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California Supremes Clear the Way for Gov. Brown’s Justice Reform Initiative to Reach Voters

February 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Friday evening, the California Supreme Court cleared the road
of obstacles—at least for the moment—allowing Gov. Jerry Brown to proceed in gathering signatures for his ballot initiative that proposes reduce

The high court, originally planned to consider the matter on Monday, but instead acted Friday after Brown warned that further delay could make it difficult to get the necessary 585,000 voter signatures needed to put his initiative on this year’s ballot.

On Thursday of last week, Governor Jerry Brown and his attorneys filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting an immediate stay of a ruling issued by a lower court judge that could keep the governor’s new sentencing reform ballot issue out of the voters’ hands until 2018.

The came after, on Wednesday of last week, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, known as “The Justice and Rehabilitation Act,” ruling amendments to the initiative were not done correctly.

This is the ballot initiative that would take the decision about whether a child defendant will transferred to adult court away from prosecutors, and put it back into the control of judges who—unlike prosecutors—are presumably neutral parties.

The initiative also makes it easier for adult offenders to earn credits awarded by prison officials through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

In addition, Brown’s initiative would allow non-violent inmates to be eligible for parole after they have completed their full sentence for their primary offense.

Brown characterized this second part of the proposed ballot measure as more than a way to lower the state’s prison population (as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in it’s 2010 Plata v. Brown ruling), but also a much needed strategy to make the state’s prison system more rehabilitative.

“By allowing parole consideration if they do good things,” the governor told reporters in a conference call at the end of January, “they [prisoners] will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”

Although various law enforcement figures across the state agreed and came out in support of Brown’s initiative, the California District Attorney’s Association was not at all pleased to have yanked from them the power to have teenagers as young as 14-years old tried as adults.

In an effort to defeat measure before it ever got to the ballot, the CAL DAs who brought the lawsuit that resulted in the lower court’s block.

Friday’s CAL Supreme ruling is only a temporary victory, however, allowing Brown and Co. to gather signatures while the court considers the whether or not Brown and company and Attorney General Kamala Harris followed the law.

For details of the legal argument, check our earlier story on the lower court ruling, and Brown’s lawyer’s emergency petition to the California Supreme court.

Posted in Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Why Did Los Angeles County Jail Inmate Unique Moore Die? by Art Levine

February 29th, 2016 by witnessla


A New Wrongful Death Lawsuit Raises Questions on Conditions in Los Angeles County’s Women’s Jail

by Art Levine

Before breakfast on Saturday, November 8, 2014, at the Century Regional Detention Facility—or CRDF as the women’s jail in the Los Angeles County system is most commonly known—an inmate named Unique Moore started coughing and complained that she couldn’t breathe. Moore, a 37-year-old African American woman, had a history of diabetes, asthma, and severe mental illness.

When Moore was arrested three weeks earlier for a violation of the terms of her probation, she reportedly informed jail officials at intake that she had a long history of asthma, and that if she had an episode in which she had difficulty breathing, it could be fatal without the proper first aid.

She would need her inhaler.

Once inside the jail, Moore was prescribed various medications for her mental condition, including the antipsychotic Seroquel that, in 2011, the FDA found posed dangers of sudden cardiac death. But it was the threat of an asthma attack that worried her.

According to a new civil lawsuit filed by her parents, Elaine Bridges and Jimmie Lee Moore, Unique Moore’s fears of an asthma attack came to pass around 6 a.m. on that Saturday last November. As she sat up and struggled to get her breath on the lower bunk of her cell, she called with difficulty to her cellmate, or “cellie,” who was then still on the top bunk. Gasping, Moore asked the woman to shout to the guard that she needed an inhaler.

LA County jail policy doesn’t allow inmates to keep inhalers permanently in their cells for fear that the hard plastic devices, designed to deliver medication to an asthma sufferer’s lungs, might be repurposed as weapons.

Moore’s cellmate told her version of the morning’s traumatic events to attorney Portasha Moore, now co-counsel in the civil lawsuit. She said that Unique Moore next complained of feeling hot and asked her cellmate to fan her as they waited for the inhaler to be fetched. (Attorney Portasha Moore is not related to Unique Moore.)

Seeing her companion’s distress, the cellmate immediately pressed an emergency call button located inside each cell to summon help, and began to shout for a deputy. When no help turned up, the cellmate’s shouts were joined by nearby female inmates in unit 3400, a 30-cell section of the 2,300-woman jail located in suburban Lynwood. Reportedly, minutes went by and still no deputies arrived. Thee was more shouting, and more minutes without deputies. Eventually Moore collapsed to the floor of the cell, unconscious. The cellie said she screamed out again and again.

Eventually a deputy turned up. But, by then, Moore couldn’t be aroused.

Kendra Cox, an inmate who was housed in the next jail module, unit 3300, told me in an interview, that the slow response on the part of jail deputies was not at all unusual. “A lot of times when we wanted toilet paper or sanitary napkins, they ignored us,” said Cox. In the pod where Kendra bunked, the sounds from the next unit were muffled. Still, she said, on this particular morning, the inmates’ cries for help were loud and alarming enough to wake Cox and those around her.

For what she estimated was close to 20 minutes, Kendra said, she stood near the door at her cell, looking out the window, and wondering where the guards were.

“They probably thought it was insignificant,” she said, referring what she characterized as the agonizingly slow response to Moore’s emergency. Just women wanting something. “They were men,” she said.

According to Cox, the guards for Unique’s pod weren’t even present when the calling first began. Instead, she said, they were chatting with colleagues in the adjoining section – Cox’s pod –before their shift began. All the while, according to Cox, the inmates in Moore’s unit kept shouting and pounding on their thick metal doors.

Eventually, the guards did respond. But, by the time they showed up, according to her cellmate and others, Unique was on the cell floor unconscious. Deputies would later claim in reports that she was still completely conscious, that it was only when they returned to her cell again after getting the inhaler from the jail’s medical clinic, that she had gone into cardiac arrest.

What is not in dispute is that paramedics were called for Unique Moore at around 6:30 a.m. The paramedics arrived and found Moore on the floor of her cell in full cardiac arrest at 6:38 a.m. She was given additional CPR (taking over from jail staff), plus four doses of Epinephrine and intubated, meaning a flexible plastic tube was inserted down her a windpipe to maintain an open airway, so she could receive oxygen. Then she was transported via ambulance from the jail to St. Francis Medical Center, where she arrived at 7:17 a.m, and was given further treatment. Unique Moore was declared dead at 7:41 a.m.

During the day on Saturday, word spread quickly via the highly active jailhouse grapevine about the fate of the woman nicknamed “Chocolate.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, however, declined for close to a year to acknowledge that a death had occurred at all. Then, when this reporter presented department officials with the coroner’s report on Unique Moore, LASD spokespeople finally conceded that, yes, Moore had died. But Homicide Bureau Detective Lt. David Dolson disputed the claim that there was any neglect, mishandling, or any other kind of institutional failures in the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department response to Moore’s lethal emergency.

“The Homicide Bureau’s investigation did not reveal any apparent delay in providing the inhaler,’” Dolson said in a written statement.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department would not comment further on the lawsuit’s allegations while the litigation is pending.

“They failed her,” said the Moore family’s co-attorney, John Sweeney, “She clearly had a bad asthmatic condition and she died on the floor after her cell-mate pushed the emergency button and [deputies] didn’t come in a timely manner.”


The initial autopsy report written shortly after Moore’s death by a deputy medical examiner concluded, “From the anatomic findings and pertinent history I ascribe the death to Asthma (Clinical History).” The report also cited “other conditions contributing but not related to the immediate cause of death: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, drug use (history).”

A few months later, however, after receiving further input from LASD Homicide Bureau detectives and reviewing the homicide bureau’s report, deputy medical examiner Dr. Vladimir Levicky concluded his final March 2015 autopsy report with a different emphasis.

“The cause of death of death in this case is asthma,” he wrote. “The mode of death is accident due to the history of drug use.” Never mind that there were no illegal drugs whatsoever in her system according to the toxicology report. No cocaine, barbiturates, opiates, MDMA, methamphetamines, codeine, morphine, marijuana, hydrocodone, nor anything related.

In their interviews given to coroner’s office, according to its case file on Moore, LASD officials painted a rosy picture of the high quality of medical care Moore received. As the coroner’s report stated, Moore “was routinely seen by medical staff at the jail. Every time the decedent needed her inhaler, medical staff would check her blood sugar level. On Sunday, the decedent told her cell mate she needed her inhaler. The cellmate called a deputy, and the deputy arrived at the decedent’s cell. The cellmate told the deputy that the decedent needed the inhaler.”

Shortly after her death, LASD homicide detective Jeff Cochran gave the coroner a version of events that differs markedly from eyewitness accounts of the day of Moore’s death. According to Cochran’s narrative, after one of the jail deputy learned about the asthma emergency, he then sped to the medical staff, retrieved the inhaler for Moore and returned to find that she had fallen to the floor, semi-conscious and breathing with difficulty. “As soon as the decedent was pulled out of her cell, the decedent went into cardiac arrest,” Cochran told the coroner.

This version was expanded upon in a November 2015 email to me written by Cochran’s colleague, Lt. Dolson, roughly a year after Moore’s death: “Inmate Moore died at the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing in her cell. Prior to her death, Moore’s cellmate activated the emergency call button in their cell. A deputy responded and was told by the cellmate that Moore needed her inhaler. Nursing staff was notified, and the deputy returned to Moore’s cell. She was now unresponsive, but breathing. Medical staff responded and monitored Moore. Paramedics were summoned. Moore was transported to the hospital where she died.”


Unique Moore had much in the common with the thousands of mentally ill who, despite growing efforts at diversion away from incarceration and into community diversion programs, still cycle in and out of LA County’s jail system. When she was arrested for a probation violation in October 2014, she was in the heart of LA’s Skid Row district seemingly looking for drugs when she was supposed to be completing a series of required drug rehabilitation classes.

Moore had a long history of drug addiction, which appeared to be an effort at self-medication for the mental problems that had dogged her since she was seven years old. As she got older, her initial symptoms bloomed into a serious mood disorder, worsened by the hallucinations caused by schizophrenia, according to what her father told his attorneys. As her mental health worsened, Moore’s self medication moved from marijuana to harder drugs, including PCP, cocaine and meth.

During her mid-teens, Moore served the first of her stints in the county’s juvenile detention facilities, which were soon replaced by adult lock-up time, on drug charges.

Around 95 percent of the approximately 4000 mentally ill inmates who reside in in LA County’s jail system on any given day, like Unique Moore, have substance-abuse disorders and are often so unmoored from their families and communities that more than 80 percent are homeless or lack stable housing when released, as the new Los Angeles County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, noted in testimony in February 2015 before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “Jails were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind,” McDonnell said.


When Unique Moore returned to CRDF for the final time in the fall of 2014, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was still reeling from the effects of one scandal after the other involving general departmental corruption, brutality in the LASD-run jails, and mistreatment of the jail system’s mentally ill inmates, specifically. More than 20 department members had been federally indicted, many of them for charges involving brutality in the county’s jail facilities.

Two years before, in September 2012, the specially appointed Citizens Commission for Jail Violence had issued its scathing report describing a “troubling culture” among jail deputies with “a disturbing mindset that promotes a lack of respect for inmates, an aggressive view that force is best used early and often to control the inmate population.” This was, wrote the commissioners, the result of “a failure of leadership” by the sheriff, Lee Baca, whereas his undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, not only failed “to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them.”

In early 2014, after being elected to four terms, Sheriff Lee Baca had abruptly resigned under a cloud, But, by the fall of the year when Unique Moore had her asthma attack, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who had been so harshly criticized in the jail commission report, was in a runoff election to become the new sheriff. The Department of Justice was threatening to slap the department with a federal consent decree over its treatment of the mentally ill inmates in its jails, an action the county Department of Mental Health (DMH) and then Sheriff John Scott protested as unnecessary because of the purported “incredible efforts” and “progress” in caring for those inmates.

Earlier, the Southern California ACLU had filed a massive class action suit alleging horrific abuse in the jails, that would eventually result in a landmark settlement mandating a new system of outside monitors to oversee jail reform. A few years prior, the ACLU had issued a devastating report on Mental Health inside the jails.

Yet, for all the focus on brutality and neglect inside the nation’s largest jail system, most of the attention was directed toward the men’s jails. CRDF hasn’t gotten sustained legal, advocacy group or media attention until this past August when the reform group, Dignity and Power Now (DPN), working with student researchers from UCLA Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, issued a highly detailed report called Breaking the Silence, alleging a broad pattern of abuse and neglect that was especially damaging to women of color with mental illnesses.

The report was centered on the accounts of seven women who had been incarcerated at CRDF, and who were interviewed in detail by the UCLA researchers about their experiences. The most harrowing was the story of “Nina,” a forty-seven-year-old African-American woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. After two weeks at CRDF, where she was reportedly denied access to appropriate medical professionals, and to the needed medication to “quiet the voices” in her head, Nina attempted suicide by jumping off of a second-story balcony.

Unique Moore had a complex medical history, according to the coroner’s report, jail medical records and the pending lawsuit. She had congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma, anemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and neuropathy, all clearly disclosed to the jail’s medical staff when she was arrested for violating her probation less than a month before she died.

Because of her condition, and the medication she was taking, she needed careful monitoring and prompt attention in case of breathing or cardiac emergencies. But as far as Kendra Cox and other former inmates could tell, few, if any, of the mentally ill inmates who mixed in with the general population got regular medical exams or care. These assertions received support from the harsh assessment by Department of Justice in its June 2014 report about the quality of care given mentally ill inmates, the UCLA/Dignity and Power Now report, and the views of some current and former LA County Department of Mental Health clinicians expressed in exclusive interviews.


“It’s not safe for our clients there,” said Kristina Ronnquist, a former Department of Mental Health social work intern who worked in the women’s jail in 2013 and 2014. It was also not a good climate for employees who report abuse, she said. “I was very clearly told not to speak out, that it would harm me professionally, given the unsafe environment of going against the sheriff’s department.”

Ronnquist testified to what she’d seen in front of the Jail Commission in 2012, and told the LA County Board of Supervisors about her experiences in CRDF in May 2014.

“One of my teenage clients just recently made a very serious attempt at suicide,” she said, “and one day later was taunted by a sheriff’s deputy, who slammed her fingers in the door after she refused to move them, causing serious injury.”

According to Ronnquist, other mental health clinicians wanted to speak out about abuse they’d observed “but they’re too scared to say anything,” she said.

Ronnquist’s accounts were echoed by former CRDF inmates like Kendra Cox. “They treated us horribly like we were second-class citizens,” Cox said of the custody staff, noting that no inmates dared to report the guards on the early-morning shift for their alleged delayed response to Unique Moore. “We didn’t tell them what really happened,” Cox said after her release from jail. Inmates were much too worried about retaliation, she said.

Other former inmates told similar stories. “Ain’t nobody tell the truth in jail,” said Tina Middlebrooks, 50, who was released in February 2015 after a three-year stint for drug dealing. “When you’re in jail, it wasn’t cool for you if the guards thought you were snitching. They tore up your cell and threw all your [personal] stuff out.”

Middlebrooks was staying in a section of the jail that was not at all near to Moore’s, but said she learned about the tragedy on the same day that Unique Moore died. “I really tripped out on her death,” she told me later.

Middlebrooks had gotten to know Moore several years earlier when they were both in state prison on drug charges. She said found Moore’s death particularly disturbing because she was grappling with her own mental illness — schizophrenia — while being housed in the general population and taking her prescribed Seroquel, just like Unique Moore.

“She was a beautiful person both inside and out,” Middlebrooks said of Moore. “She was funny and outgoing. I was devastated.”

Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, and a former Fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute, and and is currently researching a book on mental health issues.

Levine’s investigation into Unique Moore’s death for Witness LA is co-published in The Huffington Post,

Posted in LA County Jail | 13 Comments »

Governor Jerry Brown Turns to CAL Supremes After Judge Blocks Initiative – UPDATED

February 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: The Cal Supremes temporarily removed the judicial roadblock
that would stop Brown from collecting signatures to put his voter initiative on the ballot. For the rest of that story, go here.


On Thursday, Governor Jerry Brown and his attorneys filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting an immediate stay of a ruling issued by a lower court judge that could keep the governor’s new sentencing reform ballot issue out of the voters’ hands until 2018.

Here’s the background: On Wednesday of this week (as we reported here), Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, known as “The Justice and Rehabilitation Act,” ruling amendments to the initiative were not done correctly.

To remind you, this is the ballot initiative that would take the decision about whether a child defendant will transferred to adult court away from prosecutors, and put it back into the control of judges who—unlike prosecutors—are presumably neutral parties.

The initiative also makes it easier for adult offenders to earn credits awarded by prison officials through educational and rehabilitative efforts and good behavior.

In addition, Brown’s initiative would allow non-violent inmates to be eligible for parole after they have completed their full sentence for their primary offense.

Brown characterized this second part of the proposed ballot measure as more than a way to lower the state’s prison population (as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in it’s 2010 Plata v. Brown ruling), but also a much needed strategy to make the state’s prison system more rehabilitative.

“By allowing parole consideration if they do good things,” the governor told reporters in a conference call at the end of January, “they [prisoners] will then have an incentive…to show those who will be judging whether or not they’re ready to go back into society.”

Various law enforcement figures across the state agreed and came out in support of Brown’s initiative, including San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is known for her law-and-order leanings, and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, both of whom were present with Brown when he announced the initiative less than a month ago.

The California District Attorney’s Association, however, was not at all pleased to have yanked from them the power to have teenagers as young as 14-years old tried as adults.

“It takes a tool away from us,” said Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath, president of the California District Attorneys Association, after Brown announced the ballot initiative.


The Cal DAs quickly expressed their unhappiness with legal action in the form of a law suit filed to prevent Attorney General Kamala Harris from issuing the official title and summary of the proposed measure that would let supporters begin gathering signatures.

The prosecutors claimed in the lawsuit that Brown had amended the initiative (which is true, but legal) but that he had done so in such a way that the DAs contended violated a 2014 state law that was intended to improve the initiative process by allowing amendments of initiatives within a certain time frame prior to the initiatives being approved for signature gathering.

According to the 2014 law, amendments are to be “reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed.”

The prosecutors contend that Brown’s amendment did not meet the legislature’s standard, and also accused Attorney General Kamala Harris with letting the governor get away with the allegedly wrongfully applied amendments without the proper period of public comment on the amendments.

Interestingly, it was the original, unamended initiative that contained the proposed change to state law that the DAs found so loathsome, as it would have taken away from prosecutors the choice to try kids as adults instead of allowing them to be tried in juvenile court, and given that discretion back to judges, which had previously held the power in the first place.

(The original initiative also expanded parole eligibility for adult prisoners whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.)

The amendments that are the basis of the lawsuit, however, were the addition of the sections that would allow prison officials to consider sentencing credits for adult inmates, and would additionally allow the possibility of earlier parole for non-violent felons.

In any case, Judge Chang agreed with Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and the Cal District Attorneys Association and ruled that there was “no substantial compliance” by Harris with the 2014 state law. (Her ruling is more complicated, but that’s the upshot.)

If it stands, Chang’s ruling means that Brown and company will be forced to start the initiative process over from scratch, meaning that there will not be enough time to gather the needed 585,000 voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.


In the emergency petition filed with the Cal Supremes on Thursday, Jerry Brown and his attorneys, Robin B. Johansen and James C. Harrison, state that the amendments, which they contend “would further advance the measure’s rehabilitation and public safety goals,” for adults and juveniles, were filed within the time period laid out by the law, that the governor reached out appropriately for comment about the amendments to a wide swath of people—including the CAL DAs. Furthermore, they stated, the law doesn’t require public comment for the amendments. After all, the public can gets to weigh in at the ballot box.

Brown and company’s overall argument is 46-pages long, and makes for interesting reading for those who want more of the legal details. (See below) But the snippets below represent much of the heart of it:

“Waiting until 2018 to qualify this measure for the ballot is not an option,” wrote Johansen and Harrison. “If the superior court’s order stands, the people will have been deprived of their right to use the initiative process to remedy problems that urgently require attention now. The ruling of the Court below turns the Legislature’s amendment process on its head and thwarts rather than promotes the initiative power granted.

“…Because the amendments are reasonably germane and because it is imperative that the people have an opportunity to vote on this measure in November, the Court should immediately stay the lower court’s order and allow the Attorney General to issue her title and summary.”

In addition, Brown’s attorneys wrote, allowing Judge Chang’s ruling to stand “will encourage strike suits, like the one that prompted this writ, by opponents of a measure to try to keep an initiative off the ballot.” In other words, they argued, it allows the use of lawsuits filed for political reasons, not because there is any flaw in the way the initiative was filed.

“If left uncorrected, the superior court’s error will bar voters from even considering whether to sign a measure that would improve public safety by promoting rehabilitation rather than incarceration for juveniles and adults and allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether juveniles should be charged as an adult.”

So what will California’s top court do with this emergency request?

Justice reformers across the state with whom we’ve spoken are anxiously awaiting the answer to that question.

We do know, however, that late on Thursday, the California Supreme Court asked the interested parties, namely the CAL prosecutors, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, and Attorney General Kamala Harris, to file responses to the emergency petition by 5 pm this coming Monday, January 29.

So stay tuned.

Gov. Brown Justice Reform Initiative Writ Petition (00268671-11xAEB03) by Celeste Fremon

Posted in Sentencing | No Comments »

Planned Parenthood Sues on Behalf of Foster Kids…Gov. Brown’s Justice Reform Initiative Blocked…Bill to Kill Cash Bail…and CA Child Welfare’s New Ombudsman

February 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Planned Parenthood is suing a chain of Fresno group homes for allegedly punishing female foster children in its care for receiving reproductive health care and obtaining contraceptives. The government-funded Promesa Behavioral Health group homes force the young girls to allow a staff member to watch their ob-gyn exams and to sign away their medical privacy rights. Group home staff members take away privileges (like watching TV, listening to music, and receiving visits with family members) if the girls are found in violation of Promesa’s abstinence policy by having condoms, getting the Depo-Provera contraceptive shot, or showing any other signs of sexual contact.

Promesa has seven group homes in Fresno County, and received a whopping $4.7 million in government funding in 2014.

In the suit filed by Planned Parenthood and three 18-year-olds under Promesa’s care, the reproductive health care provider calls Promesa’s practices “all the more harmful because youth in foster care have a particularly compelling need for access to contraception and regular reproductive health care.”

Foster kids in California are far more likely than their non-child-welfare-involved peers to be pregnant or have children of their own. According to Alliance for Children’s Rights, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. And 50% of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

One of the plaintiffs says that when Promesa staff found out that she was pregnant at 17, the group home barred her from visits with her mother and first child, and pressured her to get an abortion. She says Promesa staff punished her for refusing the abortion by blocking her from visits with her second child after she gave birth.

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit seeks an injunction banning Promesa from confiscating contraceptives, forbidding foster youth from seeking reproductive health services, and punishing girls who do not comply with the unlawful policies.

Courthouse News Service’s Elizabeth Warmerdam has the story. Here’s a clip:

Plaintiff L.B. says: “When (she) went to gynecological appointments, Promesa group home staff insisted on staying in the exam room with her, and listening to her entire conversation with the medical provider.”

She says she was punished with restrictions for what she told the medical provider, and that Promesa staff confiscated condoms from her three times while searching her room and told her “she would get in trouble if she had them or had any reason to use them.”

Plaintiff A.Z. says a Promesa staff member insisted on accompanying her into her ob-gyn exam last year, and when A.Z. requested a Depo-Provera contraceptive shot, “the group home staff member told her that she was not allowed to have the shot.”

The complaint continues: “The staff member explained that she did not need the shot because she was not allowed to have sexual contact while living at the group home. The staff member told her that if she did have the shot, she would be punished and get an ‘R.’ A.Z. decided to get the Depo-Provera shot that day anyway. When she told Promesa staff, the response was, ‘Just know you are getting an R.’

“Getting an ‘R’ means that a Promesa resident loses important ‘privileges’ at the group home, including leaving the house, watching television, or listening to music. Sometimes it results in an early bedtime or loss of visitation, including visits with family members.

“On a number of occasions, Promesa staff also tried to force AZ. to let her ob-gyn share confidential medical information with the group home staff. When A.Z. directed her doctor not to fill out forms disclosing to Promesa what happened during her ob-gyn appointment, Promesa staff threatened her with an R if she did not permit her doctor to complete the forms.”


On Wednesday, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative to give judges sole discretion (rather than prosecutors) over whether a child defendant is transferred to adult court, and increase inmates’ access to early release credits. (Read more about the initiative and its implications: here.) The ruling will likely delay the ballot measure until 2018.

The judge ruled in favor of the California District Attorneys Association [CDAA] and Sacramento County resident Anne Marie Schubert, whose lawsuit accused Brown of forgoing a necessary period of public review for one of the amendments, and “cut in line to the front, ahead of other initiatives”. The judge’s ruling blocks California Attorney General Kamala Harris from publishing Brown’s “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” which would have allowed Brown to begin gathering signatures.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has more on the judge’s decision. Here’s a clip:

“The court finds that the attorney general abused her discretion,” Chang said, ruling that the amendments radically change the focus of the original initiative without allowing for necessary public comment.

“What the amendments did was the type of mischief the Legislature had in mind” when it required that amendments to ballot initiatives be related to the original initiative, the judge said.

Friday was the deadline for Harris to act, but Chang agreed with the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert after they sued over the ballot measure.

The ruling could delay signature-gathering for Brown’s initiative beyond this year and possibly push it to the 2018 ballot.

Chang’s ruling “makes it impossible” for proponents to put the initiative before voters this year, said attorney James Harrison, who argued on behalf of the original proponents who allowed Brown to alter their measure.


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

The No More Money Bail Act of 2016 aims to reform a system which disproportionately affects the poor, and is a key contributor to overcrowding in jails and prisons. More than 60% of jail inmates nationwide are awaiting trial. Most cannot afford to post bail.

In a previous WLA bail-related post, we pointed to an excellent John Oliver segment on the horrors of the cash bail system.

“No one should ever be deprived of their liberty before trial because they are poor–especially when defendants who are alike in every other way are able to purchase their release by cutting a deal with a for-profit bail bondsman,” said executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, Cherise Fanno Burdeen, announcing the organization’s support of the legislation.

The Pretrial Justice Institute launched a campaign to do away with needless arrests and bookings, and replace money bail with risk-based detention. “Even three days in jail pretrial has been show to make low-level defendants more likely to reoffend,” said Fanno Burdeen.


The California Department of Social Services has appointed Rochelle Trochtenberg—a former foster youth whose story was featured in Karen de Sá’s powerful investigative series on the over-prescribing of psychiatric medication for foster kids—to be the state’s foster care ombudsman.

Diagnosed with a number of mental illnesses as a kid in an LA County group home, Trochtenberg was put on damaging cocktails of psychiatric medications, some of which included lithium, Depakote, Zyprexa, Haldol and Prozac.

After aging out of the foster care system and leaving the psychotropic drug fog behind, she became a major child welfare advocate, serving on the state’s Child Welfare Council and a group working to end the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California foster kids.

Thirty-three-year-old Trochtenberg is the first former foster child to hold the position in California (and possibly the nation). As ombudsman, she will head an office that looks into complaints and child welfare system failures.

Here’s a clip from de Sá’s story for San Jose Mercury News:

“It’s a pleasure when you’re able to appoint the right person to the role at just the right time and Rochelle is that,” said Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services. Lightbourne described Trochtenberg as a “balanced, thoughtful person” who will help tackle the ongoing overhaul of California’s residential group homes and a series of new laws designed to reduce the excessive use of psychiatric drugs in foster care. “I just have the greatest regard for her,” Lightbourne said.

For the past eight years, Trochtenberg has worked on foster care, juvenile justice, homelessness, LGBT rights and mental health issues for Humboldt County. She also holds a key leadership post on the statewide group working to reduce psychotropic drug use, and has served for years alongside judicial and political leaders on the state’s Child Welfare Council.

Growing up in the Los Angeles foster care system, Trochtenberg was diagnosed with a slew of mental illnesses and prescribed multiple overlapping drugs that caused serious health problems. Today, off medications and suffering from none of the illnesses she was told she had in foster care, she holds a master’s degree in social work and is poised to begin her four-year state post on March 28, with an $81,312 annual salary and a staff of 15.

Suddenly, Trochtenberg finds herself packing up to move from Eureka to Sacramento — a surprise twist in her life. “It’s given me this opportunity to pause and reflect,” she said. “If 10 years ago somebody said you’re going to be the foster care ombudswoman, I would have laughed in their face. I’m really just humbled by the opportunity.”

California is one of more than 20 states with similar ombudsman posts, but it was among the first, establishing the office in 1998 following a push by the advocacy group California Youth Connection. The office is responsible for educating foster youth about their rights and how to report violations. It also investigates and resolves individual complaints, summarizing them in reports to the Legislature.

Posted in Foster Care | 1 Comment »

Close-Up on Realignment, LA County Juvie Probation $$, and Abuse in Santa Clara Jails

February 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The March 2016 issue of the journal Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science is devoted entirely to California’s criminal justice reform—namely prison realignment—and why the state is “the epicenter” of a national movement away from over-incarceration.

(If you need a refresher, in 2011, prison realignment (AB 109) shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California’s state prison system—the largest in the nation until recently—to the states’ 58 counties.)

The study’s focus is what Stanford criminal justice expert Joan Petersilia calls “the biggest criminal justice experiment ever conducted in America.” The articles, each written by different authors, give a background on how California’s prisons got so overstuffed, and the origins of realignment, then dig into the big questions about the effects: How are the individual counties using their AB 109 funding? What effect has realignment had on recidivism and crime rates (answer: not much, if any)? Are there unintended consequences? Is realignment just “shuffling the problem from one strapped and ineffectual level of government to another”? Can realignment be copied and implemented effectively in other states?

Much of a study is behind a paywall, but you can read a preface by Joan Petersilia and an introduction by UC Irvine criminology professors Charis Kubrin and Carroll Seron, along with the abstracts for each article.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

“Is California more dangerous as a result of realignment? The answer is ‘no,’ ” she said.

The study was done in conjunction with the Public Policy Institute of California and UC-Berkeley, among others, and comes amid an uptick in crime in Los Angeles, Long Beach and some other California cities. Long Beach reported double digit increases in violent crimes and property crimes in 2015 over the year before.

Law enforcement leaders have in part blamed the crime increase on California’s tide toward less harsh punishments, including prison realignment and Proposition 47, which made most low-level drug crimes misdemeanors.

“If they get arrested, they get out of jail and are back on the streets before the officer has completed the report,” Long Beach Police Deputy Police Chief Rich Rocchi told KPCC earlier this month.

Kubrin said realignment, at least, should not be blamed.

“There are so many factors in crime increases: poverty, gun availability, demographic shifts, drug markets, gang activity, I can go on and on,” she said.

Controlling for all of those factors, the Public Policy Institute of California’s Magnus Lofstrum and UC-Berkeley’s Steven Rafael found “very little evidence that the large reduction in California incarceration had an effect on violent crime, and modest evidence of effects on property crime, auto theft in particular,” according to their paper, which is included in the journal issue.

Researchers from the PPIC also found little impact on offender recidivism, though they did notice a difference between counties that invested in rehabilitation services and those who primarily invested in law enforcement. Offenders released to San Bernardino County, for instance, had a 3.7 percent higher rate of being rearrested than those released to Alameda County.


Last month, we wrote about an alarming LA County Probation fiscal audit, which found many examples of careless spending and the hoarding of $161 million in unspent funds meant for rehabilitative and community-based services.

Los Angeles County spends $233,600 per year on each kid it locks up—a number considerably higher than other large counties. San Diego spends $127,750, Chicago spends $204,400, and Houston spends $84,680 on a year of incarceration.

But for all those dollars spent, the return rate is grim: a recent study found that in California counties, more than a third of juveniles held in halls or camps were rearrested within a year of their release. Formerly locked-up kids are also less likely to finish high school, and are more likely to be incarcerated as adults.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she supports an approach that focuses on results. “We need to invest in these kids. But we need to invest smartly, to make sure that public investments lead to the outcomes that we all want to see, which is to restore these children to productive and peaceful citizenship.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she had been unaware of the high costs and wouldn’t object to spending so much more taxpayer money on the camps and halls than other jurisdictions do if it helped to turn around troubled young people.

Noting the high cost of chronic poverty and incarceration, she said $233,000 a year could “be money well spent.”

Few juvenile justice researchers, however, would argue that the system — regardless of the amount spent on incarceration — does a great job of rehabilitating young people.

A recent study led by Cal State Los Angeles professor Denise Herz found that more than a third of the youth in county lockups were rearrested for new crimes and violations within a year of their release. Beyond that, a growing body of research indicates that someone who is incarcerated as a juvenile is at greater risk for future trouble than someone convicted of similar crimes but not locked up.

A study by economists Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle Jr., for example, found that those incarcerated were 13% less likely to finish high school and 22% more likely to end up in prison as adults.

Nor is there evidence to suggest that the money L.A. spends on juvenile incarceration is used to keep up with capital improvements.

A 2014 report from the Los Angeles County civil grand jury documented leaking pipes, dry rot in support beams, decaying facades and peeling paint at the Eastlake Juvenile Hall.


A report on conditions within Santa Clara County jails found numerous allegations of excessive force and other major systemic problems. The report was commissioned by a blue ribbon panel formed after three guards were charged with the murder of a mentally ill inmate, Michael Tyree.

Researchers interviewed 944 jail inmates—27% of the total population—who said officers used excessive force against the inmates, even when there is no threat and are generally not held accountable for their misdeeds. The young inmates told the researchers that they have to physically hand complaint slips to officers, and that sometimes the officers refuse to file the grievance. Inmates say they fear retaliation, and jail personnel misconduct often goes unpunished.

Researchers also interviewed 8 family members of inmates and 33 jail staff members. The jail workers accused the higher-ups of playing favorites when doling out discipline.

Inmates also reported delayed medical and mental health care, not enough clothing, and a too few supplies to keep themselves and their cells clean.

KQED’s Julie Small has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report found widespread complaints that correctional officers use excessive force “in routine jail movements and lockdowns. Interviewees emphasized that officers’ use of force does not always stop when an emergency ends; physical violence and pepper spray often continue even after an inmate is fully restrained and no longer a threat to anyone’s safety.”

Some inmates told interviewers that “some officers use physical force against inmates who ‘talk back’ … and that a few officers use force disproportionately with vulnerable inmates, such as those who are mentally ill, elderly, or without family, because these inmates are less able to speak up for themselves.”

Inmates complained that officers often aren’t held accountable for abusing inmates. On the other hand, jail staff told interviewers that the jail’s administration often exercises favoritism in meting out discipline and “sometimes rushes to hold officers accountable before culpability has been established.”

“The perceived combination of ‘sweep it under the rug’ culture with ‘throw officers under the bus’ reactions from administration results in staff morale that is reported to be exceedingly low,” the report said.

Jodie Smith, the attorney who presented the report’s findings Saturday, said both inmates and correctional staff view the jail’s system for filing and acting on grievances as broken.

The system requires inmates to hand grievance slips directly to correctional officers, the report says, adding that many prisoners report that officers simply refuse to take the slips or tear them up.

Posted in Realignment | 1 Comment »

Prop. 47 Applications County by County…the Takeaway from LA County’s Jail Scandal…and SFPD’s New Community Policing Bureau

February 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


As of September 2015, a total of 193,865 Proposition 47 applications for resentencing and reclassification have been filed in California, according to updated numbers released by the California Judicial Council. (If you’re unfamiliar, in November 2014, Prop. 47 reduced six non-serious drug and property felonies to misdemeanors. The law’s retroactivity allows current and former offenders to apply to have their qualifying felonies reclassified.)

Los Angeles, which has the highest population of people who stand to benefit from Prop. 47, received 32,153 applications for resentencing and/or reclassification. But San Diego County, with its hardline District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has received 47,880 applications—around 15,000 more applications than the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has had a far more positive response to Prop. 47 than LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Sheriff Gore says thanks to the new law, San Diego has been able to do away with early releases (caused by jail overcrowding). The vacant jail beds have also allowed the county to book people for misdemeanor offenses, rather than handing out citations to people accused of misdemeanors. In LA, officers have stopped booking people on these reduced offenses. In a series of video op-eds, LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell says low-level offenders are receiving citations instead, because Prop. 47 did away with consequences for those crimes.


On February 10, former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when he was interviewed in 2013 by the FBI as part of an investigation into LASD corruption and civil rights violations.

The LA jail scandal provides an example of how “institutionalization systematically erodes the moral code of jail employees,” says Vincent Schiraldi, who was director of juvenile corrections in Washington DC, prior to his current post as head of a criminal justice think tank at Harvard Kennedy School.

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Schiraldi, talks about the bureaucracy, code of silence, and indifference he came up against when working to reform the scandal-plagued DC juvenile justice system. The injustices Schiraldi tells of are so extravagant, his story reads like fiction. Here are some clips (but read the whole thing):

The juvenile justice agency I took over in our Nation’s Capital in 2005 was a Dickensian nightmare, despite 19 years of court oversight. In the previous year, two scathing reports by the District’s Inspector General and plaintiff’s experts detailed appalling conditions in the department’s facilities. Kids reported stuffing their clothing around the toilets to prevent rats and cockroaches from biting them at night. The boilers were so dysfunctional that youth who slept in rooms close to them experienced scalding heat, while those far away endured numbing cold. Young people were locked in their cells for so long that they often defecated or urinated in them. Drugs were so prevalent in the facility that some youth who came into custody clean tested positive for marijuana after 30 days. Beatings of children in custody were commonplace. The year before I arrived, things got so bad that the city went through four department heads and the youths’ lawyers asked the court to place the entire department into receivership.

We later discovered that staff were also sexually harassing the kids and one another. New female staff learned that if they didn’t perform sexually for their supervisors, they might find themselves in dangerous situations with the facility’s inmates with no aid forthcoming. A teacher who had been confined in our facility when she was a teenager told us that she had been sexually assaulted by a staff member who still worked for us. One correctional officer actually married a youth shortly after his release from custody.

Cleaning this up was no mean feat. The story of one staff member — allegedly part of a goon squad that routinely beat up recalcitrant youth — is illustrative. Robert (not his real name) was accused of savagely beating two residents in front of dozens of youth and staff. To compound the humiliation, the youth were handcuffed and dragged through a mud puddle. Medical staff reported that the boys’ bruising was consistent with their account of abuse. A single correctional officer came forward as a witness. a rarity due to the strong correctional staff taboo against “snitching”.


Despite my experiences, I actually liked many of my staff more that I would have ever expected. I charged into my job with an air of moral superiority. Surely, I thought, such conditions could only be created by ethically bankrupt characters who would wear their depravity on their sleeves.

But things in the real world were far more complicated than I originally believed. It was obvious that just about everyone in my facility knew who was beating up the kids, sexually assaulting them and selling them drugs. After all, the facility only housed about 200 young people, roughly the size of a small middle school. Even in a system as large as the L.A.’s, I’m confident that far more people knew of, and participated in, the abuses and cover up than will ever be held to account.

Yet many of my church-going, hail-fellow-well-met staff were ostensibly quite friendly people who believed they were advancing public safety. They were the good guys – attending football games and plays and cheering the youth on alongside their parents. You’d never dream that most of them would knowingly allow a grown man to brutally beat children or sell them drugs.

Yet, there they were, doing just that.


The San Francisco Police Department is forming a new Bureau of Professional Standards and Principled Policing that will be tasked with implementing reform recommendations from the US Department of Justice and building up the SFPD’s community policing efforts.

The news follows two months after the controversial officer-involved shooting of Mario Woods and several weeks after the DOJ announced it would review the SFPD’s policies and practices.

The San Francisco Examiner’s Michael Barba has more on the new bureau. Here’s a clip:

“This will be new territory for an old and proud department,” Chaplin said during a news conference at City Hall on Monday.

The creation of the new bureau is part of what Mayor Ed Lee dubbed at the same news conference a “comprehensive package of police reforms,” which amount to a cultural shift in the way San Francisco police use force.

The reforms, which were made following the killing of Mario Woods last December, include changes to Police Department policies, procedures and training. The fatal police shooting has prompted outrage and raised questions about whether police in The City use excessive force.

“We need to figure out a way to re-engineer force,” Suhr said at the news conference. “The main goal in everything that we’ve been talking about is the sanctity of life, and the sanctity of life for everybody — that everybody walks away whenever that can be possible.”

The San Francisco Police Department also announced new guidelines that include training officers to pause to reevaluate a threat after every two rounds shot at a suspect. The San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints will also be required to investigate every police shooting resulting in injury or death.

Courthouse News Service’s Nicholas Iovino has more on the new guidelines.

Posted in District Attorney | 1 Comment »

While LA County Juvenile Probation Hoards Cash, A Unique Youth Diversion Program Struggles for $$ – by Jeremy Loudenback

February 22nd, 2016 by witnessla


If Only LA County Probation Will Fork Over the Promised Funding

by Jeremy Loudenback

When Karina Cabrera first sat down with Angelica,* a 15-year-old enrolled in Centinela Youth Services juvenile diversion program, the case manager remembers the youth’s icy stare and clipped answers. (* “Angelica’s” name has been changed to protect her privacy.)

Just weeks before, Angelica had been hauled in by members of the Los Angeles Police Department after she was caught trying to steal a shirt at Target.

This was Angelica’s first offense, but the teenager from South L.A. was quickly heading down a problematic path. She had recently flunked most of her classes and her school attendance was dwindling down to nearly nothing. According to Cabrera, Angelica’s father has been in and out of jail during much of her life. Angelica had a rocky relationship with her mother, who offered little encouragement or support to her daughter. As a consequence, the girl was spending most of her time on the streets where she found the support she was looking for, but with the wrong people.

“She was trying to fill the void that wasn’t getting from mom and dad,” Cabrera said.

“Members of a gang were the only ones who showed her love.” When the two met, Angelica “couldn’t envision a future for herself that didn’t involve being part of a gang.”

After the attempted Target theft, however, the police offered Angelica and her family a novel choice: If she completed a six-month program with Centinela Youth Services—a program based in Inglewood, Calif., that includes victim restitution and therapeutic services—she could walk away without any trace of the incident on her record.

In the past, low-income youth in communities like South L.A. have had few options after getting arrested. Being picked up by the cops for law-breaking usually meant a booking number, a day in court, fees, and mandatory weekly meetings for the next year or so with a probation officer. Or worse, it could mean weeks or months in a juvenile probation facility.

But thanks to a unique pilot project created in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department’s South Los Angeles bureau, Centinela Youth Services (CYS) has given more than 300 at-risk youth a year—and the law enforcement officers who arrest them— an alternative. Using a philosophy that incorporates the emerging science of adolescent brain development, the CYS diversion program is poised for expansion. But Los Angeles County’s failure to distribute state funds related to community-based juvenile justice programs has cast doubt on the future of the program.

The only pre-arrest juvenile diversion program in the state, CYS has earned acclaim from local officials for the low recidivism rate of its graduates. According to the organization’s numbers, between 8 and 11 percent of youth who come through CYS are arrested again in the year after the completion of services. This mark is much lower than the return rate for youth who are processed though the county’s probation system.

According to a 2015 study of juvenile probation outcomes conducted by a team of researchers headed by Cal State L.A.’s Denise Herz, youth who are part of L.A. County’s system of probation camps, juvenile halls and group homes have a recidivism rate of 33 percent a year after youth exit their placements. Other estimates have pegged juvenile recidivism rates in Los Angeles County as even higher, at up 40 percent.

After concluding a three-year pilot project last year with two LAPD stations in South Los Angeles—the Southeast and 77th stations—CYS is now poised to open a second program in the San Fernando Valley, in partnership with the LAPD’s Foothill and Van Nuys stations.

“The pilot showed us it’s a win-win situation for the youth and the county,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “If you can help a young person turn their life around, you’re going to save a lot of money down the line. You’re not going to have consistent juvenile offenses, you’re not going to have an adult offender.

“You’re going to have less recidivism. That’s what we’re aiming for.”


Ever since advocates convinced LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to give the program a shot in 2012, Deputy Chief Bob Green has been a staunch supporter.

Green started his more than 30-year LAPD career working as beat cop in South Los Angeles in 1980. His early years on the job coincided with the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic and the attendant spread of gang violence, which impacted the lives of thousands of L.A. youth of that era.

Before being transferred to the Valley Bureau last year, Green spent years policing South Los Angeles. Green transitioned from the streets to leading anti-gang efforts as commanding officer of the 77th station and then later he headed up the entire South Bureau.

During his years working in South L.A., Green said he noticed with dismay that kids arrested at a young age too often found it difficult to break free of the system after that first arrest.

“Once I give that at-risk kid a booking number, that’s very hard to recover from,” Green said. “Sometimes that means a death sentence in South L.A.”

Green said that the long-term consequences of a police record can discourage many youth from changing their less-than-healthy behaviors, further entrenching their relationship with the justice system. And once they’re in the system, he said, there’s often very little in place to steer youth back to a more hopeful life.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Kerry White might agree. When he started crunching numbers from the county’s juvenile court system soon after he started working in the DA’s juvenile division in 2010, White found a disturbing trend.

Now the head of the DA’s juvenile division White saw that at least 60 percent of kids at almost every one of the county courts had more than one case, and a large number had three cases or more.

“That told me that just appearing before a judge as a minor was not enough to turn a kid’s life around. We needed something more,” White said.

With the blessing of former DA Steve Cooley and current DA Jackie Lacey, White helped broker the terms of the CYS program in 2012. Now, all misdemeanor and felony charges for youth between ages of 9 and 17 are eligible for Centinela’s diversion program, with the exception of more serious offenses like rape, murder and the use of firearm (legally referred to as 707(b) offenses).

Since the program is aimed at youth who have recently entered the system, participation is limited to young people who have committed their first or second offense. (The program occasionally includes third-time offenders if the prior charges were minor.) Youths who are arrested for robbery, assault and drug sales are eligible, pending the discretion of the police.

The LAPD continues to refer juveniles with a more serious history of gang involvement to the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program, where youth can receive prevention and re-entry services. But options have been limited for lower-income youth arrested in Los Angeles for minor offenses like petty theft.

Even arrests that don’t go to court are still logged in to the juvenile automated index, a Los Angeles County Probation Department system that tracks a youth’s involvement with the court.

Once a youth is part of the system, the impact can be felt for years, according to Centinela Youth Services Executive Director Jessica Ellis. Joining the military is a popular way out of South L.A. for many youth, she said, but just one arrest can discourage those dreams. And much later, a youth’s record on the juvenile automated index can pop up in licensing applications and background checks for careers as nurses, contractors and pharmacists.

“It’s holding a lot of them back,” Ellis said.


The CYS program was adapted from a similar program in Miami that also involved partnerships with law enforcement agencies, the juvenile courts, community-based organizations, and others.

At CYS, after an arrest, eligible youth are screened to determine their needs, then linked to services such as tutoring, counseling, mentoring, substance abuse treatment and parenting classes. For instance, CYS refers many youth in South Los Angeles to the Brotherhood Crusade, where they can participate in mentoring and other youth development programs

Adapting the idea to L.A. proved difficult at first. Initially, referrals from law-enforcement agencies were slow to arrive. Part of the issue was that it was difficult to find many first- and second-time offenders who fit the bill. Even by the age of 15 or 16, staff at CYS found that many youth had already accumulated too many arrests to qualify for the program.

Centinela and their LAPD partners retuned their program. Now CYS accepts youth as young as young as 9 years old, part of an attempt to intervene earlier in the cycle of youth who at risk of entering the justice system—at a fraction of the cost of more expensive—and life-altering—incarceration options down the line.


Centinela Youth Services was able to launch its first restorative justice center in Inglewood with a $1 million grant from the Everychild Foundation.

Jacqueline Caster, president and founder of the Everychild Foundation and a Los Angeles County Probation Commissioner, said that she and her board members were attracted to the program that they believed provided an opportunity for kids in trouble that wasn’t being offered elsewhere in the county.

“When it was first pitched to us, it was compelling to hear that you can have these different results, save money and save lives,” Caster said. “And it makes a lot of sense to deal with issues on the front end rather than the back end.”

Later, CYS used money from state a grant for juvenile delinquency prevention to establish another center in South L.A., near the LAPD’s 77th station.

But long-term funding is a challenge, even for a program with a success rate like Centinela’s.

CYS supporters are hoping that a pot of state dollars earmarked for community-based juvenile justice programs will offer the long-term sustainability that has up until now eluded the program, but the needed money is far from assured.

Under the 2000 Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), California counties receive a total of more than a $100 million a year that each county is supposed to use for prevention and early intervention programs, and services aimed at keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system.

L.A. County Probation received approximately $26 million last year in JJCPA funding. But oddly the county has failed to spend a huge portion of its money. As a December 2015 audit showed, LA’s probation department has been sitting on nearly $22 million of JJCPA funds accumulated over the past four years.

(WitnessLA reported on the hidden cache of cash, which at first probation declined to admit existed, here and here.)

After news of the unused juvenile justice dollars came to light last July, the Board of Supervisors directed that $5 million of the hoarded cash be put in the hands of the Board, with $1 million allotted to each supervisorial district.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes most of South L.A., pledged his $1 million to support the CYS’s programs in South Los Angeles. Supervisor Kuehl has committed half of her allotment—$500,0000—to CYS in order to expand the juvenile diversion programs in the San Fernando Valley.

More than six months later, however, the funds have yet to be actually allocated, leaving CYS’s long-term prospects still up in the air.


CYS case manager Cabrera realized that she would have to build a relationship with Angelica before the troubled teenager could make further strides.

“She was trying to get a sense of what type of person I was and why I was there,” Cabrera recalled. “Early on, I really had to remind her about my role and why she was in the program.”

Case manager Cabrera realized that making a real difference with Angelica would require more than just a quick hand-off.

Cabrera and the rest of the staff at CYS hoped that they could help Angelica imagine a future that didn’t involve becoming gang affiliated. But first Cabrera would have to find a way to help Angelica deal with the issues that lay at the root of her risky behaviors —such as a sense of abandonment and a lack of positive role models.

“The underlying issues had been occurring for so long that they were just passing by [the adults in her life],” Cabrera said. “Nobody noticed or was providing the services to deal with the issues and the trauma she was experiencing.”

CYS Director Ellis said that roughly a third of the youth who come through the organization’s two centers are directed to services that address the significant personal trauma that has either directly or indirectly contributed to problematic behaviors, as was the case with Angelica. Another third, said Ellis, are managing an undiagnosed or unaddressed mental health issue, like a severe anxiety disorder, depression or PTSD.

She told of a youth who had been expelled from school for fighting just hours after learning that his much-loved grandfather had died. Other kids cope with trauma caused by repeated incidents of violence in their neighborhoods, or in their ruptured families. Still others have been removed from their families and placed for years in the county’s foster care system where they felt they belonged to no one.

When youth are referred to CYS, a case manager like Cabrera is charged with making a visit to the child’s home to perform a screening designed to locate areas in which youth are in need of counseling and other supports.

Conversation with a kid starts with questions like, “Have you experienced any loss or ]has someone close to you passed away in the past 90 days? Have you left school for no reason? Are you having difficulty paying attention at home or school?”

High-risk youth like Angelica who demonstrate a need for further services are connected to mental health programs and intensive clinical case management that can stretch across six months, and sometimes even longer.

Unwilling, at first, to talk about her past, it took three or four months before Angelica would agree to therapy. Cabrera met with her at least three times a month and checked in with her by phone in between, listening uncritically, building rapport, having conversations about healthy relationships and setting goals.

“One day, she said, ‘I want to have to have a healthy way of thinking,’” Cabrera remembered. “After gaining so much trust with her, she finally felt that someone cared, that someone was listening to her, and she agreed to the services we both knew she needed.”

Recently, Angelica enrolled in school again, and she’s striving for good grades for the first time. Cabrera has also connected Angelica with additional therapy and tutoring, and the teen is now participating in job training and mentoring programs.

After six months with CYS, progress is slow but, these days, when Angelica wraps up her meetings with Cabrera, the woman and the girl usually part from each other with a hug. “I like talking to you, Karina,” the youth now tells Cabrera.


“How many of you think the juvenile-justice system is broken?”

Deputy Chief Green always poses that question to officers whenever he introduces the CYS program at roll call or in the squad room.

Almost all hands in the room go up, he said.

“Very few cops think the current juvenile justice system is effective,” he said. “When you look at the current statistics, with a maybe 75 percent recidivism rate, the numbers really do speak for themselves.”

Still, Green understands that many cops have an initial resistance to programs that they feel might let kids off the hook for illegal behavior.

Green said that a powerful component in getting many law-enforcement officers on board is CYS’s mandated use of a restorative justice program that requires a youth to meet with the victim of his or her offenses and then to make some form of concrete restitution to that person or persons. This can include arranging financial compensation, community service or other forms of making amends.

“They have to meet face to face with their victim, and they have to find a way to make it right with that person. That’s hard,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot easier to have a judge tell you to do 20 hours of community service and you’re done. Going on informal probation–where you might get a letter from a judge telling you to bring your grades up. But hat’s not going to do anything to change behaviors or bring real accountability.”

The fact that, if a youth doesn’t complete the program with CYS, he or she will then be booked, is a factor that Green said eases the concerns of some officers.

He hailed the CYS program as an opportunity to way to exercise a “paradigm shift” at the agency, away from a “zero tolerance” approach, and toward a different type of policing.

“If we want to make sure that these kids don’t stay in the system for the next 30 years, we’ve got to try something different.”

Ellis agreed and explained that another powerful tool that she has used to get both law enforcement leadership and rank-and-file on board are scans of an adolescent brain.

“The statistics [about recidivism] help open the door for credibility, and then the brain science starts opening doors to a lot of conversations about how kids are not a fixed entity and how we can change their trajectory,” she said.

Ellis pointed out that, at 15, the adolescent brain lacks the decision-making ability of a fully developed adult brain. Yet when a youth robs a store at 14, she may be seen as a “bad kid” who is beyond help or change.

“That’s the big misconception that we’re fighting,” she said. “There are structural decision-making differences in the brains of kids. All of that executive thinking doesn’t finish growing in the frontal cortex until age 25.”


Since CYS’s juvenile diversion program began in 2012, it has continued to expand. Several additional law-enforcement agencies have come on board, including the Hawthorne Police Department, Compton School Police, Inglewood Police Department, El Segundo Police Department and Huntington Park Police Department. In December, Ellis said, CYS signed a memorandum of understanding to partner with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, specifically in the LASD’s South Los Angeles stations. And then there is the CYS program that is scheduled to open in the San Fernando Valley, with the help of Deputy Chief Green, who now heads the department’s Valley Bureau.

Yet looming over these optimistic plans for expansion is the still unresolved issue of the program’s sustainability. CYS will need $1.8 million to set up a restorative center in the Valley alone.

Moreover, the existing programs need additional case managers like Cabrera. Ellis says that the cost of a typical youth who goes through CYS’s program is $800. Kids who require the most intensive services with CYS may top out at $4000, which is still much cheaper than what it would cost to get similar services from the probation department, according to Ellis.

According to a review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices released last July, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was about $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s 14 camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. The average daily population of both the camps and halls is about 1,600 youth.

Even with the money already pledged by Supervisors Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas, CYS supporters say that continuing the nonprofit’s diversion efforts will require long-term support from the county.

“It’s absurd. This is money that is sitting there dormant and is supposed to be put to work keeping kids out of the system,” Caster said. “It would be a tragedy if they drag this out, and the program has to go on hiatus. There needs to be a permanent income stream.”

For Green, CYS offers a rare opportunity for the LAPD to build toward real systems change. But without greater county leadership, he fears the moment may pass, and it will be too easy for old policing habits to return.

“Centinela Youth Services has got huge potential to build on their work, but there needs to be a commitment,” Green said.

“If funding dries up, then you’re right back where you started: hook and book.”

Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change

Loudenback’s story was produced in collaboration with WitnessLA’s publishing partner, The Chronicle of Social Change.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

LASD Deputy Union Says Jail Supervisors Misunderstand Force Policy….2 LA Sheriff’s Deputies Fight to Save Shot Baby Girl….NYPD Officer Sues to Reform His Department

February 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to a newly released statement by the board of directors of ALADS, the union that represents Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, many “frontline supervisors” in the county’s jail system do not adequately understand the department’s use of force policy, so are requiring use of force reports in cases where neither common sense nor LASD policy necessitates them. These purportedly unnecessary reports, wrote the board, serve only to falsely inflate force statistics and to make deputies jumpy about performing their duties lest they be viewed as “heavy handed.”

It is widely agreed that LA County’s chronically-troubled jails have measurably improved since the Southern California ACLU brought its massive class action lawsuit in January 2012 alleging widespread brutality in the jail system, and then in September of that same year, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing report, documenting a “troubling culture in Custody, which has produced both on duty and off duty aggressive misconduct.”

However, when organizations as large as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department attempt fundamental reform, it is not uncommon for even the best intended efforts to be less than perfectly calibrated, thus sometimes causing new problems to be created while trying to correct old problems.

Admittedly, WitnessLA has not deeply investigated this issue, but we have heard plenty of credible anecdotal accounts from our sources that generally support what the ALADS board outlines with its statement.

Here’s a clip:

As the Department undergoes federal oversight of the jail system, a pattern has emerged of frontline supervisors in the jail incorrectly requiring “use of force” reports in cases where both common sense and Sheriff’s Department rules do not require such a report. The concept of a use of force should not be confusing. However, with an 111-page policy and supervisors who do not fully understand the force policies, this can typically lead to confusion and misinterpretation. Whatever the motivation of these supervisors, be it a failure to understand the department’s policies on use of force or a reflexive “CYA” reaction to the jail oversight, it must be addressed by Department leadership.

The problem persists that Sergeants do not fully understand the use force policy, and thus the Department is forced to either under report or over report incidents of force. The perception of the public then becomes one in which there is officer brutality occurring in the jail, when in reality deputies are just doing their job in a very dangerous environment. What makes this worse is when supervisors misinterpret department policies.

For example, is it considered a “use of force” when a deputy helps a jail inmate to his feet after the inmate had fallen? Department policy and common sense say “no”-yet recently; a jail supervisor insisted that a force report be written in that instance! If an inmate falls on their own and a deputy witnessed the fall and then comes to the inmate’s aide, a force report should not be required. In short, it appears anything and everything is being considered “force” and resulting in some Department’s management’s insistence a force report be generated.

Use of force policies must either be changed to be clearer, or there must be extra training provided so supervisors can better understand it.

The disturbing trend of requiring deputies to file a use of force report when not required both forces the line deputies into a “no win” situation, where they are in constant fear they will lose their jobs over a “new policy” that does not exist in writing, or being forced to ignore the actual current written policy that does not require such reports.

According to ALADS, LASD higher ups are aware of the problem, and concerned that the issue is artificially driving up use of force numbers..

As a solution, ALADS suggests additional training for custody supervisors and clarification of the language of the department’s written use of force policy so it is more user friendly.


Gang violence has been generally down for the last decade in Los Angeles. Yet there was a spike in homicides last year, and even “down” doesn’t mean nonexistent. Gang shootings still blow far too many holes that can never be mended in LA County lives, families and communities.

When such a shooting does occur, it is, of course, Los Angeles police officers and sheriff’s deputies who usually arrive at the scene of the tragedy first, and hear the anguished screams of the family members affected.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang writes of one such shooting that took place in Compton earlier this month. Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies, one a training officer, one newly transferred from custody to patrol, were first on the scene and—concerned that paramedics might not arrive in time—they frantically raced to the hospital with a baby girl named Autumn who had just celebrated her first birthday, but who had minutes before been shot in the head when a gangster drove up and blasted at the converted garage where she lived. It is believed that the shooter may have been aiming at her father.

Here’s a clip from Chang’s story:

The father cradled his 1-year-old daughter in his arms, screaming: “My baby’s been shot! My baby’s been shot!”

The little girl had a grievous head wound. She was ominously still, not moving or crying.

The sheriff’s deputies didn’t know how far behind the paramedics were. They decided to take her to the hospital themselves.

The father got in the back seat of the patrol car with his baby.

“We’re gonna get you there. We’re gonna get you there,” Deputy Ricardo Eguia repeated during the high-speed ride as the father sobbed.

On a night shift patrolling Compton, just about anything can happen. In six years on the city’s streets as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, Eguia has seen blood on the sidewalk and heard the anguished wails of family members all too many times.

But even here, gang violence reaching into a baby’s crib is not routine. The deaths of children stick with Eguia, from the toddler killed by a falling television to the baby girl named Autumn Johnson who lay motionless during the frantic journey to the hospital last Tuesday.

Autumn had recently celebrated her first birthday with cake and Minnie Mouse balloons. She was sleeping in her crib when a man stepped out of a blue Chevrolet Impala and began shooting at the converted garage where she lived. A single bullet struck her in the head.

Her father, 24-year-old Darrell Johnson, was an admitted gang member and may have been the intended target, according to investigators.

Homicide Capt. Steve Katz said Wednesday that the investigation was moving forward but he could release no new information. Authorities are offering a $75,000 reward for information leading to the identification, capture and conviction of the shooter.

“You start contemplating a lot of things because the child had nothing to do with anything,” Eguia said. “They’re sleeping in the crib, and now they’re not. Sometimes you don’t know what to make of it. Is it fair? Is it not fair? You don’t understand why those things happen.”


New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly stated that there are no longer any kind of arrest quotas in the New York Police Department, that he wants a focus on “quality arrests” not quantity. Judging from Bratton’s work in Los Angeles, the commissioner likely means it.

However, over the last two years, a once-idealistic 30-year-old NYPD officer named Edwin Raymond, has recorded his meetings with almost a dozen department supervisors up and down the chain of command in what he says is an attempt to show that the practice of pushing for arrest quotas isn’t dead at all. Only the rhetoric used to press for higher arrest numbers has changed.

In August 2015, Raymond and 11 other NYPD officers filed a class-action suit on behalf of the department’s minority officers, with the non-disappearance of the quota system front and center in their legal complaint.

“In Raymond’s mind, quota-based policing lies at the root of almost everything racially discriminatory about policing in New York,” writes Saki Knafo in an excellent longread about Raymond in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. “Yet the department has repeatedly told the public that quotas don’t exist.”

Here are some clips from Knafo’s story about Officer Raymond, his efforts to be a good cop in the face of pressure to produce higher arrest numbers, and the lawsuit that has resulted:

…The suit accuses the department of violating multiple laws and statutes, including a 2010 state ban against quotas, and the 14th Amendment, which outlaws racial discrimination. It asks for damages and an injunction against the practice. Although plaintiffs in other cases have provided courts with evidence suggesting the department uses quotas, this is the first time anyone has sued the department for violating the 2010 state ban against the practice.

Black and Latino officers have long contributed rare voices of dissent within a department that remains predominantly white at its highest levels. Raymond has cultivated a friendship with Eric Adams, a former police captain and the current Brooklyn borough president, who founded, during his time on the force, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an organization that advocates for law-enforcement professionals of color. Adams has had a hand in several recent policing reforms. As a state senator, he sponsored the bill that led, in 2010, to the New York ban against quotas for stops, summonses and arrests. Then, in 2013, he joined several current and former minority officers in testifying against the department in the landmark stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. City of New York, which culminated with a federal judge’s ruling that the department had stopped and searched hundreds of thousands of minority New Yorkers in ways that violated their civil rights.

Between 2011 and 2013, the publicity surrounding the case prompted the department to all but abandon the tactic — the number of annual stops fell by more than two-thirds over two years — but, according to Raymond and others, the pressure to arrest people for minor offenses has not let up. ‘‘Every time I read the paper, I thought, Why do they think the problem is stop-and-frisk?’’ Raymond says. ‘‘Although stop-and-frisk is unlawful, and it’s annoying, you’re not going to not get a job because you’ve been stopped and frisked,’’ he says. ‘‘You’re going to get denied a job because you have a record.’’

The lawsuit claims that commanders now use euphemisms to sidestep the quota ban, pressuring officers to ‘‘be more proactive’’ or to ‘‘get more activity’’ instead of explicitly ordering them to bring in, say, one arrest and 10 tickets by the end of the month. ‘‘It’s as if the ban doesn’t exist,’’ Raymond says. Other cops agree. At a Dunkin’ Donuts in Ozone Park, Queens, a black officer who is not involved in the lawsuit (and who, fearing retribution, requested anonymity) spoke at length about the inconsistency between the department’s words and actions, her anger building as she spoke, the tea cooling in her cup, until she concluded, bluntly, ‘‘It’s like they’re talking out of their ass and their mouth at the same time.’’

Raymond began recording his meetings with supervisors when he suddenly started getting low performance reviews for what he believed was his resistance to quotas, when even those same supervisors admitted he was otherwise doing a good job.

‘‘He does these honorable things,’’ said Willie Lucas, one of the other black officers who worked in Raymond’s district. ‘‘The first time I worked with him, we were doing patrol out in the East New York area. There was a mother, she may have been a teenager, and she was in some kind of distress, crying and really upset. Her baby may have been around 3 or 4 months old. I remember him going to talk to her and help her out. He was willing to ride with her to the Bronx, all the way out of his jurisdiction.’’

Raymond didn’t shy away from confrontation when it was necessary. While he was still at the academy, the department awarded him a badge of honor for breaking up a street fight during one of his lunch breaks, grabbing a metal pipe from one of the brawlers and pinning him to the ground. ‘‘When it’s time to get busy, I get busy,’’ he says. He says he typically stopped about three people a day, mostly for little things like holding the doors at a station. But usually he let them go with a warning. He worried about how an arrest could follow a kid through life.

Raymond realized that his supervisors didn’t approve of his approach. Some of them came right out and told him he was dragging down the district’s overall arrest rate, and said they had been taking heat from their own bosses as a result. In the summer of 2010, a commander stuck him with the weekend shift at Coney Island, the sort of unwanted job that cops call a ‘‘punitive post.’’ Other undesirable assignments followed: sitting around with psychotic prisoners in psychiatric emergency rooms, standing at ‘‘fixed posts’’ on specific parts of subway platforms with orders not to move, staring at video feeds of the tunnels from the confines of an airless booth called ‘‘the box.’’ As the pressures intensified over the next few years, Raymond decided he needed to do something to protect himself — even though it could also put him at greater risk. Convinced that his supervisors were punishing him unlawfully, and fearing for his reputation, he started to record his conversations….

It’s a worthwhile story to read in total, so read on.

Posted in law enforcement | 16 Comments »

CA Attorney General’s Office Reverses Refusal, Will Now Review Mitrice Richardson Case

February 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Six years after Mitrice Richardson’s body was found in Malibu, the California Attorney General’s Office announced it would conduct a criminal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled Mitrice’s case. The decision came just three months after the AG’s Office denied a request to look into the case in November.

Many people are asking what caused the AG’s Office to reverse its decision.

For those unfamiliar with the backstory, in September 2009, an employee at a Malibu restaurant called the sheriff’s department after Mitrice was unable to pay an $89 dinner tab. Mitrice appeared to be in the middle of a mental health crisis, and was talking about Mars and acting bizarrely. Arresting deputies found Mitrice to be sober, and took her to the LASD’s Lost Hills Station.

Instead of holding Mitrice based on her questionable mental state, the 24-year-old woman was freed in the middle of the night at the Lost Hills Station on Agoura Road, 40 miles away from her home in South LA without her purse, identification, wallet, or cell phone—all of which had been towed away with her car. Officers told her mother, Latice Sutton, that they would not let Mitrice out until the morning, but when Latice called the station in the early morning hours before heading out to Malibu, her daughter had already been released.

The next time Latice phoned the station, she asked how long she had to wait to report Mitrice—who had neither shown up nor called—as missing. Latice said she was concerned about Mitrice’s safety because she believed her daughter to be highly depressed. The officer Latice spoke with told her call back if her daughter was still missing after a few more hours, saying once more time had expired, “maybe we can do something for you.”

An hour later, around 6:30a.m., a Monte Nido resident called the Lost Hills station to report that he had encountered a slender black woman sitting on the back steps of his house. When he asked if she was okay, the woman told him she was just resting. Deputies went out to the house, but Mitrice was gone. It took more than six hours beyond that sighting for the station to issue a “be on the lookout” alert. The sheriff’s department did not launch a formal search for two days after Mitrice was sent out into the night.

Nearly a year later—and one month after the LA County Office of Independent Review found deputies’ midnight release of Mitrice to be within policy—park rangers searching the Santa Monica Mountains for a marijuana farm found Mitrice’s naked remains, just two miles from the Monte Nido home where she was last seen, far from any established trail. Her bra, jeans, and other clothing items were scattered 100 or more yards away from her body. Her underwear, shoes, socks, and shirts were never found. There were other strange things about Mitrice’s remains: her body and clothing were not as decomposed as would be expected for having been exposed to the elements for 11 months, her femur had been detached from her soft tissue and found uphill, and her arm was in a gravity-defying position, as if her body had mummified in a different environment.

Instead of bringing in the LA County Coroner that day, department members removed Mitrice’s remains via helicopter, allegedly against orders from the coroner. The deputies did not collect soil samples, and left neck bones and other bits of Mitrice behind. When Latice trekked into the remote area of Malibu Canyon where her daughter was found, Latice reportedly found Mitrice’s finger.

In November 2015, Mitrice’s mentor, Dr. Ronda Hampton submitted a 500-page complaint to the AG’s Office requesting a review of the case. The AG’s Office responded with a letter denying the request. “Your inquiry has been given a careful evaluation by attorney staff who have determined that no formal action is warranted by this office,” said the letter. “The records you provided do not create a reasonable inference that the actions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or its employees violated the law.”

It’s yet unclear what caused Harris’ office to change its tune and pick up the Mitrice Richardson case.

In December, Mitrice’s father, Michael Richardson sent Attorney General Kamala Harris a letter that was very personal and compelling in tone.

In the letter, Richardson alleges former Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Captain Tom Martin concealed evidence by hiding camera footage of the night Mitrice was in custody and telling the Richardson family the cameras were not in operation the night Mitrice was arrested. “Captain Martin later confessed to the Malibu Surfside news paper and Editor, Anne Soble that he lied about this information,” wrote Richardson. “Several months after he finally provided the tape to the family it was severely altered and tampered with.”

Richardson said department members violated the same law—Penal Code 135 PC—when they moved his daughter’s remains despite an order to “not touch anything,” from the County Coroner.

“Due to the haste and the manner in which the untrained Sheriffs carried this out, when Mitrice mother was allowed to visit the site where Mitrice was found, she continued to find parts of Mitrice remains like fingers and such,” Richardson said. “This action literally destroyed and killed the investigation.”

Richardson pleaded with AG Harris, appealing to the fact that Harris is a woman of color in an elected position of power.

“You see Ms. Harris; I look at you and I see Mitrice Richardson,” the young woman’s father said in his letter. “A young intelligent, smart, black, and beautiful young lady who busted her butt in school to one day become someone who could be helpful and make a difference in people lives.”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Lance Winters responded to Richardson’s letter on January 29, notifying the father that the AG’s Office had decided to look into the LASD’s handling of the case, but did not elaborate further. Ten days later, US Attorney Eileen Decker announced that former LASD Sheriff Lee Baca would plead guilty to a felony, a deal that had been in the works for weeks.

When WitnessLA requested an explanation for the decision reversal, a representative from the AG’s Office told us, “We can’t comment on an ongoing review.”

Posted in LASD | 64 Comments »

Miscalculated $$ From Prop. 47, OpenJustice, and “Mariposa and the Saint”

February 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Governor Jerry Brown has undercounted the dollar amount Proposition 47 is saving the state by about $100 million, according to a report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Gov. Brown’s January budget tallied net savings from Prop. 47, which reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, at $29.3 million—$62.7 million in savings from smaller caseloads, fewer hospital stays, and fewer prisoners, minus $33.4 million in extra parole and resentencing costs. The budget allocated the net savings of $29.3 million for mental health and rehabilitation, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services (via the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund).

There are a few problems with those figures, according to the Legislative Analyst’s report: Brown’s budget underestimates savings, overestimates costs, and diverts money from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund—where all the Prop. 47 savings is supposed to end up—and sends it back into the prison system.

The Legislative Analyst report estimates another $100 million in savings should be funneled into the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, and says legislators could earmark more money for SNSF programs and services even if the official Prop. 47 savings calculations do not change.


On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the launch of the second phase of the state’s open data website in an effort to bring transparency to the state’s criminal justice system by publishing crime and policing statistics.

The new version of the OpenJustice website shows city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. Users can view data on interactive maps and graphs, and sort data groups by race, gender, and age.

“This data helps clarify a simple truth: too many boys and young men of color are being arrested and killed by police,” said AG Harris. “By releasing vast amounts of criminal justice data, OpenJustice v1.1 adds numbers and facts to the national debate on police-community relations.”


After meeting in a California prison, Sara “Mariposa” Fonseca and activist/artist Julia Steele Allen corresponded while Mariposa was locked in solitary confinement for fifteen months for possessing a pair of tweezers. Allen turned the letters from Mariposa into “Mariposa and the Saint,” a powerful play about the havoc prolonged isolation wreaks on a person.

The play caught the attention of law-makers, was performed at the 2015 Ninth Circuit Corrections Summit, and is currently on a national tour.

The Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo has more on the play. Here’s a clip:

Fonseca was sentenced to 15 months in solitary confinement after she was found in possession of tweezers, considered a weapon by prison officials. She then served additional time in solitary — more than two years all together. Fonseca is still incarcerated and is now in a psych unit.

Through Mariposa’s story, the play advocates for an end to solitary confinement. It has inspired hundreds of petition signatures, letters to elected officials, and calls to wardens. Audience members are also encouraged to write to Mariposa with pre-addressed postcards handed out at the end of the show, and Allen said she now receives one or two postcards a day.

Posted in California budget | No Comments »

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