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LAUSD Questionable Budgetary Choices…School Discipline…Mental Health in Schools…and Considering Chief Beck for 2nd Term

June 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGE NASH SAYS LAUSD MONEY FOR DISADVANTAGED KIDS SHOULD NOT BE SHIFTED TO SCHOOL COPS

Head LA Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash has sent a letter to the LAUSD opposing a plan to use $13 million in funding earmarked for disadvantaged kids to beef up the school police force.

Nash’s letter says that increasing police presence on campus does not fall under the umbrella of providing better learning experiences and outcomes to kids in low-income families, foster kids, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students, which is what the money is set aside for.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here are some clips:

An unprecedented new California funding plan is poised to distribute billions across the Golden State, which has long been beleaguered by inequities in educational support in low-income communities and waves of budget cuts in more recent years. Earmarked funds are supposed to be slated specifically for low-income and foster-care kids, as well as students classified as still learning English as a second language.

In a June 6 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash said this particular pot of money should not be diverted to support the L.A. district’s own school police force, which has an annual budget of around $57 million.

Nash expressed “great respect” for recent efforts to reduce school suspensions and referrals to police, but said he did “not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”

“On the contrary,” the judge said, “there has been a wealth of research that indicates that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment.

“This explains why, as part of a nationwide discipline reform process that has gained significant traction of late, there is a specific focus on reducing police involvement in routine school discipline matters,” Nash wrote.

[SNIP]

In another letter to the district in April, a group of legal aid and community groups involved in school-discipline reform in California praised the L.A. district for proposing to direct $37 million of the new supplemental funds to 37 of the district’s most troubled middle and high schools.

But the groups also objected to the idea of diverting more than $13 million to L.A. school police, for the same reasons as Nash. The groups additionally protested that the district’s draft proposal initially allocates only $2.6 million for certain methods of managing student clashes and misbehavior known as “restorative justice” counseling.

Restorative justice methods are key to the L.A. district’s own adopted “School Climate Bill of Rights,” the groups noted. That bill of rights aims to reduce suspensions and referrals of students to police for fights or misbehavior. The relatively modest proposed spending to hire a relative handful of counselors to lead this effort is “extremely disturbing,” the letter says.

The groups asked for many millions more to be invested in such counseling, including all the $13 million slated for police. But no additional money for restorative justice appears in the latest version of the plan.


SANTA ROSA SCHOOLS SAVE MONEY AND KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL WITH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

While the LAUSD is only earmarking $2.6M for restorative justice next year, there are plenty of examples across the state (and country) of schools using restorative justice to lower suspensions and expulsions, keeping kids in class and saving money.

The Santa Rosa City Schools District spent $125,000 implementing restorative justice practices at two schools during the 2013-14 year. With a small investment and a citywide push for more effective school discipline, Santa Rosa Schools cut total suspensions and expulsions nearly in half and saved $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The Press-Democrat’s Susan Kinder has the story. Here are some clips:

Santa Rosa schools were suspending and expelling students at a much higher rate than most schools in the state. In fact, in the 2011-12 year, Santa Rosa schools had the fourth highest rate of suspensions per capita in the state.

Eager to find a different approach to school discipline, the Santa Rosa school board did its research and wanted to implement restorative justice, a nationally recognized method of conflict resolution that often involves meeting in restorative circles — with victims, offenders, students, teachers, parents and administrators — in an effort to repair the harm, make amends and get to the very core of the problem.

[SNIP]

In the 2013-14 school year, Restorative Resources served 219 students in suspension diversion program and 188 students in expulsion diversion programs.

At Elsie Allen High School, suspensions were down 60 percent, with 25 suspensions this year compared to 62 suspensions in 2012-13…

At Cook Middle School, suspensions were down 67 percent, with 27 suspensions in 2013-14 compared to 82 suspensions in 2012-13.

But the reduction in suspensions and expulsions was not limited to these two schools. It was part of a districtwide trend that added up to huge suspension and expulsion reductions this year and a total savings of more than $550,000 in ADA (average daily attendance) money.

The savings in suspension diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $340,976. This school year, 1,863 students were suspended for 3,558 days at a cost of $304,173 in lost ADA money. In the 2012-13 school year, 3,206 students were suspended for 7,546.5 days at cost of $645,150.

The savings from expulsion diversion in 2013-14 amounted to $213,840. This year, only three students were expelled at a cost of $40,920. In the 2012-13 school year, 53 students were expelled at cost of $254,760.


STUDY: CALIFORNIA A LEADER IN THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CONVERSATION

Although many California schools still lag behind in reforming harsh discipline policies, overall, California is high on the list of states swapping out zero tolerance policies and narrowing the racial gap, according to an important new report released Thursday by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Susan Frey of EdSource has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Research and data on school discipline is clear,” according to a synopsis of the 400-page report, School Discipline Consensus Report: Key Findings, Recommendations and Examples of Action. “Millions of students are being removed from their classrooms each year, overwhelmingly for minor misconduct. Students experiencing suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately nonwhite, disabled and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

Suspending students, particularly for minor offenses, is a serious issue because it “substantially increases the likelihood they will fall behind academically, drop out and enter the juvenile justice system,” according to the report.

California’s recent efforts to reduce suspensions and encourage more positive approaches to discipline puts the state “at the top of the list together with a handful of other states” in promoting a healthy school climate, said Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center.

“California has become a real leader in this conversation,” Thompson said. “Top policy makers and school officials have made a positive school climate a priority.”

At the unveiling of the report in Los Angeles on Thursday, one of the policy makers who has been leading efforts to reform school discipline policies, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said the report is important because it represents a consensus-based approach “for all of those who have an investment in making sure young people stay in school.”

The report involved more than 100 advisers representing policy makers, school administrators, teachers, behavioral health professionals, police, court leaders, probation officials, juvenile correctional leaders, parents and youth across the country. Another 600 individuals shared examples of promising practices that are outlined in the report, which took three years to complete.

In conjunction with the release of the national report, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies on Thursday provided an analysis of state data that showed that 500 out of 745 California school districts reduced out-of-school suspensions between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although African American students were still over-represented, the racial gap is narrowing, the center reported. The results included only the 745 districts that had discipline data for both years and excluded county offices of education, according to the center, which is part of the Civil Rights Project at University of California, Los Angeles.

The center also reported an overall reduction in suspensions by 14 percent and a 24 percent reduction in suspensions for willful defiance, which has been criticized as being too subjective and for being used disproportionately with African American students. Dickinson has introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 420, this legislative session to limit the use of willful defiance suspensions. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dickinson said he is working with the governor to get his support of the current bill.


…BACK TO THE LAUSD BUDGETARY ISSUES

While the LAUSD plans to increase the $57 million school police budget to $70 million, still another subset of students are being underserved. A recent study found that 8 in 10 kids attending LA’s high-poverty schools had experienced three or more traumatic events during the previous year, yet the mental health budget allows for just one counselor per 2,200 LAUSD students.

This means that nearly the only kids actually receiving school counseling are the those whose circumstances are so extreme the district is required to treat them under federal law.

The new California funding plan will allow LA to hire 97 new counselors (but almost all of them are going to a few schools to settle a lawsuit and increase services for foster kids).

The state will also be spending an extra $50 million on “wellness centers” to provide a number of mental and physical health services to students both on and off campus.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue in part two of her series on poverty in LA schools. Here’s a clip:

The district currently employs about 300 psychiatric social workers to serve roughly 800 schools — a ratio of about 2,200 students to one counselor.

As researchers work to solve one of the most persistent problems in public education – why kids in poor neighborhoods fail so much more often than their upper-income peers – more and more they’re pointing the finger at what happens outside the classroom.

Shootings. Food insecurity. Sirens and fights in the night. Experts are finding that those stressors build up, creating emotional problems and changes in the brain that can undermine even the clearest lessons.

In a recent study at high-poverty schools, L.A. Unified officials found that eight in 10 kids had suffered three or more traumatic events in the preceding year alone.

One solution cropping up at a smattering of schools across the country: school-based therapy.

“These children need to feel empowered to be able to feel like they are agents of their own change,” said Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor and psychiatrist at UC Berkeley who’s working on interventions for kids suffering from what’s become known as toxic stress.

“They are going to have themselves for the rest of their life,” he added, “so the best thing they can have is to be equipped to manage traumatic stressors later in life.”

But at the Los Angeles Unified School District, counseling services have been in decline for years.

The issue is money.

Between 2008 and 2013, L.A. Unified lost $2.8 billion in overall funding from the state. School board member Steve Zimmer said it was a battle just holding on to teachers.

“We had a cataclysmic experience in the district with the budget. Everything that was, is no more,” Zimmer said.

A lot of people lost jobs: teachers, librarians, custodians. And counselors.

During those recession-era cuts, prevention and early intervention funds for mental health services all but disappeared said Pia Escudero, director of school mental health at L.A. Unified.

Now, she said, her staff’s caseload consists almost entirely of students whose problems are so severe the district is required to treat them under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Students…aren’t likely to see a school counselor unless they get so sick a psychiatrist diagnoses them as emotionally disturbed.

“You are always summoned to put out fires versus really embedding programs,” Escudero said.

The financial tide is only now starting to turn at L.A. Unified.

California is sending more money to schools to help the neediest students. L.A. Unified will see its budget increase by $332 million next year for a total of about $6.8 billion. But that still leaves the district – and California – near the bottom of school funding in the nation.

Even with the influx of cash, very few students will see a counselor.

The district is adding 97 counselors, but they’re going to a select group of schools to settle a lawsuit, and to help foster kids stay on track.

Yet Escudero said the need across the district is overwhelming…

Read on.


EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION ON KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Having an incarcerated parent is one significant source of trauma for kids in Los Angeles and across the nation, but is largely under-researched. A recent National Academy of Sciences study on the rise of the national incarceration rate takes a look at the effects incarceration has on kids (and families) with a locked up parent.

NPR’s All Things Considered has more on the report. Take a listen, but here’s a clip from the accompanying story.

Jeremy Travis, one of the authors of the National Academy of Sciences report, says despite the rate of incarceration quadrupling over the past four decades, no one has really studied its effects on the family — especially kids — before.

“This is an important social question which is not getting enough attention from the research community — not because there is not enough interest, but because we’ve not been willing to pay for it,” Travis says.

Travis says the numbers of kids with an incarcerated parent is “staggering.” He says in the 1970s there were about 350,000 minors with a parent in prison; now, it’s well over 2 million.

“That simply tracks [with] the fact that we’re putting more people in prison,” he says. “And the consequences of that are pretty profound, we think, although they’re not as well documented as they should be.”

What we do know, he says, is that there are higher rates of homelessness among families when the father is in prison, poor developmental outcomes for the children in those families, and that there’s greater family instability in those families.

Travis says the children in those families often end up in foster care and have difficulties in school forming attachments with their peers. All of those difficulties, he says, present challenges for the communities, social workers, educators and family members who want to support that child through such a difficult time.

The first step, he says, is that we should have fewer people in prison, but it is more complicated than that.

“We will always have people in prison, and we should pay attention to the collateral consequences of incarcerating … parents,” Travis says.


EDITORIALS: REAPPOINTING LAPD CHIEF BECK SEEMS OBVIOUS, BUT COMMISSION SHOULD STILL CONDUCT THOROUGH REVIEW

Starting this week, public hearings will be held throughout the month on whether or not LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should serve another five-year term. The Police Commission will then have until August 20 to decide to reappoint Beck or end his term.

Two LA Times editorials take a look at how Beck has served the department and the city and give suggestions on what the civilian commission should consider as it goes about making its decision.

The first editorial says that while Beck appears to be a “shoo-in,” the commission should not skim over the process, but should still examine the statistics, including crime rates over the last five years, complaints against the department, and arrests. Here’s a clip:

Beck is seeking reappointment at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department is free of major controversy and scandal. When he became chief, the LAPD was still under a consent decree the city had agreed to to avoid a lawsuit that would have dredged up the department’s sometimes sordid record of brutality and racism. Chief William J. Bratton embraced the requirements of that decree, and when Beck took over, he steered the department through the final reforms needed to end federal oversight. Crime has continued to decline under his leadership, with gang crime reduced by half. Community relations appear strong — the seething antipathy toward the department that was a fact of life just a decade or two ago no longer dominates the city’s concerns. To Beck’s credit, the LAPD has managed this despite budget constraints, including a cost-cutting policy that keeps some 400 officers home each day rather than pay them overtime.

Given all that, Beck would seem to be a shoo-in for reappointment. It would, however, be wrong for the commissioners to skip through this process. This is an opportunity for the commission to take stock of its chief and imagine the future of the department. It should start by looking at the numbers.

Crime. Last year marked the 11th in a row that crime decreased in the city. Crime has declined in good economic times and bad, and those who deny the role of police in this revolutionary trend are arguing against facts. Los Angeles added officers in those years, and tailored policing strategies to address crime. The result: The number of serious and violent crimes in 2008, the year before Beck took office, was 127,374. The number last year was 100,521. That means that 27,000 Angelenos were spared a misery last year. No one should be cavalier about how much that affects the life of a city.

Yes, it’s true that other forces influence crime, and yes, crime was declining before Beck’s tenure, but the number of violent crimes and major property crimes has continued to drop each year. There are some on the City Council and elsewhere who continue to question whether the police played a significant role in those numbers, and thus whether the city could allow the department to shrink. They’re wrong. Some cities — Chicago, for instance — have seen a resurgence in violence of late, while smart policing has made Los Angeles safer. Indeed, the LAPD’s achievements in this area are all the more noteworthy given the overtime cuts. Beck deserves credit for balancing the department’s budget without sacrificing safety…

Read the rest.

The second editorial says that although there are no strong guidelines for the commission must follow in its decision-making process, it should take cues from the history of the process and the reasons recent chiefs—Williams, Parks, and Bratton—were either reappointed or replaced at the end of their first five years. Here’s a clip:

The current system for naming, retaining and replacing chiefs grows out of the breakdown of civilian oversight of the department in the early 1990s. In those days, Chief Daryl F. Gates and Mayor Tom Bradley feuded nastily, and their mutual dislike was stoked by the controversy that engulfed Los Angeles after the release of a videotape showing LAPD officers beating Rodney G. King in 1991. By the time of the riots in 1992, the two had not spoken for more than a year.

The Christopher Commission, named for Los Angeles attorney (and future U.S. secretary of State) Warren Christopher, concluded that the chief was too unaccountable to the city’s civilian Police Commission, which was supposed to set policy for the LAPD and to supervise its chief. Partly to blame, the Christopher Commission concluded, were civil service protections that in effect created a “chief for life.” Instead, the commission recommended that chiefs be limited to 10 years in office, with a midpoint review. Voters approved that change as a charter amendment over Gates’ furious objections — indeed, on the night that the riots broke out in 1992, Gates was attending a fundraiser to defeat the amendment.

At the same time that the Christopher Commission was trying to put limits on a chief’s tenure, it also wisely suggested that it should be the norm for chiefs to serve the full 10 years. Its final report described the structure as a single term broken into “two five-year increments.” And though the Police Commission was given broad authority to get rid of a chief who had lost its confidence, the midpoint review was intended as an opportunity for a course correction when something was going wrong, not as a routine opportunity to make a switch. That was meant to strike the balance between accountability and stability, both important for leading an organization as complex and powerful as the LAPD.

Since then, three chiefs have applied for renewal. Two, Willie L. Williams and Bernard C. Parks, were denied the additional five years; one, William J. Bratton, was given the extra time. Their experiences are instructive and should guide the commission.

By 1997, with Williams approaching the end of his first five years, there was a strong consensus among the city’s political leadership that he had failed. Though he had helped patch up the LAPD’s relations with parts of the city, notably among blacks, the department’s performance measures were mixed and its leadership was demoralized. Most significant, Williams lost the commission’s confidence when he lied about accepting free accommodations from a Las Vegas hotel.

Parks’ case was more difficult…

Posted in Education, LAPD, LAUSD, mental health, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

The Significance of Paul Tanaka Testimony at 2nd LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial—and Other Trial Analysis

June 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



PAUL TANAKA & THE TRIAL THUS FAR

It was 11:40 am on Friday, June 6, and the second federal obstruction of justice trial involving six members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department was exactly at the halfway mark. The prosecution had just rested its case and the defense was preparing to call its first witness: former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is also still a candidate for LA County Sheriff, having barely squeaked into a runoff with Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell.

As had been true in the first obstruction of justice trial a few weeks ago, word of Tanaka’s impending appearance caused the courtroom presided over by Judge Percy Anderson to go from half-filled to jammed.

Prior to Tanaka’s arrival, the trial had already proved to be a complicated one. The government was prosecuting six different LASD defendants at once, each of whom it accused of some variation on the theme of deliberately attempting to get in the way of a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county’s jails. This included but was not limited to: helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and/or endeavoring to bully and cajole a sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI. This occurred after Michel had been nailed by the feds for bringing a contraband cell phone into the jail and giving it to inmate Brown, in return for a bribe.

Last month, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. The feds had yet to decide if they would come after Sexton again.

This second cluster of cases on trial is somewhat different in that most of the defendants—which include two sergeants and two lieutenants, along with two deputies—are farther up the departmental food chain than was Sexton. There is also the fact that Sexton, unlike any of the six in this proceeding, had cooperated extensively with the FBI for more than a year.

Yet despite any dissimilarities in the two trials, the government’s lawyers appear to have drawn lessons from their losses in trial one, and have worked vigorously to shore up any weak points in their theory of the case.

Essentially, the prosecutorial theory is as follows: In August of 2011, members of the LASD learned that the FBI had launched an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by deputies inside the county’s jail system. The LASD higher-ups learned of the undercover probe through the discovery of a contraband cell phone in the possession of an inmate named Anthony Brown. They then further discovered that the inmate was a federal informant, and that the cell had been smuggled to Brown as part of an FBI sting, brought by a jail deputy named Gilbert Michel who muled in the contraband phone in return for cash payments, and whom the feds subsequently were trying to flip into becoming an informant. Upon learning of all this, the department’s sole focus became, not cleaning up its own clearly dirty house, but shutting out the FBI and any other federal agents from the jail and from contact with Brown and Michel, in doing so materially hampering the feds’ undercover probe, at least according to the prosecution.


WITNESSES FOR THE PROSECUTION

Thus far, the most dramatic testimony for the prosecution had been from Deputy Michel, who not only told the jury how he smuggled in the phone and other contraband for Brown, but also described the manner in which, when he first began working the 2000 and the 3000 floors of Men’s Central Jail, he’d learned as part of his initiatory training the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel went into harrowing and sometimes tearful detail about some of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been involved in, or administered himself.

His lengthy testimony portrayed not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to paint a picture of an entire subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates accompanied, in many instances, by falsifying criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

This latter point seemed to be demonstrated when the prosecution played a recording of an interview with Michel conducted by three of the defendants after it was discovered that Michel had smuggled a contraband cell phone to Anthony Brown. In the recording, Sgt. Maricela Long, Sgt. Scott Craig, and Lt. Steve Leavins seemed far less concerned with Michel’s accepting bribes from Brown to bring the inmate a contraband cell phone, a legal slip that they assured him “could happen to anybody,” and far more concerned with frightening and hectoring the deputy out of telling the FBI anything about the ongoing brutality against inmates that he’d both witnessed and perpetrated.

The jury was also able to read an email from Leavins to his immediate superior, Captain William Carey, written after Deputy Michel began, in the middle of an interview with LASD higher ups, suddenly blurting about the inmate beatings in which he’d participated, admissions that LASD supervisors seemed to view as awfully inconvenient rather than in any way useful. In the email Leavins wrote:

“That idiot Michel is confessing to beating handcuffed inmates with other deputies…Not looking good…They are still interviewing him….Will advise.”

In addition, the jury heard readings of the grand jury testimony by Sergeants Long and Craig in which both admitted—among other things—to being told by a judge that they had no legal jurisdiction to investigate FBI special agent Marx prior to going to her house and falsely threatening her with arrest.

And, as they had in the Sexton trial, the prosecutors presented a string of witnesses who told of the byzantine methods the defendants and and others had employed to hide Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.


TANAKA FOR THE DEFENSE

Now it was the defense’s turn to present its view of events.

The defense—which, due to the plethora of defendants, consisted of around a dozen lawyers—originally planned to call the former undersheriff as their third witness. But, it seems that, after nearly a year of a campaigning to become the next LA County sheriff, Tanaka had planned to take a vacation the week of June 9, so hoped his testimony wouldn’t string over until Tuesday. (The court is dark on Monday.) To try to accommodate, the various defense teams shuffled the list to make the former undersheriff first up.

Tanaka’s purpose as a witness seemed to be to help the defense prove its theory, which was in simplest terms that A. anything that the defendants might have done wrong was done pursuant to orders by either the sheriff or the undersheriff, or both, and B. that none of this was unlawful.

Although Tanaka’s testimony is not complete (he will have to return on Tuesday morning after all) what he said thus far will likely be helpful to the defense in some areas, less so in others.

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence and herself a former Assistant US Attorney, was also at the trial and explained it this way.

“I think the problem with alternative defenses, as well as the way that Mr. Tanaka’s testimony played out, is that the narrative doesn’t always hold together.

“This was a situation where the narrative and the explanation— that the inmate was moved around because Brown was a snitch and had to be kept safe from other inmates and deputies—isn’t fully consistent with the actions that were taken. If the concern was to keep Brown safe, its hard to reconcile why the sheriff deputies and supervisors would have terminated an interview between him and the FBI, and why they would have locked the FBI out of jail. And why they would have gone to such great lengths to keep this cooperator away from another law enforcement bureau.”

Krinsky suggested that Tanaka’s testimony was more useful to the defense when he put either himself or Baca in the role of giving orders. Although he was careful to place himself, in most instances, as the one who conveyed Baca’s orders to others, not the one who originated them.

This was, by the way, an interesting contrast to Tanaka’s description at the beginning of his testimony when he was asked to describe his job as the undersheriff for the jury. He answered that the undersheriff is “the one who oversees the day to day operations of the department” while “the sheriff is more the face of the organization.”

When it came to the touchier matters of the trial, however, Baca was suddenly no frontman at all, but the primary nuts and bolts decider and giver of orders.

According to Krinsky, the part of Tanaka’s testimony that is most likely to cause the defendants some problems was his repeated attempts to distance himself from some of the more problematic actions of which the defendants are accused, acts which someone above them had to have ordered. For instance, Tanaka said that he had no knowledge that members of the sheriff’s department were planning to approach an FBI agent at her home and threaten her.

“Tanaka also claimed to be unaware of the approach that was taken vis-à-vis deputy Gilbert Michel,” said Krinsky, “when members of the department were discouraging Mr. Michel, through the type of questions and statements they made, from ongoing cooperation with the federal government. In other parts of his testimony,” she said, “it was telling that Mr. Tanaka claimed that he was being briefed constantly and, then when pressed about one of the more troubling acts, he claimed to have no recollection, no recall, or no knowledge about whether he’d been told.”

And when he could not reasonably dodge knowledge of the actions of the defendants that were part of the prosecution’s theory of obstruction of justice, he carefully handed off actual authorship of the actions to those below him, claiming that he had only ordered that inmate Brown be kept safe, not how it was done. When asked if he “agreed” with this strategy or that one, he answered in the vaguest terms. “I don’t believe I disagreed,” he said repeatedly.


TANAKA IS REBUKED BY JUDGE

Two of the more startling moments in the former undersheriff’s testimony came when he was rebuked twice by Judge Anderson for answering a question with a statement, when the inquiry properly required only a yes or no.

In the first instance, Tanaka slipped in his opinion that, “A cell phone introduced in custody is very, very dangerous,” nevermind that prosecutor Brandon Fox shot up to object immediately before the statement was fully out.

“Don’t volunteer information,” the judge instructed Tanaka. “Just answer the question, yes or no. And when Mr. Fox stands, you stop talking.”

Tanaka nodded that he would do so.

Sometime later, however, the incident repeated itself. In response to another yes or no question Tanaka answered with a full and decededly provocative sentence. It occurred when one of the defense attorneys asked Tanaka about a time when, sometime after the discovery of the cell phone, he had accompanied an angry Sheriff Baca to a meeting with U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and other members of Birotte’s office.

In answer to a far simpler question, Tanaka said this:

“The sheriff was able to communicate to [the U.S. Attorney] that the FBI had committed a crime.”

Before the sentence had made it even half way out into everyone’s hearing, prosecutor Fox had flown to his feet to object.

Judge Anderson’s reaction was just as immediate. He quickly sustained Fox’s objection, then ordered the former undersheriff’s statement stricken from the record. After that, his head snapped around to look directly at Tanaka.

Don’t do that again!” Anderson said, visibly furious.

When I talked about the incident later with Krinsky, she told me that Judge Anderson’s reaction was extremely unusual.

“It takes a lot to get a federal judge to admonish a witness in front of a jury,” she said. “What the defense was clearly trying to do was to get from the witness confirmation of its main theories, which was that the FBI took it upon themselves to commit a crime as part of investigating a crime, and that the sheriff’s department was appropriately responding by taking dramatic steps to shut the FBI down.

“This is an incredibly professional and even-handed and even tempered judge,” Krinsky continued. “So for him to be sufficiently upset at the witness to have reacted as he did is not something you see terribly often in federal court and not from a judge who has the temperament of Judge Anderson.”

So why would the presumably legally savvy former undersheriff risk angering a federal judge?

“Witnesses will often try to get out an opinion if they have a vested interest in trying to get that message out,” said Krinsky. “Mr. Tanaka might well have viewed this as an opportunity to deliver his own argument as to why his conduct would justify his own actions as well as that of the defendants.

“It is, after all, highly unusual for a candidate for elected office to be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” she said.


SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

This trial is expected to conclude in the next week or so. Then late in June, the prosecution will announce whether or not it intends to refile on James Sexton. Most trial watchers assume that the outcome of the present trial will have at least something to do with that decision.

But what of the other looming question? You know, the one about whether or not the charges for obstruction of justice will ever reach further up the department ladder. What about that pesky topic? After all, during each of these two trials we’ve seen plenty of testimony that makes clear that orders for most of the acts that caused seven department members to be federally indicted originated with people who have, at this point, not been charged with anything.

When I asked Krinsky what she thought, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney Krinsky had this to say. “While it’s incredibly hard to speculate, I think that the government is likely taking this one trial at a time. I think their focus right now is, appropriately, what they have in front of them. Then once these cases have made their way through the system, they’ll start to reassess where they are in terms of any further indictments. But it’s telling that they referred to this case as an ongoing investigation,” Krinsky said. “That sends a clear message that the book has yet to be closed by the government in regard to these acts.”



EDITOR’S NOTE: STORIES ON OTHER TOPICS COMING LATER TODAY AND TONIGHT

For instance, we need to talk about the fact that, on Friday, while many of us were watching this trial, the word came down from the U.S. Department of Justice that the DOJ was so fed up with the way that LA County treats its mentally ill inmates inside the jails that it will likely seek federal oversight. More on that later.

In the meantime, while you’re waiting, here’s what the LA Times editorial board had to say on the matter on Sunday. Here’s a clip:

It should come as no surprise that Los Angeles County’s treatment of mentally ill jail inmates falls so short of acceptable standards that the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking federal court oversight. County officials did too little for too long to correct egregious problems. Recent efforts to improve jail management and to identify and better serve mentally ill and suicidal inmates came too late.

County leaders may be tempted to argue that Friday’s notice from the Justice Department shows that they were right to move ahead with a plan to raze the decrepit and rat-infested Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to build a more modern and humane facility in which mentally ill inmates would be better treated.

A better lesson would be that for nearly two decades, the county has moved at an unnecessarily glacial pace in responding to long-standing concerns about poor treatment of incarcerated people who more properly should have been treated as patients in medical and mental health treatment facilities.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 40 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Announce Support for McDonnell, Say Never Considered Tanaka

June 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Election officials continue to count the approximately 148,680 provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots
that, if the numbers break just right, could still give Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell an uncontested victory in the race for LA County Sheriff.

In the meantime, however, four of McDonnell’s recent opponents stood with him at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon at LA’s Hall of Justice, and pledged their support to their former rival.

Stepping to the microphone, one after the other, assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers talked about the fact that McDonnell took over the position of Long Beach Police Chief “as an outsider,” but soon won over his critics, said Rogers.

Retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted called speaking in support of McDonnell “a great opportunity,” and that he’d be “available if he wants input from me.”

Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold called McDonnell the “clear cut choice,” embraced by both “front line people” and “members of the community.” Like Olmsted, he was vocal about the desire to work with McDonnell in remaking the troubled department.

LAPD detective supervisor Lou Vince offered “my enthusiastic endorsement, adding that, since he is the only one of the bunch who has actually worked under McDonnell in the past (during McDonnell’s long LAPD tenure), he could assure everyone that “the members of the LASD have a great person to look forward to.”

When it was McDonnell’s turn, he thanked “my partners up here for a hard-fought race, as well as for their decades of service to our community,” stopping to praise each recent opponent for individual strengths and accomplishments.

Their presence, he said, “speaks volumes about their commitment to rejecting failed leadership and coming together around a better future for the LASD….”

As for the ongoing vote count? “I was up until 3:30 watching the numbers,” McDonnell admitted after the press conference was over, referring to election night when, in the wee hours, his totals crept past 49 percent but did not cross the magical 50 percent mark.

Before the group dispersed, a reporter asked the four if any of them had, at least briefly, considered backing McDonnell’s adversary in the upcoming runoff, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

As one, they shook their heads in a vigorous NO.

Tanaka, meanwhile, has been subpoenaed to testify in the second obstruction of justice trial being held a few blocks away, at the federal courthouse on Spring Street.

Barring any last minute changes, Mr. Tanaka is expected to be called to the stand sometime on Friday morning.


IN RELATED NEWS…SCOTT MAKES MORE CHANGES AT THE LASD

Sheriff Scott continues to shuffle personnel in the LASD. In the most recent series of shifts, he moved Jim Hellmold out of the position of Assistant Sheriff in charge of patrol, replacing him with Chief Michael Rothans.

Hellmold will now act as Chief of Countywide Services Division.

While Scott’s early moves were welcomed by most, more recently critics have asked if these and other seemingly non-urgent choices would not be better left to the new sheriff who will, after all, take office just eight months from now.


DECISION TO RETRY OR NOT RETRY DEPUTY JAMES SEXTON DELAYED

In court on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked to delay their decision as to whether to retry Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice. Sexton’s trial, if you’ll remember, resulted in a “hopelessly split” jury, with a 6-6 division. The conference to discuss retrying Sexton was originally set for June 9, but has now been moved to June 23. Sources speculate that the prosecution wants to wait to see the outcome of the trial now in progress before making up its mind on Sexton.

In the second obstruction of justice trial, six department members are on trial for charges nearly identical to those faced by Sexton.

(Lots more on this trial next week.)

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 43 Comments »

Study Sez Letting Prisoners Out Early On Supervision Lowers Crime, County Counsel Must Disclose $$ Paid to Private Attorneys in LASD Suits…and More

June 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MAXED OUT PRISON SENTENCES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF POST-RELEASE SUPERVISION (AND SPLIT-SENTENCING) FOR LOWERING RECIDIVISM

Nationwide, in 2012, one-in-five prisoners maxed out their sentence in prison and reentered their communities without supervision (a rise of 119% from 1990), according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts report. Conversely, data collected on prisoners in New Jersey showed that offenders who served part of their sentence on parole were 36% less likely to return to prison within three years of release than those who served the entirety of their sentence behind bars.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew, said studies the group conducted in New Jersey and elsewhere found that, overall, offenders who serve a portion of their sentence on supervision were arrested or returned to prison 30 percent less than those who served their entire sentence in custody.

“It just doesn’t make sense to take somebody who’s been institutionalized, locked up in a prison 24/7, and put them straight back on the street without any supervision or accountability or monitoring or support whatsoever,” Gelb said.

Yet nationwide, the number of offenders serving their full sentences has gone up over the past two decades. Between 1990-2012, the number of inmates released without supervision went up 119 percent.

That could change, Gelb said, and has already started to. In the past few years, eight states — including California — took steps to make it easier to release offenders early to supervision.

California’s policy — called “split sentencing” — came out of prison realignment, which passed in 2011.

The policy — a response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to cut the state prison population — shifted the job of punishing lower-level felons from the state to the county level. It also gave the counties a tool to use if they choose: permitting these felons to be sentenced partially to time in county jail and partially to community supervision by the local probation department…

In California, prison realignment (AB 109) has reduced the number of max-outs in state prison to less than 1%, but it’s unclear to what extent max outs have transferred to the local level. Some counties (Contra Costa, for instance) have used their realignment funds to implement split-sentencing—in which sentences are “split” into part jail time, part probation—with favorable results. (Unfortunately, Los Angeles is actually backsliding in its use of split-sentencing.) Here’s what the Pew report has to say about the issue:

In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. The landmark legislation transferred jurisdiction of lower-level offenders from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the counties. Felony offenders who are classified as nonserious, nonviolent, nonsex registrant, known as “non-non-nons,” are now sentenced to county jail instead of prison, supervised by county probation departments under post-release community supervision, and sent to local jails if they violate the terms of their release. As a result, the number of inmates released from California prisons fell by more than half between 2011 and 2012, from 109,467 to 49,574.

Other elements of realignment also affected the number of California prison releases. All revocations for state parolees, except those with an original sentence of life, go to county jail instead of state prison for a maximum of 180 days. Additionally, the non-non-nons are being diverted from state prison at sentencing, reducing both admissions and releases.

As a result of these changes, the number of max-outs from state prisons fell in the first full year of realignment from 12 percent in 2011 to less than 1 percent in 2012. Under the new system, non-nonnons—more than 30,000 offenders who accounted for 62 percent of releases—are released to their county of last legal residence and supervised under post-release community supervision. Offenders diverted to supervision are eligible for discharge at six months, and sanctions for violators are capped at 180 days. Counties have discretion to determine the type of supervision provided. The remaining 36 percent of inmates released in 2012 were serving sentences for serious or violent crimes; they remained under the jurisdiction of state parole agents.

The extent to which realignment has shifted max-outs to the local level is unclear. County judges can now exercise their discretion to impose either a straight jail sentence without supervision or a split sentence that combines a jail term with a period of mandatory supervision to follow. Current use of split sentencing varies widely among the counties. Some order it in more than 80 percent of cases, while several, including Los Angeles and Alameda counties, use it less than 10 percent of the time. Without greater use of split sentences, large numbers of non-non-nons may be returning to California communities without supervision.

And here’s what the Pew report suggests to both lower the max-out rate and keep former inmates from reoffending:

1. Require a period of post-prison supervision for all offenders.
2. Carve out community supervision period from prison terms.
3. Strengthen parole decision-making.
4. Tailor supervision conditions to risk and need.
5. Adopt evidence-based practices in parole supervision.
6. Reinvest savings in community corrections.

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Attorney General Kamala Harris praises the Realignment Act for easing overcrowding in California prisons, but calls for implementation of alternatives to incarceration and evidence-based rehabilitation and re-entry services to lower recidivism. Here’s a clip:

Realignment shifted responsibility for the incarceration and supervision of low-level, nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to California’s 58 counties. It also directed significant financial resources to counties to handle their increased responsibilities and to create localized alternative solutions to incarceration.

Three years in, Realignment has achieved one of its primary purposes — reduction of the population of California’s prison system. Following implementation of Realignment, the state redirected 30,000 recently convicted offenders who would have gone to state prison to county jail and shifted supervision of 50,000 offenders from state parole agents to county probation departments. Realignment has also forced an examination of California’s return on its investment in incarceration. The state spends an estimated $13 billion per year on criminal justice, but almost two thirds of those released from state prison go on to commit another crime within three years. This rate of recidivism is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it is a threat to victims of crime and to public safety in general.

As a career prosecutor, I firmly believe there must be swift and certain consequences for all crime, and that certain offenses call for nothing less than long-term imprisonment. But I also believe that the way our system deals with low-level, nonviolent and non-serious offenders wastes resources needed to fight more serious crime.

Rather than a one-size-fits all justice system that treats all crime as equal, I have argued for a “smart on crime” approach — one that applies innovative, data-proven methods to make our criminal justice system more efficient and effective. Such an approach will not only hold offenders accountable for their actions; it will make our communities safer by taking steps to ensure that they don’t commit new crimes.

Read on.


JUDGE RULES LA COUNTY COUNSEL MUST SAY HOW MUCH IT SPENDS ON PRIVATE LAWYERS IN LAWSUITS AGAINST THE LASD

Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel.

Here’s an ACLU clip from last October when the lawsuit was filed:

ACLU SoCal and Mr. Preven submitted several California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for the documents that list not only money paid to private attorneys, but also the contracts between the County and individuals hired to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The County Counsel denied the requests. Lawyers from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing ACLU SoCal, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California is representing Mr. Preven.

During the fiscal year 2011-12, lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department cost the county $37 million, not including the costs the County paid to private lawyers to defend LASD, according to Supervisor Gloria Molina. The cost of defending LASD likely adds millions of dollars to the total. In just the first six months of fiscal year 2012-13, the total the County spent on verdicts and settlements on lawsuits against LASD was $25 million, not including the costs of defending those suits.

“We are asking the officials of Los Angeles County to be transparent and tell taxpayers how their money is being spent on private attorneys to defend deputies accused of savage beatings and other illegal actions,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of SoCal.

John F. Krattili, county counsel, responded to the CPRA requests saying that billing records that document the tasks and time for which private firms were billing the County are exempt from disclosure.

“The County is paying out millions of dollars to private law firms, and when we, the people, ask to learn more about how that money is being spent, the answer is ‘none of your business!’ Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.” said Petitioner Eric Preven. “We’re demanding an end to the secrecy around practices that may well have cost the taxpayers far more than they’ve saved.”

And here’s a clip from what we at WLA said about the lawsuit when it was filed:

…of course, what the ACLU/Preven lawsuit rightly points out is that the $37 million total we have been given for last year is not, in fact, the real total. It’s not real because it doesn’t include the money paid to the private attorneys hired to defend the county in lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department—suits like the recently concluded Willis case that we wrote about here.

Willis v. Rodriguez is the one where, after a week-long trial, a federal jury unanimously found Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for punitive damages in relation to the brutal beating Mr. Willis received from deputies when he was a guest at Men’s Central Jail. (The jury also found 4 other present and former department members liable for damages as well.)

Willis’ attorney, Sonia Mercado, told me that originally Willis wanted to settle, that he wasn’t interested in punitive damages. He simply wanted his doctor bills and injury-related expenses paid for.

But the county’s hired gun lawyers refused to settle. Instead they pushed for a trial. And guess what? They lost resoundingly at trial. Now, we’ve been told that Baca intends to appeal—which means a brand new round of attorneys’ bills.

And, as with every other case filed and eventually settled against the sheriff’s department, we, the taxpayers, will pay the tab for all of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clue how much those tabs are really costing us.


TWO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CASES—ONE IN CALIFORNIA, ONE IN ARIZONA—RECEIVE CLASS ACTION STATUS

This week, a federal judge granted class action status to a lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s solitary confinement conditions and the policies keeping a number of prisoners in isolation for decades. (Backstory here and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates allege physical and psychological abuse when California puts inmates in Pelican Bay’s windowless isolation cells. The prisoners are confined 22 hours a day and, in some cases, have been in solitary for years and decades at a time.

The Pelican Bay inmates, in their federal lawsuit, also challenged the administrative process California uses to determine who to send to the super-maximum security cells for an indefinite stay….

In courtroom proceedings, lawyers for the state have argued that isolation is necessary to keep the peace within prisons, and to hinder gang activity inside and outside prison walls. They said that by creating a so-called “step-down” program last year that allows some prisoners to eventually earn their way out of isolation, the state had made sufficient improvements.

In her ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken narrowed the class action case to just those Pelican Bay inmates who have not been accepted into the state’s step-down program.

[SNIP]

The class action motion was filed by 10 Pelican Bay inmates in solitary confinement, but California has since moved five of them to other quarters. Wilken’s order allows the remaining five prisoners to represent the larger class of some 500 Pelican Bay prisoners who have spent more than a decade in isolation, and some 1,100 put into solitary because of alleged gang associations.

And in another piece of good news, on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed an ACLU lawsuit alleging mistreatment of Arizona prisoners to proceed as a class action case. The suit alleges denial of adequate healthcare and unconstitutional use of isolation. East Valley Tribune’s Howard Fischer has more on the issue.

Posted in LASD, Los Angeles County, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF ELECTION UPDATES: MEDIA BANNED FROM TANAKA’S ELECTION NIGHT PARTY…AND MORE

On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.

[SNIP]

Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


150K BALLOTS STILL UNCOUNTED

There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


TEDxIRONWOOD: FIRST EVER TED TALKS EVENT IN A PRISON

On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.

[SNIP]

TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WLA ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND

WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


GRAY WOLF GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS IN CALIFORNIA

It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

Runoff for Sheriff: It’s McDonnell! Tanaka a Distant 2nd…A Rematch in November!

June 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

With 100 percent of precincts reported, McDonnell skated mighty close to the magic 50.1 percent, but did not quite cross over. Tanaka is second, Olmsted third, Hellmold fourth….followed by Gomez, Rogers & Vince

Onward to November!

Update: 3:00 AM

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 63 Comments »

VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!! ….& Some Last Minute Sheriff’s Race Updates

June 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHICH WAY LA? BRIEFLY REVIEWS CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF

Warren Olney of Which Way LA played brief but interesting debate clips from six of the seven candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff. (Candidate Patrick Gomez did not attend the debate but is also mentioned.)

You can find them here at minute 13:10.


BEST TWEET THUS FAR OF THE EVENING RE: THE LASD RACE

Robert Faturechi ‏@RobertFaturechi 2h
the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Leonardo DiCaprio’s selection for LA sheriff https://twitter.com/LeoDiCaprio/status/473623837490180096


LA WEEKLY’S CHEAT SHEET ON THE SHERIFF’S RACE

The Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has drawn up a cheat sheet for the five top candidates out of the seven running for LA County Sheriff. (Sadly, Lou Vince is not included, nor is Pat Gomez.)

We don’t agree with absolutely everything Maddaus has written (but then again, we likely know far too much for our own good). All that said, Gene is a very smart, discerning guy, so his take is assuredly worth your time.

Here’s the opening clip:

Never before has L.A. seen such a wide open race for sheriff. But the campaign has been a bit of a muddle. Much of the energy in recent weeks has gone into denunciations of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is running for sheriff even though he is the subject of an FBI investigation into obstruction of justice.

While Tanaka has been fairly well defined, the other candidates are a little harder to differentiate. There’s the handsome one, the guy with the mustache, the Irish guy, and the one who looks like Sam Elliott. Who are these guys? What’s the difference between them?

For Maddaus’ answer, read on.


DAILY NEWS LOOKS AT LAST-MINUTE CAMPAIGNING

Whose robocalls, newspaper inserts, radio ads, door knocking, endorsements and/or last minute media interviews and appearances at pancake breakfast….will matter most?

Thomas Himes at the Daily News takes a look. Here’s a clip:

As Los Angeles County voters prepare to pick a sheriff in the first incumbent-free race in 16 years, the seven contenders have been crisscrossing the county in a last-minute bid for votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

The seven are contending to succeed longtime former Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down earlier this year amid numerous accusations of deputy corruption and abuse in the county jails.

With a crowded field and a relatively low turnout expected for the primary vote, the candidates have been relying on door-knocking and targeted campaigning to reach those dedicated voters who are expected to show up Tuesday….

Read on for the details.


WILL LASD TOP SPOT GO TO INSIDER OR OUTSIDER? ASKS NBC 4

Nothing you haven’t heard, but still interesting to watch.


ERIC PREVIN: THE LONG SHOT FOR BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

We think there are a couple of genuinely capable and experienced people running for Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat for LA County Board of Supervisors. We are not, however, endorsing anyone, nor would we dream of telling you for whom any of us are voting.

Still and all, we can’t resist posting this last minute ad put out by longest of longshot candidates, Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County citizen watchdog. Whatever happens with the race, we hope that Previn keeps on paying attention to county business. We need him.


SO WHERE DO YOU GO TO VOTE?

You can find your correct local polling place right here.


Posted in 2014 election, LA County Jail, LASD | 18 Comments »

Pre-Primary Election LASD News, Some LA Schools May be Using “Off-the-Books” Suspensions, and Pope Francis on Juvenile Life Without Parole

June 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LASD NEWS ROUNDUP BEFORE THE JUNE PRIMARY ELECTION (TOMORROW, JUNE 3)

Throughout the campaign season, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has had good coverage of the sheriff debates and fundraising numbers, along with helpful profiles on (most of) the candidates.

With the June 3 primary nearly upon us, Stoltze asked the sheriff hopefuls three jail-related questions. All but Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Patrick Gomez responded. Here is the first question:

Question: The Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence said one of the problems with inmate abuse is that deputies trained to patrol the streets are assigned to serve as jail guards in their first few years on the job. The panel recommended that the next Sheriff adopt a “dual track” system whereby deputies are recruited and trained specifically as jail guards for careers inside the jails. Do you support this recommendation – why or why not? How would you overcome objections from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which has vowed to fight the change?

This may have been the easiest question for Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who wrote: “Not only do I support the recommendation for a ‘dual track’ system, I helped craft it as a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.”

But as the only person running who’s never served in the department, McDonnell would have to deal with the powerful labor union that represents deputies for the first time. “I have experience working successfully with police unions at the LAPD and in Long Beach and am confident that I could work with the deputy union,” he wrote.

Only former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka refused to commit to the dual track system. “I believe that we must explore the options available to us,” he wrote. “I do believe that we should make sure that those assigned to the jails and want to move on to patrol, should be able to do so – we need those individuals keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince all committed to a dual track system for deputies.

Hellmold said all deputies should receive the same training, however, in case jail guards must also end up working in the field during emergencies. He also said he’d limit street deputies to serving no more than two years in the jails.

“I have already been involved with communicating my vision with [the deputies' union] leadership and members and confident my vision reflects that of our members,” Hellmold wrote.

Olmsted included this in his response: “Although the dual-track is one method to resolving the problems in the jail, however, the primary concern is the lack of good leadership and adequate managerial oversight.” He noted he reduced use of force at Men’s Central Jail by 25 percent when he ran the facility.

Vince, a former Sheriff’s Department reserve officer, said he would convince the deputies’ labor union to accept any changes by offering perks: “I would also ‘sweeten’ the deal by seeking to implement organization-wide compressed work schedules and returning ‘gym time’ (they would get 15-20 minutes for on duty physical fitness),” Vince wrote.

Read the remaining questions and responses.

(Here are Stoltze’s profiles on Todd Rogers, James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell. They are worth reading, if you haven’t yet had the chance.)

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has an interesting profile on Paul Tanaka, and what both his supporters and opponents have to say about his tenure at the Sheriff’s Dept. Here are some clips:

A county commission concluded that he helped foster problems with brutality inside the jails. And the FBI is investigating allegations that he played a role in obstructing their investigation into the abuse.

Supporters say his reputation has been unfairly tarred by former subordinates whom Tanaka cracked down on for being lazy or inept. They describe him as hard-working, good at managing budgets and hyper-focused on lowering crime.

“If you’ve worked hard, he liked you…. If you were lazy, didn’t do your job, he didn’t give you the time of day,” said sheriff’s Capt. Louie Duran.

[SNIP]

In 2003, Tanaka drew federal scrutiny for helping funnel hundreds of sheriff’s bulletproof vests to Cambodia through Gardena without declaring them to customs officials. The odd transaction, which did not become publicly known until 2013, did not result in charges.

Eventually, Baca’s loyalty to Tanaka eroded.

After a sergeant pointed a gun at another sergeant at the sheriff’s Compton station, Tanaka and other top officials ignored a recommendation to demote the supervisor, instead giving him a 15-day suspension. Baca was upset, stripping Tanaka of his role in making discipline decisions.

Their relationship continued to strain after a blue-ribbon commission created by the county to examine inmate abuse found in 2012 that Tanaka had helped foster a culture of misconduct. The commission recommended that Tanaka be stripped of most of his authorities. Baca listened, and months later took it a step further, pushing his undersheriff to step down.

Tanaka has since gone on the offensive, saying that the sheriff’s officials who spoke out against him were former subordinates he had cracked down on for subpar work.

In his interview with federal agents, Tanaka gave an example. He recalled making a surprise visit to a sheriff’s station. There, in the middle of the work day, he found the lieutenant in charge not in uniform, but rather in shorts, T-shirt and sneakers.

According to Tanaka, the lieutenant greeted him, then said: “I was just getting ready to go to softball practice. You need me?”

“He gets in his car like an idiot and drives away,” Tanaka recalled. “I call his chief and I say, ‘I want him gone.’”

That lieutenant later spoke before the jail commission and accused Tanaka of mismanagement.

LASD UNION POLL RESULTS

The Professional Peace Officers Association, one of two LASD unions, polled 1,374 active and retired members on who they thought should be the next sheriff. After considering the results, the PPOA board of directors chose not to endorse any one candidate. Here are the numbers:

Jim McDonnell — 507

Bob Olmsted — 450

Jim Hellmold — 184

Todd Rogers — 170

Paul Tanaka — 54

Lou Vince — 9

(Paul Tanaka and Pat Gomez were not on the ballot because they did not participate in the PPOA debate (which was a requirement). Tanaka’s votes are write-ins.)


LA UNIFIED’S SUSPENSIONS ARE DOWN, BUT SOME SCHOOLS MAY BE USING “WORK-AROUNDS” TO LOWER THEIR NUMBERS

Statewide, and at the LAUSD-level, suspension and expulsion rates are on the decline.

A growing number of Los Angeles schools (Gompers Middle School in Watts, for instance) are lowering their suspension rates by resolving conflicts through “restorative justice” practices. There are reports, however, that some LAUSD schools are sending kids home without officially suspending them, in order to appear in compliance with the local, state, and federal push against harsh school discipline.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has the story. Here’s a clip:

In the heart of Watts, where violence in nearby housing projects can spill over onto campuses, two of the city’s toughest middle schools have long dealt with fights, drugs and even weapons.

Administrators typically have handled these problems by suspending students. But this year Markham and Gompers middle schools have reported marked reductions in that form of discipline — as has the L.A. Unified School District overall, where the suspension rate dropped to 1.5% last year from 8% in 2008.

The drop came after the Los Angeles Board of Education and L.A. schools chief John Deasy called for fewer suspensions as concern grew nationwide that removing students from school imperils their academic achievement and disproportionately harms minorities, particularly African Americans.

But have suspensions really become rarer?

Several African American parents at Markham recently alleged that administrators were sending their children home without officially suspending them. Markham Principal Paul Hernandez flatly denied that practice, known as “off-the-books” suspending.

Similar charges have been made elsewhere in L.A. Unified. The principal at Manchester Elementary in South Los Angeles was removed earlier this year following allegations that he sent at least 20 students home while directing staff not to mark them absent or suspended, according to two knowledgeable sources who asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation. A district official confirmed Gregory Hooker’s removal “pending the outcome of an investigation” but declined to provide further details.

A confidential report by two community organizations in 2012 found that some principals were using “work-arounds” to district mandates to reduce suspensions. Maisie Chin, executive director of CADRE, a South Los Angeles nonprofit that has long worked on the discipline issue, declined to release the report but said it showed that some students were being sent home, sometimes with no given reason, depriving them of the due process rights in the formal suspension process.

“We do think the pressure to reduce suspensions is probably causing a lot of unintended consequences,” Chin said.

[SNIP]

Last year, the L.A. school board became the first in the state to ban defiance as grounds for suspension; legislation would expand that ban statewide.

But those in the trenches say it hasn’t been easy to comply with the mandates — especially since years of tight budgets have left limited funding for the extra staff and training they say are critical.

At Gompers, Principal Traci Gholar said she readily suspended disruptive students in 2011-12, her first year at the helm, to drive home to families that she was intent on building a safe, orderly and positive school climate.

When superiors questioned her high suspension rate, Gholar asked for new resources that would support alternative disciplinary approaches: a conflict resolution specialist, a restorative justice coordinator, more campus aides, performing arts events and other activities.

The extra help appears to have made a difference. According to school data, incidents involving student misbehavior declined from 1,035 in the last school year to 663 as of May of this year. And although most of the misbehavior was serious enough to warrant suspensions, Gompers made a greater effort to address it in alternative ways, reducing the suspension rate to 3% from 30% last year.


POPE FRANCIS’ ANSWER TO 500 LETTERS FROM PEOPLE SERVING JUVENILE LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE IN UNITED STATES

Pope Francis responded to a group of 500 letters written by young people across the US who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole.

Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, coordinated the project and collected the letters, and Father Mike Kennedy, chaplain at Sylmar Juvenile Hall, sent the letters to the pope.

Writing for America Magazine, Kennedy shared Pope Francis’ response, along with his own thoughts on the issue of juvie LWOP. First, here’s a clip from the pope’s letter:

Dear Father Kennedy,

I have read the letters which you kindly sent to me from hundreds of young people throughout the United States sentenced as juveniles to life imprisonment without parole. Their stories and their plea that this form of sentencing be reviewed in the light of justice and the possibility of reform and rehabilitation moved me deeply. I would ask you kindly to assure them that the Lord knows and loves each of them, and that the Pope remembers them with affection in his prayers…

Read the rest here.

Now, a clip from Father Kennedy:

Jody Kent in Washington, D.C., the leader of the national campaign to end LWOP and insure that no children ever get sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, collected 500 letters in many states from incarcerated youth who received a sentence of LWOP. These letters were addressed to Pope Francis because they had faith that this world leader would advocate for them. Some Jesuits and I helped forward them to the pope three weeks ago.

The pope answered these letters by writing me acknowledging receipt of them and to give hope to those who now have no hope. The pope’s letter is strong and clear. He believes our youth deserve a second chance. Each prisoner who wrote a letter will be receiving a copy of the pope’s letter.

As we know, a youth’s brain has not developed to the level of an adult at the ages when they commit these crimes. They should be tried in juvenile courts not adult courts. It is very clear that Pope Francis understands this and has taken this issue of youth locked up as a personal concern.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, LWOP Kids, Paul Tanaka, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 16 Comments »

Sheriff Candidate Updates, Resolution to Minimize Kids’ Exposure to Trauma, CA Supreme Court Sez Names of Officers Involved in Shootings Are Public Record

May 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GENE MADDAUS ON RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BACA + HELLMOLD

When Lee Baca resigned as LA County Sheriff, he announced his support of either Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold or Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers to take command of the department.

Since that announcement, however, Baca has shifted away from Rogers, who has made it clear in interviews and debates that he is not afraid to criticize the former sheriff and the condition he left the department in. Baca now supports outsider Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, if Hellmold doesn’t win.

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus takes a refreshingly balanced look at the Baca-Hellmold connection and its implications. Here’s a clip:

Though he is generally cast as an “insider” in the race, Rogers has been vocal in criticizing a culture of cronyism in the department. Among other things, Rogers has accused Baca of giving out concealed weapons permits to his wealthy friends.

At a recent candidates’ forum, Rogers said that when Baca promoted him to assistant sheriff in 2013, “there was a giant bowl of Kool-Aid in the office and people were drinking from that. I took that Kool-Aid and dumped it out.”

Baca now considers Rogers to be a “back-stabber,” according to the source. In fact, Rogers is no longer even Baca’s second choice to be sheriff. If Hellmold does not win, Baca prefers James McDonnell, the Long Beach police chief.

This is not news to Rogers. In an interview, Rogers says it was “common knowledge” among those involved in the race that Baca is supporting Hellmold behind the scenes. Rogers says his own supporters have called him to say that Baca encouraged them to back Hellmold.

Rogers also says he remains “flabbergasted” that Baca ever publicly supported him, in light of how critical Rogers had been of Baca’s management of the department.

Although Hellmold has said he will continue many of Baca’s programs and policies, and still regularly speaks with the former sheriff, he maintains that he is not receiving any help from Baca or his former supporters. (We at WLA would like to know a little more about Hellmold-donor Ryan Kavanaugh, a former big-time supporter of Baca’s Sheriff’s Youth Foundation.)

In a separate interview, Hellmold says that he still talks to Baca regularly, but that Baca has done nothing – even behind the scenes – to back his campaign.

Told of Rogers’ statements, Hellmold says “It’s all in his head.”

Hellmold has raised $439,000, more than double what Rogers has raised.

“Everyone was shocked that within a month we raised $100,000,” Hellmold says. “Not one penny came from any of Baca’s previous supporters.”

AND IN RELATED NEWS…

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a new profile of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. Here’s a clip:

As the only serious contender without roots in the department, McDonnell has attracted high-profile endorsements and a substantial war chest from those who believe that change can best come from outside. A McDonnell victory would be historic: For a century, L.A. County voters have chosen a sheriff from inside the department.

McDonnell’s opponents in the Tuesday primary, who include two assistant sheriffs and a retired undersheriff, argue that only someone steeped in the department’s unique mix of jail management and street-level policing can turn the place around.

“He’s a very respected law enforcement professional…. To me it’s not about whether he has the knowledge or capability, but it’s the internal knowledge within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” said Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, a candidate with 25 years in the department.

McDonnell, 54, deflects those criticisms by promising to appoint top aides from within. He cites his service on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which issued influential recommendations on how to fix the nation’s largest county jail system.

“I bring a fresh perspective from the outside. I’m not encumbered by internal alliances,” McDonnell said. “I didn’t grow up with people in the organization. I don’t owe anybody anything.”

[SNIP]

In Long Beach, McDonnell leads a force diminished by budget cuts to just over 800 sworn officers. He has been criticized for a rise in officer-involved shootings, as well as the 2013 beating of an unarmed man. Last month, Long Beach officers fatally shot a 36-year-old man who was allegedly armed only with a wooden stick as he fled down a set of stairs. The man’s family has filed a $10-million claim against the city.

…McDonnell said the department is always trying to improve.

“We’re looking for red flags: training issues, equipment issues, tactical issues,” McDonnell said. “Are there things we need to do with the individual officer, with the unit or department-wide training?”


NEW CALIFORNIA RESOLUTION TO ADDRESS KIDS’ EXPOSURE TO TRAUMA AND TOXIC STRESS

California Assemblymembers have introduced a promising new resolution urging the state to find evidence-based solutions to minimize kids’ exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.

The resolution calls for preventative health care and mental health interventions to counteract trauma exposure and help kids have better outcomes and fewer encounters with the justice system. The resolution is co-authored by Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra (D-Los Angeles), Rob Bonta, (D-Alameda), Bradford, Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon), and Ian Calderon (D-City of Industry), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice.

Here are some clips from the announcement:

“Far too often, the impact of trauma in our children’s lives goes unnoticed and unaddressed,” said Asm. Bocanegra. “ACR 155 emphasizes our commitment to ensuring that all kids have a chance to thrive. It is more effective and less costly to positively influence the architecture of a child’s developing brain than to attempt to correct poor learning, health and behavior later on.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which can result in toxic stress and have a profound effect on a child’s developing brain and body. Research shows that exposure to childhood trauma is surprisingly common; a study of over 17,000 Californians found that two-thirds reported at least one adverse childhood experience, while 20 percent of participants reported three or more ACEs.

“Every parent, pediatrician and policymaker should be familiar with the words ‘toxic stress’ and ‘adverse childhood experiences,” said Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. “The data around ACEs and their impact on children’s long-term health exposes the scope of the problem and the opportunity we have to heal. By identifying effective solutions and interventions to prevent ACEs and heal toxic stress, we can make kids healthier and build stronger families and communities.”

Exposure to adverse experiences is linked to increased risk for lifelong health and behavior problems. For example, research shows that an individual with four or more ACEs is more likely to have a stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and diabetes. A person with four or more ACEs is also likely to experience depression, be more suicidal, or be an alcoholic.

“Trauma in its many forms can profoundly affect children’s healthy social, emotional and physical development, and their ability to learn and thrive,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “California must ensure that every child has access to evidence-based preventive and intervention programs to reduce the impacts of ACEs on individuals and inflated costs to our health care and public health systems.”

[SNIP]

“Addressing the impact of trauma on children is not just a response to violence but also a step toward preventing future trauma,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “The right interventions can help a vulnerable child avoid future exposures to violence that could otherwise have devastating effects on their ability to stay in school, stay healthy and stay out of trouble.”


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SAYS PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW NAMES OF OFFICERS INVOLVED IN SHOOTINGS

In 2010 the city of Long Beach released the names of police officers involved in shooting incidents to the LA Times. The Long Beach Police Officers Association sued the city, arguing that the information would endanger officers.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that law enforcement agencies have to disclose the names of officers involved in shootings (per the Public Records Act), unless the department could establish that such an action would threaten the officers’ lives.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Greg Yee has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the Long Beach police union, concluding there is a presumption that the public has a right to know the identities of officers involved in shooting incidents. While the justices indicated there may be circumstances that would permit keeping the information secret, particularly if an officer’s safety might be jeopardized, departments do not have a sweeping right to withhold the officers’ identities in the aftermath of shootings.

“We reject that blanket rule,” Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired this spring with the case pending, wrote for the majority.

Long Beach Police Officers Association officials said in a statement it was “unfortunate that the majority of the Court does not recognize the safety concerns created for officers and their families involved in critical incidents when their names are released publicly.”

Union officials went on to say the organization “respectfully disagree(s) with the Court’s majority opinion that the public’s interest in this information outweighs the safety of the involved officers and their families. Police officers and other public safety personnel already face a wide range of risks. It is unfair and unconscionable that we should add the safety of their families and homes to that list as well.”

Justice Ming Chin was the lone dissent, siding with the Long Beach police union, which was joined by some other law enforcement groups in the case. Chin argued that the information is exempt from public records laws because it threatens police rights to privacy.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who is running for Los Angeles County sheriff, said in a statement Thursday that he is committed to “transparency, openness and public access in regard to the work of law enforcement. Indeed, it is my view that too often law enforcement treats the vast majority of what it does as a secret and dissuades public involvement, when in fact very little need be kept confidential and the engagement of our community should be embraced and welcomed.”

However he said the privacy needs of officers and their families needs to be balanced with this.

“I look forward to the direction from our City Attorney in regard to the implementation of this decision,” McDonnell said.

Posted in LASD, Trauma, Youth at Risk | 51 Comments »

Jail Visitor Beaten by Deputies Wins Settlement, SCOTUS Moves to Protect Intellectually Disabled on Death Row, Problematic Proposed Adelanto Jail, RIP Maya Angelou…& WLA Finalist for LA Press Club Prize

May 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JAIL VISITOR BEATEN BY LA COUNTY DEPUTIES WINS SEVEN-FIGURE SETTLEMENT

In February 2011, a man visiting his brother at Men’s Central Jail was reportedly violently beaten by deputies, who then covered their tracks by falsely charging the man, Gabriel Carrillo, with assault. Carrillo would have faced 14 years in prison had the District Attorney’s Office not dismissed all charges a week before his trial. The FBI and US Attorney’s Office filed charges against the deputies involved (which are currently pending).

And today, at 9:30a.m., Gabriel Carrillo, his family, and attorneys will announce a seven-figure settlement reached in Carrillo’s lawsuit against LA County.

(For the backstory on the Carrillo beating, go here.) Interestingly, the Carrillo incident occurred seven months before the Anthony Brown incident that has triggered the current trial. The FBI, at that time, was investigating brutality of inmates by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies.


SCOTUS EASES FLORIDA’S RIGID IQ REQUIREMENT FOR DEATH ROW INMATES SEEKING EXEMPTION DUE TO INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY

The US Supreme Court struck down Florida’s rule that a person on death row must have an IQ below 70 to be considered intellectually disabled enough to be spared from execution. The 5-4 ruling means that states cannot determine death row inmates’ intellectual capacity using only a fixed number on an imperfect test—that the inmates’ IQ number should instead represent a range with room for error.

The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes and Matt Zapotosky have the story. Here’s a clip:

The court ruled 5 to 4 that state laws that draw a bright line on IQ-test results are unconstitutional. Under those laws, an inmate who scores above 70 on the test does not meet the first step of proving that he or she is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

Florida, Virginia and Kentucky have such laws, and a handful of others have similar rules.

It was the court’s first consideration of state laws defining mental retardation in capital cases since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia that executing the mentally retarded violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In that decision, the court left it up to states to define intellectual disability. But those state determinations must meet constitutional requirements respecting “the gravest sentence our society may impose,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority opinion released Tuesday. He was joined in the decision by the court’s four liberals.

“Florida seeks to execute a man because he scored a 71 instead of a 70 on an IQ test,” Kennedy wrote, adding that experts agree that any number on an IQ test is an imprecise measurement. “Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”

It is relatively rare for a death row inmate to raise intellectual disability as a bar to execution. Defense lawyers in Virginia, for instance, estimate that the ruling might aid only a couple of the eight death row inmates there.

But the decision again showed the continuing tension among the justices about how to apply the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” as the court put it more than 50 years ago, to the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.


PROPOSED ADELANTO PRIVATE JAIL FACILITY MEANS TO LEASE BEDS TO LA COUNTY

Amid LA County’s costly plans to rebuild the crumbling Men’s Central Jail and renovate another jail to make room for female inmates, the relatively small city of Adelanto (in San Bernardino County) has proposed building another detention facility. The city aims to capitalize on LA County’s overcrowding crisis by constructing a 3,280-bed jail to lease to LA for $104 million a year.

If the facility is built, LA County plans to be locked into the lease for a whopping 20 years. In addition to the double-decade, multi-million dollar commitment (on top of our $2 billion Men’s Central Jail project). Inmates moved to the Adelanto facility would also be far from their families.

And if the county enters into a new private prison contract, would the $104 million lease create yet another unholy conflict of interest that could put pressure on the county and the entrepreneurs to keep the facility filled so that everyone gets their monies worth? as we have seen in contracts across the nation with CCA and GEO Group? (Backstory here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

County supervisors recently voted to embark on a $2-billion plan to tear down and rebuild the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The new facility is intended to improve conditions for inmates with physical and mental health needs, but would not add beds to the county system or address the overcrowding that has led to thousands of inmates being released early each year.

Adelanto, a city of 31,000 in San Bernardino County’s high desert region, is proposing to build a 3,280-bed jail on vacant industrial land next to a federal corrections complex. Then it would lease the beds to Los Angeles County. City Manager Jim Hart said Adelanto — via its public financing authority or another agency to be created for the project — would issue bonds to buy the property and build the jail, at an estimated cost of $332 million.

Under a proposal presented earlier this month by a pair of businessmen who are marketing the deal, Los Angeles County would not pay the upfront costs to build the jail but would agree to lease beds there for 20 years once it’s completed, at a rate of $88 per bed per day, or about $104 million a year.

Proponents say the facility could be completed in about two years and would allow the county to avoid shortening the time served by serious offenders, comply with federal requirements to reduce crowding, and save money they might otherwise spend constructing new jails.

County supervisors have not formally discussed the proposal, but three of the five — Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Michael D. Antonovich — have said they’re willing to consider it.

Knabe said Friday that he sees the Adelanto facility as “a possible enhancement in the future” to expand the county’s jail capacity — not as an alternative to the Men’s Central Jail project.

“It would not be something I would want to pursue instead of the option we picked,” he said.

Two politically connected businessmen are making the Adelanto pitch: Doctor R. Crants, a Nashville-based businessman who cofounded Corrections Corp. of America, the largest private prison company in the United States, and William Buck Johns, a Newport Beach-based developer and prominent Republican fundraiser who has been involved in other ventures in the Inland Empire. Johns and his company, Inland Group, have contributed to Knabe’s and Antonovich’s campaigns in the past.


REMEMBERING MAYA ANGELOU

On Wednesday, Maya Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was found dead at her home in North Carolina.

NPR’s Morning Edition does an excellent job of remembering Angelou and her legacy as a poet, author, activist, and so much more. Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

“She really believed that life was a banquet,” says Patrik Henry Bass, an editor at Essence Magazine. When he read Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, he saw parallels in his own life in a small town in North Carolina. He says everyone in the African-American community looked up to her; she was a celebrity but she was one of them. He remembers seeing her on television and hearing her speak.

“When we think of her, we often think about her books, of course, and her poems,” he says. “But in the African-American community, certainly, we heard so much of her work recited, so I think about her voice. You would hear that voice, and that voice would capture a humanity, and that voice would calm you in so many ways through some of the most significant challenges.”

[SNIP]

Joanne Braxton, a professor at the College of William and Mary, says Angelou’s willingness to reveal the sexual abuse she suffered as a child in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was unprecedented at the time. The critical acclaim and popularity of the book opened doors for both African-American and female writers.

“Maya Angelou brought about a paradigm shift in American literature and culture,” Braxton says, “so that the works, the gifts, the talents of women writers, including women writers of color, could be brought to the foreground and appreciated. She created an audience by her stunning example.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued this statement regarding Angelou’s passing:

“Maya Angelou was one of history’s great lyricists whose words and deeds opened windows that allowed the world to see and appreciate the enduring principles of freedom, equality and justice. She had an immeasurable impact on the way I view the world and my place in it. Maya Angelou’s legacy will live on not only through her extraordinary body of work, but in the efforts of all those who fight for freedom, dignity and humanity.”

Take a listen to this very empowering recording of Maya Angelou reading one of her well-known poems, “Still I Rise.”

We also recommend taking a look at Angelou’s Twitter account (trust us, it’s worth it).


ELIMINATING THE POWDER VS. CRACK COCAINE SENTENCING DISCREPANCY IN CALIFORNIA

The California Senate has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years. Both forms of cocaine will now carry a two to four year sentence.

(The cocaine sentencing discrepancy is also an issue dealt with at the federal level.)

The Associated Press has the story.


BY THE WAY…

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, is an LA Press Club Award finalist for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The winners will be announced on Sunday, June 29, at the Biltmore Hotel, in downtown LA.

You can find the rest of the categories and finalists here.

Posted in Death Penalty, LASD, Sentencing, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 5 Comments »

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