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After a Consent Decree Is Lifted, CA DJJ Still Failing Locked-Up Kids

August 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Just six months after the state Division of Juvenile Justice was released from a 12-year consent decree over violence, gang problems, a spate of suicides, and other major issues in the state’s juvie detention facilities, the DJJ still fails to protect locked-up kids and lacks adequate mental health care services, according to a report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ).

Back in 2003, following a wave of media reports that kids held in the DJJ’s three facilities—Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, and the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, CA—were experiencing physical and sexual abuse, joining gangs, and committing suicide, the law firm Prison Law Office sued the California Youth Authority (which later became the DJJ). The Alameda County Superior Court of California placed CYA/DJJ under a consent decree requiring the adoption of six remedial plans to improve safety within the facilities, physical and mental health treatment, sex behavior treatment, disabilities services, and education systems.

The Superior Court freed the DJJ from the lawsuit (Farrell v. Kernan) in February of this year, saying that the state had fulfilled most of the reform requirements. But major safety and health care problems persist within the detention centers.

Despite the fact that the daily population in the three DJJ-run facilities has dropped 30% between 2011-2015, youth-on-youth injuries have jumped by 86%. And while there have been fewer uses of more serious force—which the report defines as physical, chemical, and mechanical force—against locked-up kids between from 2011-2015, lesser uses of force—like foam batons and projectile sting-balls—have increased by 75%.

After representing a young defendant locked in a DJJ facility, criminal defense attorney Amy Morton said the DJJ is guilty of “downplaying the reality of the daily violence to which the wards are exposed, and ignoring the environment of fear that permeates the institution.”

Following the end of the consent decree in February, the placement of kids in restrictive units—which greatly reduce out-of-cell time and privileges, and are often employed for punishment purposes when kids’ behavior is deemed “aggressive”—has doubled. Not only are kids being placed in restrictive housing more often, kids in the general population are not receiving the mental health care they need. When a court-appointed mental health care expert shined a light on deficiencies in the mental health care provided to kids in DJJ facilities in 2015, DJJ responded by transferring kids needing “acute” mental health care to adult facilities for treatment.

Another unchecked problem in the state lock-ups—one that was supposed to be solved by the consent decree—is gang influence. In 2012, national youth gang expert Dr. Cheryl Maxson found that the environment within the three facilities led to kids joining gangs “early in their stay,” or becoming even more involved in gangs if they were already affiliated. These problems have persisted beyond the end of the consent decree, CJCJ researchers found: “In failing to heed recommendations from experts and rejecting evidence-based gang intervention strategies, DJJ has allowed gangs to remain powerfully influential.”

The report calls for increased data reporting in order to promote “transparency and escalated monitoring of California’s youth corrections system, especially in the areas of safety and mental health” in the DJJ’s post-consent decree era.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

BEGGING TO GO TO PRISON: Former LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Wants to Begin His Federal Prison Term Right Away—If He Can Get Past the Bureaucratic Obstacles

August 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On August 31, former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton
will turn himself in to federal marshals in order to begin his eighteen month sentence in federal prison.

Weirdly, Sexton’s choice to get on with his prison term has not been a simple matter to achieve.

Sexton is the first and only former department member indicted for obstructing a federal investigation who has elected to go ahead and begin his prison time. Everyone else—including Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LASD—is still fighting their respective convictions. And former sheriff Lee Baca has yet to go to trial. But surrendering one’s self to the feds, it turns out, isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

As most readers remember, the obstruction indictments brought by the government against a total of 10 former LA County Sheriff’s Department members pertained to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, falsely threatening an FBI agent, interfering with potential federal witnesses, and generally attempting to get in the way of an undercover FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations, brutality, and corruption on the part of deputies inside the county’s troubled jail system.

Sexton is the lowest person on the departmental food chain to be convicted of the obstruction charges, and sentenced to federal lock-up. Although the government does not suggest he had anything to do with the threatening of FBI agents, or interfering with witnesses, he was involved in hiding federal informant Brown, based on orders coming from several layers of supervisors, including—according to federal prosecutors—the two people running the department.

Among the other defendants already convicted are former LASD deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, former sergeants Maricela Long and Scott Craig, and former lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, who were tried as a group and whose sentences in a federal lock-up range from 21 months to 41 months.

Paul Tanaka, the notorious former second in command of the department, was himself convicted of the dual charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role as the shot caller of the obstruction actions, and was subsequently sentenced to five years behind bars.

Tanaka has appealed to the 9th Circuit for relief thus he is able to stay out of prison until his appeal is settled.

The six—Manzo, Smith, Scott, Craig, Thompson and Leavins—-appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost with a ruling from a three-judge panel. Now they are appealing to the entire 9th Circuit for their collective case to be reheard, so they too are not yet packing for incarceration.

Former LASD captain Tom Carey, who made a plea deal with the government, has yet to be sentenced.

And of course, there is former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca who, according to the government, gave the orders that set the whole obstruction circus in motion, with Tanaka doing the micromanagement.

Baca originally agreed to a plea deal for which he expected to do somewhere between no time at all, and six months. He backed out of the deal in early August, after it became evident that U.S. District Court Judge Percy intended to go with a sentence that could be substantively longer than the maximum six months that his agreement with the feds prescribed. (It should be noted former deputy Sexton’s sentence was three times higher that the highest end of Baca’s proposed sentence 0 to 6 months.)

Now Baca is going to trial, beginning in early December, and his attorney, Nathan Hochman has indicated he will likely have experts and witnesses explain to the jury that the former sheriff was too compromised by his oncoming Alzheimer’s disease to have knowledgably committed the three crimes of which he is charged by the federal government.

(Mr. Baca has been indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of his now dynamited plea deal.)


Sexton, who is 31, has been fighting his case for the last three years, and through the whole of his three-year marriage, and says he wants to pay whatever debt he owes so that he can begin to plan a new future.

“Out of respect for the jurors who sat for my two trials,” he wrote to WitnessLA in a text, “I’m going to continue the appellate process while serving time in an effort to move on with my life…..I am grateful for the people in my life, especially my wife, family, and friends who supported me exercising my Constitutional Rights.” But now he is ready to move on, he said.

(Sexton refers to “two trials” because he was tried twice, with the first proceeding ending in a mistrial due to a hung jury that was “hopelessly divided” with six for conviction, and six against. Also, although Sexton says he has stopped fighting his prison term, he is not completely giving up on his right to appeal in the future.)

When Sexton decided to move forward with serving his time, however, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the 9th Circuit and the rest of the federal bureaucratic machinery was not ready to take him, although he was sentenced on September 16, 2014, and his appeal to the 9th—along with that of the six—was rejected on August 4 of this year.

He could turn himself in if he wanted, but the BOP has nowhere to put him. Former law enforcement officials are generally incarcerated in facilities where the BOP is better able to keep them safe from inmates who may wish to harm cops. However, they didn’t have such a facility ready. So, he might languish in a less secure private lock-up for an indefinite time.

Concerned at where his client might wind up, Sexton’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney, Tom O’Brien, attempted to blast through the logjam by filing a urgent motion with the 9th Circuit to pull Sexton out of the appeals queue, where he had landed automatically when the six decided to re-appeal, even though Sexton had not himself asked for a second appeal.

“In order to move forward with his life,” O’Brien wrote to the 9th, “Mr. Sexton now seeks to begin serving his sentence as expeditiously as possible. To do so, he respectfully requests, and the Government does not oppose this request, that the mandate should be issued as to him as quickly as possible.”

Once the 9th Circuit gave up their dominion over Sexton, O’Brian submitted a petition to Judge Anderson, in whose court Sexton was convicted and sentenced.

At first it was not clear that the various motions would shove the slow-moving governmental cogs. But finally, late on Friday Judge Anderson signed the necessary stipulation, which went then to Sexton’s probation officer and then to the US Marshals immediately. Sexton hopes the BOP will be ready for him by his wished for turn-in date of August 31. It remains to be seen what prison will be his home for the next year and a half.

“Still, I think we’re prepared now,” Sexton’s wife, Keely Sexton told WLA. “We’ve come to a peace with it. Yeah, it’s scary. I respect him for going in. But it’s scary. It is. I’m scared of coming home to an empty house, and scared of not knowing what’s going on with him, and scared of not being able to talk to him for a while. We’ve gotten to go through a lot of things that people who have been married for 30 years had never gone through. And it’s made us stronger. I wouldn’t trade any of that. Now it’s time to get on with it.”

Posted in LASD | 13 Comments »

Prosecutors Request Mental Competency Evaluation for Former Sheriff Lee Baca

August 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

After a hearing on Wednesday to set a start date for the federal criminal trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
, government prosecutors filed a motion requesting a mental competency evaluation for the man who, for sixteen years, headed the nation’s largest sheriff’s department until his abrupt announcement of his retirement in January, 2014.

“Although the government believes defendant is competent to stand trial,” the prosecution team wrote, “certain statements by defendant, his attorneys, and his experts, if taken at face value, provide reasonable cause to believe that defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.”

Their proposed motion, stated the prosecutors, will either “ensure that the defendant’s trial proceeds in the timely fashion if he is competent.” Otherwise, it will “save resources” if Baca is found not competent to stand trial.

This rather startling development came after an edgy discussion about the issue of Baca’s mental condition as it pertained to the upcoming trial. The three-way conversation took place in court earlier on Wednesday between the government’s attorneys, defense attorney Nathan Hochman, and U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson after Hochman told the court that the defense may assert what is known as a 12.2 defense, or “mental defect” defense.

In brief, a 12.2 defense is a strategy in which the defense presents “expert evidence of a mental disease or defect” that would have prevented a defendant from possessing the mental ability required to have committed the offenses of with which he or she is charged.

At some point in the discussion, Judge Anderson asked Hochman if this meant that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s “don’t know right from wrong?”

In answer to Anderson’s terse questioning, Hochman reportedly said that, no, he was not going for an insanity defense (which is one version of a 12.2 defense). Instead he might put forth another version of the 12.2 legal tactic, which is the aforementioned “mental defect” strategy.

In the request for the competency evaluation, prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui noted that, during the hearing in February in which Baca pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to federal officials, when asked if he had “recently been treated for any form of mental illness or addiction?” or if he was “currently suffering from any mental condition that would prevent him from “understanding fully the charge against” him, “or the consequences of any guilty plea” he might enter to relating to that charge, Baca answered, “no,” to each question.

The the prosecutors went on to point out that, on Aug. 1, Baca’s attorneys stated that “medical records would show Baca’s mental deterioration had already begun in April 2013, when he made the allegedly false statements to federal prosecutors.”

In their motion, the prosecutors made clear that they believe that Mr. Baca is competent to go to trial.

But they want an official determination, one way or the other.

Interestingly, in Wednesday’s hearing to finally determine the trial date, defense attorney Hochman said that he might consider filing a motion for a change in venue explaining that he was not sure that an untainted jury pool could be found, given all the publicity about the matter.

In response, Judge Anderson pointed out that it that it likely did not help matters to have attorneys holding press conferences on the courthouse steps—or words to that effect. Anderson then asked both sides to refrain from trying this case in the press.

The trial of Lee Baca for charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials is set to begin on December 6, 2016.

Here’s the actual motion for a competency evaluation if you want to take a look:

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 40 Comments »

Witness LA is on Vacation This Week, Back on Monday

August 23rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Unless news breaks that we absolutely can’t ignore, we’ll be on vacation this week.

But we’ll be keeping an eye on things, and will see you next Monday!

Then after Labor Day we’ll launch a new version of WLA that will give us—and you—a little more room.

Happy end of August!


Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

Lee Baca: A December Trial Date, A New Lawyer, and a Pitch for Legal $$$ – UPDATED

August 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At Wednesday’s hearing, although former sheriff Lee Baca’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman, pushed for any trial to be delayed until February or March of next, after considerable debate, U.s. District Court Judge Percy Anderson set a new trial date for December 6th.

On Wednesday of this week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and his new lead attorney, Nathan Hochman, will meet on the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson for a “status conference” with federal prosecutors to discuss when Baca’s criminal trial will begin.

While the trial was originally set to begin in September, then moved to October 4, our sources tell us that new and hopefully final date will likely be in December of this year. (But we’ll let you know for sure on Wednesday.)

Baca, who is now 74-years-old, was arraigned on August 12, also before Judge Anderson, at which time he pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials.

The former sheriff was indicted on the three charges after he pulled out of a plea deal with the government that had been crafted back in February, in which he’d agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying in an interview with the feds in 2013. In return for his plea, government prosecutors agreed to a sentencing range of 0 to 6 months.

In July, however, Anderson blew up the deal by rejecting the maximum six month sentence. In a sober-minded but scathing series of comments to those assembled in his courtroom, Anderson said that a six-month sentence would not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge said grimly, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct,” and would “…trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

After Anderson’s rejection of the 0 to 6 month sentencing agreement, Baca withdrew from the plea deal altogether, rather than take a chance on what promised to be a sentence from Anderson that likely would have fallen somewhere between 2-5 years in a federal prison.

But, to withdraw from the deal meant that Baca would instead go to trial, and likely face added charges—which was exactly what happened.


Now, the gigantic wild card in the eventual trial will be the issue of Baca’s cognitive health. He has, as most readers are aware, been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that was made public in late June (although WLA broke the news the month before).

On the day of his arraignment, Baca also filed for a change in his lead attorney. Through the course of his plea deal, and the withdrawal from it, Michael Zweiback, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has represented Baca.

Now Nathan Hochman will represent Baca. Hochman is also a former federal prosecutor, and the former head of the Tax Division for the US Department of Justice. While both he and Zweiback have strong CVs, they are reputed to have different personal styles when it comes to representing a client in a criminal trial.

Hochman has made it very clear that Baca’s mental state will be a significant issue when Baca goes before a jury, and that the defense will explore whether there was any “cognitive impairment,” during the period of the summer and early fall of 2011, when the alleged actions occurred that are the basis of the obstruction of justice charges, and in 2013, of course, when Baca was interviewed by the feds, and allegedly lied.

During the arraignment, Judge Anderson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, repeatedly asked defendant Baca if he understood the proceedings. Baca replied that his mind was “clear enough” but also added that he had a “cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile.”

When the case goes to trial, the government is expected to have its own witnesses who suggest that, while the former sheriff may be eccentric, he cognition and memory were fully operative during the periods in question.

Both Baca’s present and past attorneys have strongly hinted (but not outright stated) that they will do what they can to have Judge Anderson removed from the former sheriff’s case, pleading that Anderson is biased against Baca.


Trials are, of course, very expensive, and with this in mind, the former sheriff’s wife, Carol Baca, has recently sent out fund raising emails to friends in her husband’s behalf, two versions of which WitnessLA has obtained. (The LA Times’ Joel Rubin was the first to report on the emails’ existence.)

In one of the emails, Mrs. Baca wrote in part:

“The attorney fees for this defense will be substantial, well over $1 million, in addition to the large amount of money we have already spent on Lee’s legal fees. As a result, we are reaching out to our family and friends to help Lee beat these charges. Lee is in the fight for his life given his Alzheimer’s disease, and he hopes he can count on you to help him have the resources for this fight.

“There are two ways to contribute to help Lee. Any person can donate as a gift to Lee a maximum amount of $14,000 a year tax-free. In addition, we are setting up a legal defense fund that can accept contributions without limit (more details to follow).”

On the subject of legal bills, except for Paul Tanaka, nearly all of the other 21 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members who have been convicted by the government in the course of the multi-year federal investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD, have been provided attorneys by either the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), or the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA).

(James Sexton was the exception among the deputies who faced federal charges, as ALADS declined to pay even a portion of his bills, for reasons that make up their own disheartening tale.)

So, would Baca be eligible for any help?

We asked PPOA president, Brian Moriguchi, what he thought about whether either union could or would pay any of Baca’s bills, and he told us that “any full-member of our association in good standing is entitled to representation or financial support, regardless of whether their rank is a deputy sheriff or the sheriff himself.”

PPOA, he said, has provided financial assistance “to all of our members who were indicted related to this matter.”

Since we called Moriguchi on Sunday, he could not easily check whether or not Baca was, in fact, a full member. But if he is, Moriguchi said, “he is entitled to the same member benefits we afford all of our members, including financial assistance.”

Paul Tanaka, he said, “did not received any financial support from PPOA because he was not a member of our association.”

For the record, Mr. Baca receives roughly $328,000 annually in pension and benefits. In 2013, his total salary plus benefits was $490,727, according to Transparent California.

In 2013, Mr. Tanaka made $598,026. He also received salary and benefits as the Mayor of Gardena, which last year was $30,938.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 20 Comments »

Feds Breaking with For-Profit Prisons, Youth Solitary Confinement Bill Advances, and Racial Bias Training

August 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, US Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced that the Department of Justice would begin phasing out the use of for-profit prisons to house federal inmates, noting that private facilities “compare poorly” to those run by the federal government. “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates said in a memo to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The move came in response to a scathing report from the Inspector General that revealed systemic safety and security problems—like failure to discipline staff, and improper storage of use-of-force videos—at the federal prisons run by for-profit companies (including the scandal-plagued Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group).

The for-profit companies are often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and understaffing. Many of the facilities enforce lock-up quotas and “low-crime taxes”, which carry financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.

“It has been a stain on our democracy to permit profit-making entities to be handed the responsibility of making determinations of individual liberty,” said the Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer. “Today’s action moves us closer to a moment when government can once again assume this important responsibility.”

Yates has asked the Bureau of Prisons to let contracts with the private companies expire, or to drastically reduce the scope of the contract, as the federal inmate population continues to decline. Currently, around one in eight federal inmates is housed in a for-profit prison. The total population has dropped from 225,000 in 2013, to 195,000 in 2016. According to Yates’ memo, the feds are housing around 22,600 of those prisoners in 13 private facilities across the nation. In California, Taft Correctional Institution holds 2,187 federal inmates.

The decision doesn’t apply to contracts between US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the same private prison corporations to warehouse undocumented immigrant families. (ICE holds around 62% of locked-up immigrants in private facilities.) Neither are states’ contracts with for-profit prisons affected by the change.

In California, however, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would ban cities and counties from contracting with for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill. (Read our previous post about SB 1289: here.) The bill made it past the Senate, and now awaits an Assembly vote.


On Thursday, the California Assembly unanimously passed an important bill that would drastically limit the use of solitary confinement for locked-up kids. Because the Assembly tweaked SB 1143, the bill has to go back to the Senate—which already passed the bill unanimously—for another vote, before it moves to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.

SB 1143 would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours at a time. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.

“We appreciate the Assembly passed SB 1143 today and agree this well-crafted and thoroughly vetted policy is an important step for California’s juvenile justice system,” said Mark Bonini, President of the Chief Probation Officers of California.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to take a closer look at implicit—or unconscious—racial bias training for LA County Sheriff’s Department cadets, as well as for Probation, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, the Superior Court, and the Fire Department.

Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas
motion came the week after the sheriff’s department admitted
that a deputy mistakenly shot and killed 27-year-old Donnell Thompson, an unarmed man whom deputies believed might be connected to a carjacking suspect who had fired shots at deputies three hours earlier.

“We are facing a crisis of confidence with our law enforcement agencies, particularly in communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The motion calls on the county agencies and departments to analyze their policies for required implicit bias training and report back to the board within 45 days. The sheriff’s department specifically will have to report on how the department measures how well officers perform constitutional policing practices– “monitoring department operations, observance to policies and strategic plans, highlighting achievements and exemplary service of officers, while simultaneously, detecting patterns of bias and misconduct.”

Then, the county CEO and Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will research what training models are working elsewhere in the nation to break down implicit racial bias and build up racial identity sensitivity in law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems.

“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said Alex Johnson, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

OIG Reports New Rules for Restraints in County Jails After One Inmate Dies, and Another is “Tethered” Without Food for 32 Hours

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

A few days ago, Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman released a report
that reveals recent changes in the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s policies relating to the use of restraints on inmates in the county’s jail system. The new policies, the OIG writes, are designed to ensure that that the use of “tethering” and other restraints on inmates does not result in “a substantial risk of mental and/or physical harm,” is not used as a “punishment,” and does not break any state laws.

The new report focuses on four incidents in which prisoners were tied to a fixed object for a prolonged period of time though the use of a “restraint device”—waist chains, handcuffs, and/or a foot hobble—and the inmates were, in fact, harmed as a result.

In one January 2015 incident, a restrained inmate died when, according to the report, jail deputies who were supposed to have made regular welfare checks failed to notice evidence of distress that was later found to be visible on video.


The first incident the report outlines occurred on August 26, 2014, in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility (TTCF), and involved an inmate who refused to be strip searched, then began physically resisting in general. In response to his recalcitrance, deputies “placed a hobble” on the inmate’s feet and “tethered the hobble to a handcuff ring on the counter of a visiting cubicle.”

The deputies then stripped the prisoner naked and conducted a search in his restrained position. The problem arose when they did so in an area that was visible “to the public.” According to the report, after the search, the inmate remained naked and restrained and visible to anyone walking by for 90 minutes or more.

(There is evidently video footage of all this, so the length of time that the naked, tethered inmate was on public view is not in dispute.)

This stripping of someone in front of other people who are not officially involved in the action appears also to be disallowed by the California penal code, section 4030, which states:

All strip, visual and physical body cavity searches shall be conducted in an area of privacy so that the search cannot be observed by persons not participating in the search.

In addition, the inmate’s 90-minute restraint—which was, according to the video, far, far longer than anyone needed to perform the necessary search—also ran contrary to the custody division’s general policy on search procedures:

“Searches are not to be used to inflict physical stress or punishment on prisoners. Prisoners shall not be required to remain in any search position for more time than is reasonable and necessary to complete a search.”


On September 2014, a week after the incident at TTCF, a prisoner who was detained in the North County Correctional Facility (NCCF) was suspected of concealing contraband in his rectum and was placed on what was called “contraband watch”—known informally as “potty watch,” which basically means that the inmate is isolated in a restricted area while deputies wait for him (or her) to use the toilet, at which point, if there is contraband, the deputies can retrieve it.

This inmate, however, was handcuffed and waist-chained for extended hours in only underpants and boxer shorts, resulting in injuries to his midsection and wrists.

The inmate mentioned in the report was reportedly one of several dozen who were similarly restrained at NCCF, according to a 2015 story by the LA Times Cindy Chang. The now-prohibited restraints-tied-to-a-fixed-object strategy during potty watch was, at the time part, of a reportedly vaguely worded policy at NCCF—a policy that was not generally used at the other jail facilities.

According to WitnessLA’s own sources, potty watch was reportedly over-used at NCCF in particular, well before 2014, to the point that inmates complained to us about being sent there after a court appearance, because they felt they might be subjected to prolonged periods of being isolated and naked, or nearly naked, even when they believed there was no indication that they were hiding contraband. Interestingly, they did not report this alleged over-use of the strategy in the county’s other jails.


The third incident detailed in Huntsman’s report occurred in the High Observation Intake Housing (HOH) section of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. This is the case in which a prisoner died while he was restrained. As with the other incidents, the inmate was attached via his handcuffs to a fixed object— his cell door—for a “prolonged period of time.”

The situation began when an inmate came back from court and began behaving strangely at the Inmate Reception Center (IRC). After having his vitals taken and seeing a psychiatrist after hours of delay, at 9:37 a.m. on January 13, 2015, the prisoner was brought into HOH where he was asked to remove his “undergarment” and put on a “safety garment.” He refused. So he was put in a cell, and tethered with his left wrist handcuffed to a waist chain that traveled through the cell door’s tray slot and then was secured to the door handle on the outside of the cell door.”

According to the report, the prisoner was kept in this restrictive position for approximately 10 hours and 25 minutes.

Much of the point of HOH, according to the OIG’s report, is to allow for an inmate to be closely monitored on a temporary basis. But, although deputies reportedly checked on this tethered prisoner on multiple occasions, no one noticed that the man was becoming more and more physically distressed. The video account of his time in the cell showed that the inmate stopped moving altogether at 7:30 p.m. but, according to the OIG (who reviewed the video), during a supposed 7:45 welfare check, “the deputy appeared not to look into the prisoner’s cell…” and reported no destress,

At 10:16 p.m. deputies finally actually entered the cell, and found the inmate “unresponsive.”

Rescue efforts were initiated, but it was too late. The inmate was pronounced dead “shortly thereafter.” The autopsy revealed that the prisoner died of methamphetamine toxicity.


The last incident depicted in Inspector General Huntsman’s report may be the best known:

It began on June 19, 2015, when an inmate who was booked on an arson charge, was restrained after he “ripped up his t-shirt,” threatened to hurt himself, then head-butted a female deputy, injuring her.

As a result, for 32 hours he placed in a chair with his hands both cuffed behind his back and attached to waist chains, which were—in turn—attached to a bench. He remained in this restrained position for approximately thirty-two hours, during which time he received no meals, only one cup of water, and no access to a toilet.

We reported about the incident here.

In the aftermath, no one seemed to have a level-headed explanation as to why this treatment was deemed reasonable or appropriate.


Much of the report is devoted to detailing the changes in policy that are being put into place as a result of each of the incidents, and in response to the incidents collectively. While different, the report notes, [the incidents] all share a “common link,” namely that in all four instances the inmate “was left tethered to a fixed object” for an extensive period of time “without proper care and supervision.”

These changes announced in the report have been a long time in coming, according to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which brought the massive class action suit against the department—Rosas v. Baca—the settlement of which has measurably influenced the new policies, according to the OIG’s report.

“The fact that these incidents occurred is evidence of lousy use of force policy that did not make clear how restraints should be appropriately used,” Eliasberg told us. “And bad policy often leads to bad incidents.”

On the positive side, he said, “what the OIG is reporting is that the department has had to overhaul its use of force policies” and come up with much better ones.

In addition to having to be approved by the department, and by the Rosas monitors, the policies also have to be approved by the Department of Justice, according to their settlement agreement with the department regarding correcting abuse in the county’s jail system.

“But having good policies is just one leg of the stool,” Eliasberg continued. “You have to train to those policies, and then when incidents happen, you have to hold people to the policies that are in place.

But designing good policies for a complex agency the size of the LA County Sheriff’s Department takes time, as both Eliasberg and the report make clear.

“Change is often slow,” Eliasberg said. “But you don’t just want to get it done. You want to get it right.”

Posted in LASD | 22 Comments »

Probation Officials Report Spike in Force in LA County’s Juvenile Halls

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to probation officials, who were asked to report to the LA County Probation Commission about how often force was used on the kids housed in the county’s three juvenile halls, such force incidents have risen sharply since the beginning of the year.

Both the members of the Probation Commission and the LA County Board of Supervisors have asked Probation higher-ups to come up with data on the agency’s force incidents in its juvenile facilities.

Earlier this month, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps. The motion, written by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, also requests information on how internal investigations of such force incidents are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

The pressure on Probation rose after WitnessLA broke the story of the alleged beating of an unresisting 17-year-old by staff members at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

We also reported a second alleged force incident that reportedly occurred at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell broke the news about the information made public at last Thursday’s Probation Commission. Here’s a clip from her story:

Overall, monthly use of force incidents increased by 85%, from 55 to 102, at the three county-run juvenile halls — Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar — from January to July, statistics released Thursday by the L.A. County Probation Department show.

At Los Padrinos, the number of reported incidents rose from 12 in January to 31 in July. At Central Juvenile Hall, the number increased from 20 in January to 39 in July; and from 23 to 32 at the Barry J. Nidorf facility.

Each camp holds about 200 youths awaiting court action in their cases or transfer to other facilities.

The total number of force incidents remained relatively stable early in 2016 and dipped slightly in March, but spiked in June and July.

Probation officials who presented the statistics at a probation commission meeting Thursday said any time a staffer places hands on a youth, including to break up a fight between minors, a use-of-force report is triggered.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Webb said there could be “a variety of reasons” for the overall increase.

“While we do regularly review these incidents, we’re assessing this specific information to identify the reasons for the fluctuations,” she said in an email. “It’s too soon to know now what the results of the analysis are.”

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

CA’s SB 1052: the Fight Over Children’s Miranda Rights

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

We have reported in the past about the issue of children and Miranda rights.
In particular we’re following California’s SB 1052, a bill that would restrict the way law enforcement officers can interrogate kids during a criminal investigation, and would require youth under the age of 18 to consult with legal counsel before they waive their constitutional rights.

(Here for example, is the story we ran recently by Jeremy Loudenback about the issue and the proposed bill.)

Currently in California, children—–no matter how young— can waive their Miranda rights, whether they understand what that choices means or not.

We will continue to track the bill’s progress, of course, but in the meantime, we thought you’d be interested in the video above, which was released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday. It is informative, and includes excerpts from a real interrogation of a 13-year-old who confessed to a murder he didn’t commit and was convicted of that murder. He spent three years locked up until the conviction was overturned by another court.

It is also worth looking at this 2011 NPR story about another coerced—and false—confession of a teenager, which kept the teenage girl in lock-up for three years awaiting trial before she was ultimately released. This second attorney-less interview takes place in Massachusetts, but it applies directly to the issues being discussed in California.

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Youth Arrest Rates Continue Downward Trend, and California’s Criminal Justice Bills

August 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The arrests rates of young Californians are still dropping and “now stand at the lowest level ever reliably recorded,” according to a new analysis of California Department of Justice data by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Between 2014 and 2015, the arrest rate for people under the age of 25 fell by 31,500 (8%). When compared with the data from 1978, the rates fell 66%.

Felony arrest rates were 42% lower in 2015 than 2010. CJCJ Senior Research Fellow Mike Males says these numbers may be attributed, in part, to the decriminalization of marijuana possession and to Proposition 47, which downgraded six non-serious drug and property-related felonies to misdemeanors. Males points out that other non-related crimes, including violent felony arrests, also saw decreases during that time.

And when you break down the numbers further, the biggest reduction was in arrest rates for kids between the ages of 12 and 14, which dropped by 95% from 1978 to 2015. Considering juvenile justice system-involvement often leads to contact with the adult justice system, Males suggests this welcome change may mean that arrest rates will decline further as these California kids become adults.

“The causes of these declines in arrest remain unknown, but trends suggest that high rates of incarceration are not required to protect public safety,” writes Males.


On Monday, the California Senate narrowly passed a bill that would bar the release of video or audio recordings of an on-duty law enforcement officer’s death unless the officer’s family approves it for release.

Proponents of AB 2611 say the bill would protect families’ privacy. Opponents argue that the bill is another barrier to public transparency as the use of body-cams spreads and law enforcement agencies establish policies regarding release of footage.

CA Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance is opposing the bill, and says in a bill analysis that AB 2611 is unnecessary because of the peace officer exemptions in the California Public Records Act. AB 2611 “provides privacy protections to peace officers which are greater than those provided to the general public, and moreover implies that the privacy interest of a peace officer’s family outweighs public interest in the events of an officer’s death,” says the Department of Finance.

The bill has to head back to the state Assembly for a vote, where it will likely pass.

The LA Times’ Liam Dillon has done a good job of explaining the issues raised by AB 2611. Here’s a clip:

“Body cameras are necessary to not only protect potential victims but to also protect the men and women wearing them,” said Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton). “No one should have to worry about an audio or video recording of graphic sounds or morbid images be open to the public to be viewed over and over again, nor should the surviving families of any officers.”

Senators engaged in lengthy debate about the bill on the floor, with opponents arguing that the measure would create a special exemption for police officer families and could result in unforeseen circumstances where there was overriding public interest in the release of such footage, but law enforcement agencies would be unable to disclose it.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said the bill could harm efforts to build trust between the public and law enforcement.

“Transparency in public safety and law enforcement is so lacking,” Moorlach said. “The issues that it creates actually I believe hurts our public safety officials because we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t have this,’ or ‘You can’t see that,’ or ‘You don’t get this video.’ And so we see the public extremely frustrated. Now we’re going to create this bill, another barrier that just raises angst among our constituents.”

The bill passed with a slim majority of 23 senators in favor, with many abstaining. Multiple senators both for and against the bill noted the sensitivity of measures related to the death of law enforcement officers.


A bill that seeks to clarify and affirm the voting rights of individuals who are locked-up for non-serious felonies serving time in county jails because of California’s prison realignment (AB 109) has passed out of the state Senate. AB 2466, coauthored by Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) now heads to Governor Jerry Brown for signature.

Another reform bill from Assembly Member Weber, AB 2590, which would ramp up use of restorative justice, and encourage more rehabilitation and education opportunities for all inmates (not just non-violent offenders), has passed out of the Senate Appropriations committee with amendments, and is poised for a Senate floor vote.

Senator Mitchell’s Asset Forfeiture Reform bill only has one more hurdle before joining the voting rights bill on Brown’s desk, after Mitchell found a compromise with law enforcement groups on the bill, which would rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property that may be tied to a crime (usually a drug crime).

Originally, the bill would have required a criminal conviction for nearly every instance of asset forfeiture. The changes to the bill, which were introduced earlier this month, would require a criminal conviction for assets under $40,000, but a the current lower burden of proof for permanent seizure of assets over that amount. Because of the changes made in the Assembly, the bill will now go back to the Senate for a final vote.

A bill that aimed to hold law enforcement accountable for the backlog of untested rape kids in California has stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee. AB 1848, which was introduced by state Assembly Members David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), would have required local law enforcement agencies to count the number of collected rape kits to the state Department of Justice, and provide reasons for any rape kits that went untested.

Another stalled criminal justice-related bill, AB 1869, would called a special election to have voters change a criminal justice reform law passed in 2014 to make stealing a firearm punishable by a state prison sentence of either 16 months, or two or three years.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Assembly Members Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Adam Gray (D-Merced), was introduced as a response to California’s voter-approved Proposition 47, which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors. One of those former felonies is theft valued under $950.

Those supporting the bill say that opens the door for increased gun theft with minimal consequences. But according to Californians for Safety and Justice (the group behind Prop. 47), says Prop. 47 only applies to non-serious and non-violent crimes crimes.

Gun theft does not fall into those categories, says CSJ. “Dozens of felony provisions related to gun crimes are maintained by Proposition 47, including (but not limited to): possession of a concealed stolen gun or possession of a loaded stolen gun; use of a firearm to facilitate any crime (including when the gun involved is being stolen and theft is crime in question); stealing guns from residences, stores during non-business hours, or locked automobiles; taking a firearm from the person of another with force or fear; or possession of a concealed stolen weapon by a gang member or possession of a gun by a felon,” CSJ says.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

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