged with pursuing the truth—sometimes including the moral truth,” MacMahon writes. Inquests don’t just ask whether someone’s actions were justified in a legal sense, he says; they ask “whether or not a person’s conduct was justified in distinct and important ways from the question of whether or not the person should be held criminally responsible or liable to pay damages.”

In the case of Wilson or Pantaleo, then, an inquest could try to answer not just whether the officer was legally justified in his use of force, but whether the officer was right in a larger sense to do so. There’s no guarantee the inquest’s jurors would be able to settle that question once and for all, of course, but simply publicly attempting to would be a big step forward for a government that is struggling to convince communities of color that their lives matter in our criminal justice system…

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | 22 Comments »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

Federal Profiling Policies, Addressing Incarcerated Kids’ Education Needs, LASD Civilian Oversight…and More

December 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW GUIDELINES: WHO (AND WHEN) FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS CAN PROFILE

US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced new profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement agencies. Now, federal officers can no longer discriminate based on religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Before, only discrimination based on race or ethnicity was banned.

While the move does appear to be a step in the right direction, advocates say it may not make a huge difference in curbing profiling across the nation. For instance, the guidelines are only for federal agencies—not state and local departments, and some of these new rules don’t apply to TSA and border patrol officers.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has some helpful examples of changes the new policy will bring (and things that will not be changed). Here are some clips:

Will the new rules help prevent the kinds of deadly encounters seen recently in Ferguson, Mo., and New York that have left African American men dead at the hands of white police officers?

Not likely. The new guidance applies only to federal law enforcement officers, such as those from the FBI and Justice Department. Local or state police would have to abide by the guidelines only if they were working on a joint task force with federal officers.

But Justice Department officials said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is hopeful that the federal guidelines will become a nationwide model that is eventually embraced by local law enforcement as well.

[SNIP]

Can federal law enforcement investigate someone simply because they are gay or lesbian?

No. For the first time, sexual orientation and gender identity are protected in the anti-profiling guidelines. Gay rights advocates have praised the new language.

Does the new policy apply to terrorism and national security cases?

In theory, yes. The new guidance revoked the national security exemption that had existed under the old rules.

But like border agents, the FBI and other agencies that investigate terrorism argued that profiling was sometimes needed to protect the nation. Civil rights lawyers say other provisions in the rules appear to permit certain kinds of profiling in the name of national security.

The new guidance specifically allows the FBI and other federal law enforcement to continue to “map” communities, focusing their investigations on neighborhoods or communities based, for example, on religion or national origin. Also, some critics of the new rules are concerned that Holder was noncommittal Monday when asked whether the FBI field manual would be updated to reflect the new guidance, raising questions about whether federal agents will change their behavior.


ANOTHER DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT (WITH THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION): EDUCATION FOR CONFINED KIDS

On Monday, AG Eric Holder also announced, with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a new Correctional Education Guidance Package to help states and local agencies provide better education services to locked up kids. The package comes as a result of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The package instructs juvenile facilities to provide boys and girls with equal access to education programs, end discriminatory discipline practices, and better serve the education needs of english-learning kids.

Evie Blad has more on the new guidance in a story for Education Week. Here’s a clip:

The guidance consists of “Dear Colleague” letters that outline the education obligations of juvenile justice residential facilities under federal civil rights laws, clarify that many confined youth are eligible for federal Pell grants for higher education, and specify facilities’ obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The agencies’ also released a set of “guiding principles” for providing education in juvenile justice settings.

The package includes a special focus on issues that are especially relevant to education in juvenile justice settings, including coordination with schools as students transition in and out of their care, use of highly qualified and credentialed teachers, promoting a positive and safe climate for learning, and identifying special education needs.

“Although the overall number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system has been decreasing, there are still more than 60,000 young people in juvenile justice residential facilities in the United States on any given day,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, and Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote in the guidance.

Holder noted that the agencies released the guidance at a time of “growing national dialogue about ensuring that America’s justice system serves everyone equally.” Youth in detention facilities are sometimes recipients of inadequate instruction or no instruction at all, Holder said, calling such experiences “unacceptable failures” and “lost opportunities.”


LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT VOTE MAY COME TODAY

Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the creation of a permanent citizens’ oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The motion, previously submitted by Mark Ridley-Thomas and termed-out Gloria Molina, was rejected by the board. (Ridley-Thomas has championed the idea for more than two years.) Now, Ridley-Thomas and new Supervisor Hilda Solis have reintroduced the proposal. And new 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has said before that she will support civilian oversight.

An LA Times editorial urges the board to approve the motion. Here’s how it opens:

New leaders bring fresh perspectives, so there is reason to believe that Los Angeles County government will be reinvigorated by the four officials who took office earlier this month. But sometimes it’s not enough to change faces and ideas; the structure of government itself needs an occasional shake-up. So it’s doubly heartening that the reconstituted Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will take up the idea of a citizens commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department. The action is overdue.

Sheriffs are directly elected by county voters, affording a level of independence so great that it sometimes veers into unaccountability. That was part of the problem with former Sheriff Lee Baca, whom voters returned to office repeatedly while he presided over a department in which management breakdowns led to inmate abuse in the jails and other critical and costly problems. For years, voters had too limited a view into the department to know of its failings; the Board of Supervisors had too many other things on its plate to adequately spotlight them; and outside monitors who had access and knowledge had no public forum at which to share them.

To address that structural shortcoming, new Sheriff Jim McDonnell supports the creation of a citizens oversight commission — a panel to scrutinize the department’s actions and operations and report on its findings in a public setting. A divided Board of Supervisors rejected such an idea in August but one of its new members, Hilda Solis, has joined with Mark Ridley-Thomas to reintroduce it. New Supervisor Sheila Kuehl noted numerous times on the campaign trail that she, too, is in favor.

(The Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial board is also calling for civilian oversight.)


CONVERSATION ABOUT SPECIAL PROSECUTORS BUILDS IN THE WAKE OF NON-INDICTMENT OVER ERIC GARNER DEATH

Advocates as well as New York officials and lawmakers—like state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York Public Advocate Letitia James—are pushing for cases involving death at the hands of law enforcement officers to be handled by independent state prosecutors. The calls became more urgent after a grand jury did not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The AP’s Jennifer Peltz has more on the complicated issue. Here are some clips:

The city’s elected public advocate and some state lawmakers are pressing for appointing special state prosecutors for police killings, saying Eric Garner’s death has bared problems with having DAs lead investigations and prosecutions of the police who help them build cases. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday to give Schneiderman’s office the authority to investigate deaths at the hands of police.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Missouri since the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson.

“This is a watershed moment,” New York Public Advocate Letitia James said by phone. “It’s clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed.”

She’s advocating appointing such prosecutors whenever police kill or seriously injure someone. Assemblymen Karim Camara and Marcos Crespo are proposing special prosecutors for police killings of unarmed people.

Cuomo said last week on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that the state should examine whether DAs should bring such cases and “potential roles for special prosecutors,” as part of a broad look at the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“There has to be a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct because of the inherent conflict” in tasking local prosecutors with exploring allegations against the police who are often their partners, said civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel.

But DAs bristle at the implication that they’re too close to police for public comfort.

“Why would the people’s choice to be their elected law enforcement officer be disqualified in favor of some political appointment?” said Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse prosecutor who is president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

[SNIP]

Some states have established permanent special prosecutors’ offices for various types of cases. Maryland’s handles everything from election law violations to misconduct by public employees, including police.

But the idea of a special prosecutor specifically for police has a particular history in New York. The state created a state special prosecutor’s office in 1972 to explore police corruption in New York City, responding to the allegations later chronicled in the 1973 film “Serpico”….

The New York Times Editorial Board agrees that an independent prosecutor should be brought in to eliminate possible bias on the part of local DAs who work closely with police. The editorial suggests that law enforcement agencies should welcome such a shift. Here’s how it opens:

It is a long-established and basic reality of law enforcement in America: Prosecutors who want an indictment get an indictment. In 2010 alone, federal prosecutors sought indictments in 162,000 cases. All but 11 times, they succeeded.

Yet the results are entirely different when police officers kill unarmed civilians. In those cases, the officers are almost never prosecuted either because district attorneys do not pursue charges in the first place or grand juries do not indict, as happened most recently in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

There are various explanations for this, but the most obvious is the inherent conflict of interest that exists for prosecutors, who rely heavily on the police every day. Cops arrest suspects; they investigate crimes; they gather evidence; and they testify in court, working essentially in partnership with prosecutors.

Whether or not bias can be proved in a given case, the public perception of it is real and must be addressed.

The best solution would be a law that automatically transfers to an independent prosecutor all cases in which a civilian is dead at the hands of the police. This would avoid the messy politics of singling out certain district attorneys and taking cases away from them.

The police should be among the strongest supporters of this arrangement because both their authority and their safety are undermined when the communities they work in neither trust them nor believe that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else.

For further recommended reading, Alameda County public defender Seth Morris explains how easy it is to get an indictment. Here’s how it opens (but read the whole thing):

It is, we are told, very hard to get grand jurors to indict police officers — which supposedly explains why Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo walk free, despite the men they killed in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island. But as a public defender, I know exactly what it takes to get an indictment. I could get one in either case. In fact, I am ready and willing to fly to any town in this country to get an indictment in any case where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian. It’s just not that hard.

I’d start by saying this. “A man, a member of our community, has been killed by another. Only a trial court can sort out what exactly happened and what defenses, if any, may apply. I believe in our trial system above all others in the world. I ask for an indictment so that all voices can be heard in a public courtroom with advocates for both sides in front of trial jurors from the community. This room is not the room to end this story. It’s where the story begins.”

I’d do it by asking the grand juries to apply the law to these men as the law demands it be applied — equally. I’d ask them to consider the recent fateful events as the work of ordinary humans, not police officers. I’d explain that the cases are too important to be settled in a secret grand jury room. The lives lost are too valuable to avoid a public trial.

I’d ask them not to consider the defenses the men may raise at trial, because these are irrelevant to the question of indictment. Judges routinely tell my clients — indigent, poor, often young men of color — that they will face trial because probable cause is an exceedingly low standard of proof. All it requires is a suspicion that a crime occurred and a suggestion that the defendant may be responsible for the crime.

Posted in DEA, Department of Justice, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, National issues | No Comments »

Did Board of Supes Violate the Brown Act with $2 Billion Jail Vote?…WLA on KCRW’s WWLA? Monday Nite…and About That Rolling Stone UVA Rape Reporting Debacle

December 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SO CAL ACLU SEZ SUPES VIOLATED THE LAW WITH $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN VOTE

According to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, the LA County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last May when they voted to go ahead with a costly plan to replace Men’s Central Jail.

The problem, according to Eliasberg and his fellow ACLU attorneys, is that although the board listed on its agenda for the May 6, 2014 meeting in question that it would be discussing various possible pricey plans for rebuilding MCJ (along with a women’s prison at Miraloma) that had been submitted to the board by Vanir Construction Management, there was no specific listing nor any motion in the agenda that indicated the board might actually vote on whether or not to go ahead with one of the plans at the upcoming meeting, and all that such a go-ahead would entail.

But vote they did.

During the meeting, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina—both of whom had been pushing for a robust jail rebuild and expansion—read a motion into the minutes calling for a vote to proceed with one of Vanir’s five plan options. The vote was taken and passed 3-1. (Zev Yaroslavsky voted against going ahead, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

Now it turns out that the non-agenda-ized vote may have been a no-no.


SO WHAT IS THE BROWN ACT ANYWAY?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the statute, the Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 by the California state legislature (and authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown) to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The Brown Act, which has expanded in length over the years due to various amendments, governs certain ways that such meetings must be conducted in order to secure public participation.

One whole section of the Brown Act has to do with requirements surrounding meeting agendas—when they must be posted and what must be on them. To wit:

At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.

Then in another section specifies:

No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights.

The motion for the vote was not on the agenda.

There are exceptions to the agenda rule, as in cases of emergency and the like. But the jail plan vote doesn’t appear to qualify for any of those exceptions.

On Tuesday of last week, the ACLU sent a letter to District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office asking Lacey to look into the matter. The letter—obtained by WLA—opens this way:

Please investigate whether the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act at its May 6, 2014 meeting when Supervisor Antonovich and former Supervisor Molina read into the agenda a joint motion calling for the Board to “adopt” one of five jail plan options presented by Vanir Construction Management, Inc in its Los Angeles County Jail Plan – Phase 2. The Board voted and adopted the motion by a vote of 3-1, with Supervisor Ridley- Thomas abstaining. The written agenda for the meeting did not provide for the Board’s voting on any of the options; it provided for only a discussion on the five options by Vanir. …we believe that the vote on the oral motion was a clear violation of the Brown Act. If you agree, we request you take all appropriate action….

Lacey’s office—which has acted previously on Brown Act allegations—has yet to reply but, if the past is any guide, the DA’s office will take a while before deciding what if any action to take.


IS A POSSIBLE ILLEGALITY AN OPPORTUNITY?

The issue is a timely one because, if the vote to approve that multi-billion dollar jail plan was taken today, it would likely have a different outcome. Gloria Molina’s successor, Hilda Solis, talked last Monday at her swearing-in about the “incarceration-industrial complex that will sink our economy as well as our society if we allow it to.”

Kuehl went even further, expressing in an interview, according to the LA Times, that she wanted to revisit the costly jail plan vote altogether.

That same day, newly sworn-in Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that, while he believed Men’s Central Jail needed to be replaced, he thought the size of the replacement plan might need to be “recalibrated” in that 20 percent of the inmates in LA County’s jail facilities are mentally ill. Thus, if the diversion programs that he and Jackie Lacey favor are put into place, fewer total beds would likely be needed in the county’s facilities

Eliasberg pointed out that the ultra-expensive Vanir plan put into motion in May not only failed to include the population drop in the jails that diversion programs for the mentally ill would surely produce, but also failed to take into account “the substantial downward effect Proposition 47 will have on the jail population.”

In addition, it neglected to factor into its jail population math such programs as a greater use in LA County of split sentencing (now required by the state) and the institution of strategies like risk-based pretrial release, that could lower the need for jail beds still further.

“In other words,” said Eliasberg, “the [existing jail building] plan is both flawed in concept and was adopted in an illegal manner. The new Board members have an opportunity to rectify these mistakes.”

Let us hope so.



WITNESSLA ON WHICH WAY LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT…AND ALL THAT JAZZ

I’ll be on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney Monday night at 7 pm on KCRW 89.9. We’ll be talking about the likelihood of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and similar topics.

You can listen in realtime here.

If you missed realtime, you can listen to the podcast here.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..REPORTING ON RAPE: A NECESSARY LEVEL OF JOURNALISTIC DUE DILIGENCE DOES NOT EQUAL INSENSITIVITY

The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot has a level-headed, no nonsense take regarding the reporting debacle that erupted last friday when Rolling Stone magazine suddenly backpedaled madly regarding an explosive article they ran last month about an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, based on extensive, highly emotion-generating interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.”

Talbot describes the situation, the subsequent storm of reactions that ignited among other journalists and activists, and what we can take away from the whole sad mess.

Here are some clips from her essay:

…..It now appears that key details of the story, reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, may not be true. Other journalists—notably, my friend Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt, at Slate, and Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, and T. Rees Shapiro, at The Washington Post—raised doubts about the reporting late last month, but Rolling Stone dismissed them. Then, on Friday, the magazine issued a statement saying, “In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.” (An earlier version of the statement had emphasized the magazine’s trust in Jackie, and regretted that it had been “misplaced”—wording that seemed to settle too much responsibility for the story’s shortcomings on Jackie and not enough on the reporter or her editors.) Rolling Stone’s statement did not enumerate the discrepancies, but the Post did.

….According to Erdely’s story, Jackie was asked on a date, in September, 2012, by “Drew,” a lifeguard she worked with at the campus aquatic center. Drew brought her back to the Phi Kappa Psi house and invited her to an upstairs bedroom. There, she was shoved to the floor, fell through a glass table, and, while lying on shards of glass, was raped by seven men. Drew egged them on in what, horribly, seemed to be some sort of hazing ritual for new pledges. When Jackie stumbled out of the fraternity hours later, dazed and bleeding, and found her friends, they convinced her not to report what had happened to the police or campus authorities, because they were worried that it would jeopardize her social standing and theirs.

When the Post contacted the friends last week, they said the account of the attack she gave them that night differed from the version in Rolling Stone. Jackie had not appeared to be physically injured, when they saw her late that night, they said, and she told them she’d been at a fraternity party where she had been forced to have oral sex with multiple men. They offered to get her help, but she declined. While she may have given Erdely a fuller and more accurate description of the events—perhaps she was too shaken that night to tell the friends more—the discrepancies seem to be troubling her friends.

The Post also tracked down the man called “Drew” in the article, whom Jackie identified for the first time this week, and he said he had never met Jackie or taken her on a date. He could be lying, of course, but at the least, his account raises questions about Rolling Stone’s. He also was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi. The fraternity chapter issued a statement last week that said it would continue to coöperate with a police investigation into the charges, but had found no evidence for them. “Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiating process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”

One of Jackie’s friends, “Andy,” whom the Rolling Stone article described as having advised her not to report what happened to her, told the Post he never spoke to a reporter from the magazine. (The original article leaves ambiguous whether Erdely confirmed this part of the story with anyone other than Jackie.) Andy said, “The perception that I’m gravitating toward is that something happened that night and it’s gotten lost in different iterations of the stories that have been told. Is there a possibility nothing happened? Sure. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.”

[SNIP]

Neither “Drew,” the central figure the Post tracked down, nor any of the other men at the fraternity party appear in the article outside of Jackie’s recollections of them. We don’t read about them denying the charge, or unwillingly lending support to it, or complicating or corroborating or casting doubt on Jackie’s account in any of the ways they might have. That makes for a remarkably weak piece of journalism, and an enormously frustrating situation. If this story does turn out to be largely false, it will do real damage to the important new movement to crack down on sexual assault on college campuses. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and a rape attempt at U.V.A., said to the Post. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who are coming forward are telling the truth.” She went on, saying, “While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: rape is far more prevalent than we realize, and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large.” She’s exactly right.

When Hanna Rosin interviewed her on Slate’s DoubleX podcast, she asked Erdely several times about whether she attempted to contact the accused men, and this is what Erdely told her:

I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an e-mail, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.

That isn’t exactly journalistic due diligence in a case where such extreme allegations are being made. As a journalist, it’s hard to talk to sources who may contradict a vulnerable person with whom you empathize, and in whom you have invested your trust. I hate that part of reporting, and would skip it if I could—but you can’t.

[SNIP]

…“Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

For additional backstory on the matter, read the story by the Washington Post’s T. Reese Shapiro, which originally questioned the Rolling Stone reporting.

Posted in ACLU, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Rape | 1 Comment »

Civilian Oversight of LASD Back on the Table….LAPD Union Spokesman Unwisely Axed….Report Looks at Barriers Barring 2nd Chances for Americans With Criminal Records….New Sentencing Date for Sexton

December 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IS PROPOSED AGAIN, THIS TIME APPROVAL LOOKS LIKELY

One brand new member of the LA County Board of Supervisors, Hilda Solis, has joined veteran board member Mark Ridley-Thomas in championing the idea of a civilian oversight commission for the long-troubled sheriff’s department.

Next Tuesday, December 9, Ridley-Thomas and Solis, will introduce a motion to establish such a commission.

This past summer, MRT and termed-out supervisor, Gloria Molina, did all they could to get a similar motion passed without success. At that time, termed-out supe Zev Yaroslavsky was considered the swing vote who might provide the third favorable vote necessary for passage, but no swinging ever took place. Mike Antonovich has been firmly in the NO camp all through discussions of the matter, and Don Knabe, who was, at one time, thought to be a far outside possibility as a swing vote, never came over to the YES column either.

Now, however, Solis and Ridley-Thomas appear to have their third supporter in newly sworn-in supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who had expressed strong support for a civilian commission while on the campaign trail.

Kuehl then reaffirmed her support in an interview on Thursday.

Back in the summer, one of the strongest voices in favor of the creation of the commission was the man who, as of Monday, has taken over the helm of the sheriff’s department, Jim McDonnell. A few weeks prior to the board’s decision to vote down the commission proposal this past August, McDonnell issued a lengthy statement explaining why he supported the idea, which he called “a necessary long-term investment in creating a better-run department.”

The statement read in part:

I support this concept and believe that there is great value in creating an independent civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be part of the LASD’s pathway forward. A civilian commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding community trust in the constitutional operation of the LASD.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) – an entity that is now in the process of formation. While our Commission opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an empowered and independent citizens’ commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past problems.

Though a civilian oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me or to law enforcement in general. Indeed, I spent many of my 29 years at the LAPD working with its citizens’ Police Commission. I have also worked with a citizens’ commission as Chief of Police in Long Beach. I have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice and welcome the opportunity to work with the Board of Supervisors, legal experts and community groups in developing the best possible model of civilian oversight for the LASD…..

At the time, John Scott—who acted as interim sheriff after the unexpected resignation of former sheriff Lee Baca last January—told ABC7 reporter Robert Holguin that he was generally for the commission but felt it was too soon to form one.

The Ridley-Thomas/Solis motion (which you can read in full here) also proposes the formation of a “working group” that will have 90 days to put together recommendations regarding the citizens commission’s “mission, authority, size, structure, relationship to the Office of the Sheriff and to the Office of the Inspector General.”

(We would presume and hope that the working group would also make recommendations about the proposed commission’s relationship with the board of supervisors. While a citizen’s commission would be the board’s creation, it should not be its creature.)

The working group would be made up of the sheriff (or his designee), the inspector general (or his designee) and one group member to be appointed by each supervisor.

Barring anything unforeseen, look for the civilian oversight commission to finally get a go-head next Tuesday.


LAPD UNION CONFOUNDS OBSERVERS BY DUMPING LONGTIME SPOKESMAN

In a move that has surprised many LA reporters who cover police issues, the LAPD’s union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, has parted ways with longtime spokesman Eric Rose. A favorite of several administrations worth of department leaders, Rose is known for his breadth of knowledge of local law enforcement, and his ability to communicate with journalists in such a way that has repeatedly benefited both the union and the LAPD.

Most learned about Rose’s departure when he sent out a note early in the morning of Saturday November 29, explaining that Englander Knabe & Allen, the firm in which he is a partner, would no longer be representing the league. Rose has been the voice of the union for 19 years.

The LAPPL’s decision to acquire a new spokesman is viewed by some department watchers as a desperation-driven maneuver by union leadership frantic to find some way to pressure city officials into forking over a new-and-improved contract. (Good luck with that. In July, the department’s rank file rejected a proposed contract because, despite its multiple concessions, it contained no cost-of-living adjustment [COLA]—nevermind that, due to the city’s $242 million budget shortfall, no other city employees were getting COLAs either, including firefighters.)

On Monday, Daily News columnist Rick Orlov called the LAPPL’s action “another sign of its recent internal strife.”


REPORT CALLS FOR POLICY REFORM TO ENSURE AMERICANS WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS HAVE “A FAIR SHOT AT A SECOND CHANCE.”

A just-released report by the Center for American Progress called One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records looks at the multiplicity of ways that a single criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, can permanently damage an individual’s ability to rebuild his or her life even years after release from jail or prison.

Here’s how the report opens:

Between 70 million and 100 million Americans—or as many as one in three—have a criminal record.

Many have only minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and nonserious infractions; others have only arrests without conviction. Nonetheless, because of the rise of technology and the ease of accessing data via the Internet—–in conjunction with federal and state policy decisions—having even a minor criminal history now carries lifelong barriers that can block successful re-entry and participation in society. This has broad implications—not only for the millions of individuals who are prevented from moving on with their lives and becoming productive citizens but also for their families, communities, and the national economy.

Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.

It is a cause because having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing, public assistance, education, family reunification, and more; conviction can result in monetary debts as well. It is a consequence due to the growing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. One recent study finds that our nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society.

Failure to address this link as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle….

And there is this:

…The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record—and the stigma that accompanies one—stand in stark contrast to research on “redemption” that documents that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person’s risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population.

Put differently, people are treated as criminals long after they pose any significant risk of committing further crimes—-making it difficult for many to move on with their lives and achieve basic economic security, let alone have a shot at upward mobility.

The United States must therefore craft policies to ensure that Americans with criminal records have a fair shot at making a decent living, providing for their families, and joining the middle class. This will benefit not only the tens of millions of individuals who face closed doors due to a criminal record but also their families, their communities, and the economy as a whole.

The full report is 50 pages long, and features lots of interesting data, plus a series of recommendations for policy change, so worth reading for those of you with an interest in the topic.


LASD DEPUTY JAMES SEXTON SENTENCING RESCHEDULED FOR DECEMBER 15

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who was scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, will now be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on Monday, December 15.

(Earlier, federal prosecutors had switched Sexton’s sentencing date from this past Monday-–the day that the new sheriff would be sworn in—to December 8th. Then more recently the feds agreed to the second date change at the request of Sexton’s attorneys.)

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was the seventh sworn member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to be convicted of obstruction of justice charges in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

The September trial was the second time that Deputy Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

The other six department members, who were sentenced in late September, received sentences by Judge Anderson that ranged from 21 months to 41 months, with an additional year of superversion after their release.

The six are required to surrender for their terms on January 2.

If Sexton is sentenced to prison, he is expected to be asked to surrender within a similar time frame.

Posted in FBI, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, U.S. Attorney | 16 Comments »

Cop Not Indicted in Chokehold Death, LAPD Chief Blames Officers in Shooting of Unarmed Man, No More DNA Swabs for Felony Arrests, and Undermining PREA

December 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GRAND JURY DOES NOT INDICT NYPD OFFICER IN CHOKEHOLD HOMICIDE OF ERIC GARNER

On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a plainclothes NY police officer whose prohibited chokehold on an unarmed man, Eric Garner, proved fatal.

Garner was stopped by officers on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. A video of the incident, shows Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, telling officers over and over that he can’t breath while being held down by officers. And the city medical examiner’s autopsy found Garner’s death to be a homicide, with the chokehold as the main cause of death.

Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice announced that it would launch a separate federal investigation into Garner’s death.

The NY Times’ J. David Goodman and Al Baker have the story. Here are some clips:

The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

Officer Pantaleo appeared before the grand jury on Nov. 21, testifying that he did not intend to choke Mr. Garner. He described the maneuver as a wrestling move, adding that he never thought Mr. Garner was in mortal danger.

After the news from Staten Island, a wave of elected officials renewed calls for Justice Department intervention, saying the grand jury’s finding proved that justice could only be found in the federal courts.

On the streets of the city, from Tompkinsville to Times Square, many expressed their outrage with some of the last words Mr. Garner uttered before being wrestled to the ground: “This stops today,” people chanted. “I can’t breathe,” others shouted.

While hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan as well as in Washington and other cities, the police in New York reported relatively few arrests, a stark contrast to the riots that unfolded in Ferguson in the hours after the grand jury decision was announced in the Brown case.

[SNIP]

The officer targeted by the Staten Island grand jury said in statement that he felt “very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” just as he told 23 panelists of the grand jury when he testified before them for two hours on Nov. 21.

During the proceedings, jurors were shown three videos of the encounter and in his testimony Officer Pantaleo sought to characterize his actions in tackling Mr. Garner not as a chokehold, but as a maneuver taught at the Police Academy. He said that while holding onto Mr. Garner, he felt fear that they would crash through a plate glass storefront as they tumbled to the ground, said Stuart London, his lawyer. One of the officer’s arms went around Mr. Garner’s throat, as Mr. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”


LAPD CHIEF SAYS OFFICER SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN AFTER CHASE VIOLATED DEPT. RULES

Back in California, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says three officers’ fatal shooting of an unarmed man after a car chase was in violation of department policy. Officers opened fire after Brian Newt Beaird, a National Guard veteran, had turned away from them. The officers said they feared for their lives when they shot Beaird, but Chief Beck says the evidence suggests otherwise.

Now, Beck must decide if he is going to punish the officers (and if so, what level of punishment to hand out), or if their actions warrant firing them from the department.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Although the details of their recollections differed, each officer told investigators essentially the same thing: He shot at Beaird because he thought Beaird was armed with a gun.

One officer, who fired eight rounds, said he believed Beaird was actually shooting at police. In a detailed account of Beaird’s movements, the officer said Beaird had reached under his shirt and seemed to be pointing an object back at the officers from beneath his clothing. That, coupled with the sound of gunshots, led the officer to conclude Beaird was shooting, according to the report.

Beck, however, found “the evidence and actual actions of the suspect” contradicted the officer’s account.

The other two officers both said they saw Beaird reach for his waistband and make “a jerking motion.” Fearing that he had grabbed a gun, the officers fired, the report said.

In judging the officers, Beck said he took into account that they went into the encounter knowing Beaird was seen reaching for an unknown object during the pursuit. He also highlighted the chaos of the scene, including a geyser of water from a broken hydrant and the din of helicopters.

Although the officers had only seconds to act in the difficult conditions, Beck ultimately found their decision to shoot was unreasonable. “Each officer is accountable for their own use of force,” he wrote.


APPEALS COURT SAYS DNA SWABS AFTER FELONY ARRESTS VIOLATE STATE CONSTITUTION

In a 3-0 ruling, the SF First Court of Appeal has struck down a California law requires DNA cheek swabbing of anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a felony. A related Maryland law upheld by the US Supreme Court mandates swabbing only once a person is charged with a serious felony. And unlike in California, the DNA info is removed from the database in the case of an acquittal or dropped charges.

Bob Egelko has more on the ruling for the SF Gate. Here’s a clip:

The First Court of Appeal in San Francisco had struck down the same law in 2011, but California’s high court ordered it to reconsider the case after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 upheld a Maryland law requiring DNA samples from anyone charged with a serious felony. The majority in that 5-4 ruling said swabbing a suspect’s cheek for genetic material was a “minor intrusion” that served the same identification purposes as fingerprints, the argument Attorney General Kamala Harris also used to defend the California law.

But in Wednesday’s ruling, the appeals court said DNA samples, containing “the most personal and confidential information a person can possess,” are not used to identify suspects. Rather the samples, which typically take a month to analyze, while fingerprints take less than a half hour, are used to investigate suspects’ possible involvement in other crimes, as part of a national database accessible to police and the FBI.


TAKING THE EDGE OFF THE PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003, and brought about a set of “zero-tolerance” standards to eliminate rape in state and federal prisons, which took a decade to nail down and approve.

In May of this year, states were required to either pass an audit, or promise to pass compliance in the future. Only two states passed their audits. States that refuse to comply altogether—as Texas and five other states have—forfeit 5% of their prison funding.

But a report released last Friday from the United Nations Committee Against Torture points out that the rates of sexual violence in US lock-ups have not changed much since 2007, and expresses concern at the mediocre implementation of PREA.

The Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo has more on the issue, and also highlights an under-the-radar battle to further delay PREA and throw out the financial consequences for noncompliance. Here’s a clip:

…A proposal that originated in the Senate Judiciary Committee would almost completely eliminate financial penalties for states that defy the rape prevention law. The proposal, written by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas — the most vocally defiant state — was agreed on by the committee in an after-midnight session in September and was attached to an unrelated bill.

The bill carrying the PREA amendment failed to pass, but members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a federal body that spent years developing the PREA standards, say efforts are already underway to reintroduce the amendment during the next legislative session.

In a November letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Commission members requested a meeting to “discuss our grave concern about recent efforts to delay or weaken effective implementation” of PREA. So far, six states are refusing to comply with the standards: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Texas, and Utah. The letter goes on to point out that only two states have certified compliance, while forty-six states and territories have submitted assurances to eventually comply, which allows them to keep their funding.

“But those assurances will become hollow — and states and territories may not make them — absent the threat of financial penalties for failure to become compliant,” the Commission wrote.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DNA, LAPD, prison policy, racial justice | 6 Comments »

School Districts Misreporting Restraining Kids, Prop 47 Funding, Obama’s Law Enforcement $$$, and Jim McDonnell

December 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA, NY, AND CHICAGO TELL THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION KIDS AREN’T RESTRAINED IN THEIR SCHOOLS…BUT IT DOES HAPPEN

It is required that every school district in the US reports how many times kids were restrained in school to the Department of Education. The requirement came about after a 2009 government report revealed that these restraints—mostly of kids with disabilities—resulted in tons of unnecessary injuries (and even deaths).

ProPublica’s Annie Waldman analyzed the data, and found that two-thirds of school districts said there were no instances of kids being restrained or held in isolation rooms. Big districts like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago fell into this category.

LA Unified School District said there were no restraints, but does tally “behavior emergency interventions,” which can involve pinning down a child.

Here’s a clip from Waldman’s story:

The Department of Education declined to say whether they have penalized any districts for failing to report.

But underreporting appears to be rampant. Our analysis found that more than two-thirds of all school systems reported zero instances of restraining a student or isolating them in so-called “seclusion” rooms.

Many districts are not taking the reporting process seriously, said Claudia Center, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I think there needs to be a real cultural shift on restraints,” Center said. “It has been a really common practice in schools for decades. If [schools] had to write down how many times they actually do it, they would have to change what they’re doing.”

A spokesman for the federal Department of Education said if school districts fail to collect data on restraints, the government works with them to construct a plan to improve and could ultimately compel them to report by suspending federal aid until they do.

Huffman, the spokeswoman from Chicago’s public school system, said federal officials haven’t contacted school officials there about their missing data.

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry, said that although the district reported zero instances of restraints, it keeps its own tally of incidents involving disabled children. Advocates say such actions, which are called “behavioral emergency inventions,” often come in the form of restraints. The Los Angeles Unified School District reported 103 interventions during the 2012 school year.


FUNDING THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE FOR INCOMING PROP 47 MISDEMEANOR CASES

Because Prop 47 downgraded a number of low-level felonies to misdemeanors, the City Attorney’s Office anticipates an influx of 13,500 new misdemeanor cases per year. (Before Prop 47, these cases would have been handled by the District Attorney’s Office.)

City Attorney Mike Feuer asked the city for $510,482 to hire more attorneys and staff to deal with the workload, as well as about $875,000 more per year, moving forward.

An LA Times editorial makes a really compelling argument in favor of City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti approving that money request. Here’s a clip (but definitely read the whole thing, as it clarifies a number of things about Prop 47):

Many observers brush off misdemeanor convictions as unimportant because shorter sentences are too often not served at all due to jail crowding. But that’s part of what Proposition 47 is meant to fix. Thousands of inmates who formerly would have served multiyear terms in state prison are now serving that time in county jail cells because of the 2011 realignment law. Some of those will now see their sentences shortened, freeing up cells to allow each inmate to serve closer to his or her full sentence, while also relieving crowding in state prisons.

There is a discussion to be had about whether possession of some drugs should even be a misdemeanor, rather than an infraction such as marijuana possession, or even a crime at all — but Proposition 47 was not that discussion.

In the meantime, if misdemeanors — especially property crimes — are to be dealt with effectively, city attorneys in Los Angeles and elsewhere must have the resources to prosecute them. The crimes will continue to be committed and the police will continue to make their arrests. Prosecutors must continue to prosecute if the ballot measure is to work as intended.

Proposition 47 is expected to produce substantial savings, and some critics argued that a portion of that should go to cities to pay for exactly the kind of thing Feuer is seeking. It doesn’t. Lacey’s office will be relieved of part of its caseload, so it is arguable that the district attorney ought to relinquish funding to the city. Don’t hold your breath.

But the city may well realize savings from Proposition 47 too. That’s because misdemeanors require far less post-arrest time from police officers, who won’t have to wait at courthouses for hours, often on overtime, in order to testify at preliminary hearings.

Will that savings prove illusory, or will it be real and enough over the years to cover the city attorney’s new costs? Los Angeles residents and taxpayers deserve to know….


$263M FROM PRES. OBAMA FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES’ BODY CAMERAS, TRAINING, AND MORE

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to provide $263 million in funding to work toward improving relations between law enforcement agencies and communities. That figure includes $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for officers. Obama will also increase oversight of how local police departments use military equipment they receive through federal programs.

The Washington Times’ Dave Boyer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The president is also asking his administration to draft an executive order creating a new task force that will examine “how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust,” a White House official said. The panel will be led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.

The $263 million for cameras and training would be used by the federal government to match up to 50 percent spending by state and local police departments on body-worn cameras and storage for the equipment. The White House estimates that aspect of the program, which would cost $75 million, would help fund the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

The remainder of the money would be used to underwrite police training and outreach programs targeted at building better trust between law enforcement and their communities.

Helping pay for body-worn cameras is a step in the right direction, but the real test will be whether local law enforcement agencies are willing to use the devices.

The National Journal’s Dustin Volz has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…It’s not just about money. A number of local police departments remain hesitant—if not downright skeptical—about body cameras, despite growing public demand and research that suggests positive benefits.

“At this juncture, it doesn’t change anything,” said Mike Puetz, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida, when asked about Obama’s funding pledge. “From our perspective, and I think for most agencies, we’re looking at the technology and looking at how it works in the real world regardless of who pays the bill.”


THE REFORM CHALLENGES FACING JIM MCDONNELL AS HE TAKES THE HELM OF THE LASD

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has an interesting story about the uphill battle newly sworn-in LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell faces to bring about real reform in the scandal-plagued department. Here’s a clip:

-Reforming the jails. The sheriff’s department runs the largest jail system in the country. One of the biggest problems with the system has been the department’s program of putting first-day rookies on lockup duty for two years before allowing them to hit the streets.

It can seed hatred and violence in budding cops.

McDonnell has said that’s one of the things he’ll change. But it will take some time. He’ll have to recruit people who actually want to work in jails, a different breed of officer.

Nonetheless, Bobb says, “The department on the custody side cannot wait much longer to have the reform.”

There are also widespread calls to reduce or even eliminate the time the some mentally ill inmates spend behind bars. They’re better treated in medical settings, the argument goes, and keeping them out of lockup could save taxpayers a lot of cash.

-Cracking down on beatdowns. Both inside and outside the jail system, the department’s way of dealing with cops accused of excessive force leaves much to be desired.

Eliasburg of the ACLU says that when it comes to “formal reviews of use of force, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Deputies should be made to know that if force is used it will be carefully reviewed and there will be consequences,” he said.

Posted in City Attorney, finance, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

“A Civil War Has Torn the Department Apart” – New Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is Sworn In

December 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



“A LONG PERIOD OF UNCERTAINTY AND TRAUMA”

After a day of much needed rain, the weather had cleared and the city seemed once-again washed clean as, just after 2 pm on Monday, Jim McDonnell was sworn in as the 32nd Los Angeles County Sheriff.

McDonnell made his way up to the stage of LA’s completely packed Hall of Justice to the music of live bagpipes. The bagpipes are becoming a new tradition for the Irish cop who came to LA from Boston to join the Los Angeles Police Department nearly 34 years ago, then worked his way up the ranks until he was second in command to that other Bostonian cop, Bill Bratton. After being shortlisted for the job of chief twice, McDonnell left the LAPD to head up Long Beach’s ailing department. Now he is poised to lead the complex and spectacularly troubled LASD, the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the nation.

It is job for which many feel he is unusually well suited.

After the requisite welcome remarks were delivered by presiding LA County Superior Court Judge David Wesley, followed by an invocation by LA Archbishop Jose Gomez, and still more remarks from Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the main event arrived: LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey administered the oath of office to McDonnell. (Although most of LA County’s major elected officials would come to endorse him, Lacey was one of McDonnell’s earliest and most ardent supporters.)

Next, the newly-minted sheriff’s wife, Kathy McDonnell, along with Megan McDonnell, one of his two daughters, pinned the LASD’s six-pointed star on their man’s chest.

When finally was time for McDonnell to give his own speech. it didn’t take him long to get to the heart of the matter:

“This organization has been through a long period of uncertainty and trauma….” he said.

“I have seen the despair in many of you who sought to rise above the divisions and the turbulence of recent years.

“Many of you felt you were being asked to choose between what was best for the organization and what was best for a few people who were only trying to serve themselves.”

McDonnell paused for a beat, then went on.

“I am telling you that, as of today, those days are gone.”

It was the biggest applause line of the afternoon.

“You have been through a Civil War that has torn the department apart,” McDonnell continued. “Now is the time for us to move beyond past divisions and fractures, to heal, and to emerge as a better and stronger organization. Today, we have the opportunity to start fresh, to hit the reset button and to welcome in a new era at the Sheriff’s Department.”

For much of the speech, the new sheriff spoke directly to the department’s 18,000 employees, several hundred of whom had showed up in their dress uniforms to see the new guy sworn in.

“I want to be crystal clear about my expectations of you, as well as what you can expect of me,” McDonnell told them.

Then he ticked off some of those expectations:

* We will set aside disputes and factions of the past and focus, together, on our core mission and building our future.

* We will identify and build upon our strengths, and also be equally forthright in identifying – and working to address – our weaknesses.

* We know that Patrol is important, but so is Custody. We will treat Custody as an equally vital mission of the Department and respect this key aspect of our work, just as we respect those entrusted to us and in our care within our jails.

* We will welcome the watchful eye of our community and work with our federal partners to address past problems. We will embrace oversight as a mechanism to help us move beyond our challenges and to help achieve our shared goals.

* We will develop a culture in which career paths and promotions in the Department are the result of character, competence and compassion, as performed with a sense of humility and based on a foundation of respect.

* Everyone will be afforded a fair chance to succeed—and merit, not external considerations, will serve as the guideposts for success in this Department.

At this last, many of the rank and file who stood along the back and side walls of the hall looked relieved and actually hopeful.

Yet, some of department’s higher ups who sat together near the front, still wore expressions that were serious and difficult to read.

NOTE: You can find a full text of Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s speech here.

The LA public officials who filled the front three or four rows of the hall, however, were uniformly effusive.

“This is historic,” said former district attorney Steve Cooley. “He’s a very special person…. The right man at the right moment.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck agreed. “The right man for the moment.”


THE TONE COMES FROM THE TOP

There was a reception following the swearing in, but before he went off to socialize, McDonnell first took twenty minutes to field questions from the reporters who clustered around him on the steps outside the building.

When asked if he had talked to officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office about whether there would be further indictments of department members—present or former—McDonnell said he had not. “I needed to wait until today in order to have standing.”

But he would be having conversations, he said—then brought up the still looming spectre of a federal consent decree. His goal would be to work as closely with the feds as possible “to make whatever agreement as productive as it can be.’

He answered questions about body cameras (he’s for them), and about the diversion programs he favors for many of the mentally ill inmates, whom he said comprise 20 percent of LA’s jail population. “Diversion is a critical element,” he said.

WitnessLA asked McDonnell how he plans to undo the pay-to-play, patronage culture that became so deeply entrenched in the department. McDonnell said the change would start right now, today, “by setting the tone from the top.” Department members, he said, are “looking for clear direction.”

As to whether there are parts of the existing command structure that he’ll need to dismantle:

“As I go forward, I want to give everybody a fair shot,” McDonnell said, adding that he and his team would also take “a hard look” to see if people are where they are supposed to be.

“We’ll take care of it on a case-by-case basis.”


LEE BACA WEIGHS IN

Former sheriff Lee Baca was also present at the swearing in. He sat in the front row with former California governor Gray Davis.

After the swearing in was over, Baca praised McDonnell’s speech, and chatted volubly about the challenges the new sheriff would face. Then, when when asked to reduce his advice for his successor to elevator pitch-length, Baca thought for a moment, then offered the following:

“Being the sheriff is very personal. It’s not just a professional experience. Its failures are personal. The key is to stay in the center of what is positive. A strong sheriff knows what pain is and can handle it.”

All photos by WLA

MCDONNELL OATH OF OFFICE SPEECH TEXT VERSION DELIVERED FINAL

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

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