Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews Los Angeles County District Attorney

Op-Ed: I’ve dedicated my life to fighting the abuse of people with disabilities & I support DA Gascón’s reforms eliminating sentencing enhancements.

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

By Pamila Lew

For the past two decades, I have worked as an attorney at Disability Rights California, investigating abuse against people with disabilities in every conceivable setting, from sexual assaults by staff members against residents in nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, to physical abuse against special education students.

Over the years, I’ve been approached by victims’ rights advocates who have asked me to join their efforts to create harsher penalties, including mandatory sentencing enhancements, when the survivor of a crime is a person with disability.  Time and again I have refused, often to their consternation.

My refusal might appear counterintuitive. I believe, however, that levying longer prison sentences does little to address the root causes of abuse and neglect, and even less to protect survivors, or to ensure they receive a measure of justice. Instead, it employs the same misguided logic that created our system of mass incarceration in the first place.

Truly meaningful change can’t be achieved with punitive measures such as longer prison terms, even if imposing them might feel momentarily cathartic. Real change takes time, planning, effort, and courage.

First, we must end the isolation of disabled people that makes them vulnerable to abuse and neglect in the first place. Violence proliferates behind closed doors. For decades, disability advocates have pushed for access and community integration.

With the 1999 landmark case of Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court set a powerful legal precedent that argues for community-based services.  Yet, more than 20 years after Olmstead, people with disabilities still remain needlessly segregated in separate classrooms, schools, and institutional settings, a situation that urgently needs to change.

There is also an urgent need for resources to be put into programs that empower individuals about their choices. Right now, too many parts of our system actively socialize people with intellectual disabilities to be compliant, which leads directly to their exploitation. According to data collected but not yet published by the U.S. Department of Justice, people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times greater than nondisabled individuals. We should ensure that people are educated about their right to safe and consensual sex and their right to bodily integrity.

Experts find that education about one’s personal rights is one of the best ways to combat sexual assault. Similarly, we can do more to teach people about their legal rights, including the understanding that abuse is a crime that should be reported.
Finally, we must ensure that when people with disabilities do report abuse, they are met with respect and accommodations for their disabilities by everyone in the criminal legal system, from the police, to prosecutors, to defenders, and the court.

I have met many survivors who have told me that when they attempted to report a crime, they were ignored or worse, discredited. Police frequently fail to interview the survivor, wrongly assuming that limited verbal capacity means a person cannot communicate. I have investigated cases where the police only interviewed a person’s caregiver, who was in fact the alleged perpetrator.

All this brings me to why I support newly elected DA George Gascón’s reform agenda: I have seen over the years how our current legal system does little to protect people with disabilities from abuse, and wastes public funds on a system that disproportionately punishes Black and Latino communities, and the disabled individuals within those communities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 32% of individuals in prison, and 40% of those in jail reported having at least one disability.

Gascón’s plan to eliminate sentencing enhancements is a courageous step in the right direction. As he takes on the enormous task of reforming LA’s criminal justice system, he would do well to invite people with disabilities to the table.


Pamila Lew, senior attorney with the Investigations Unit at Disability Rights California.

Pamila Lew is a senior attorney with the Investigations Unit at Disability Rights California. Disability Rights California is the state protection and advocacy agency, mandated under federal law to protect and advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.

 

60 Comments

  • We owe it to one another to be more thoughtful in our response to abused peoples and to the abusers. Access to our legal system for disabled individuals is critical to understanding and correcting the situations that lead to victimization. In addition, individuals who abuse others deserve rehabilitation, not just punishment. Education all around would go a long way towards giving access to disabled people and help to those who need to seek change. This op-ed explains how we need to make systemic change. We can’t just check a box for greater punishment in an attempt to make the problems disappear. It’s important to remember that much of our prison population is disabled.

  • I appreciate how the author teased apart the complexity of punishment or rehabilitation in light of the totality of the circumstances. She takes a courageous and compassionate stance.

  • Thank you for this important statement. Punishment after the fact does not create safety or healing for people with disabilities. As with gun violence, we have to take a systemic and preventive approach to safeguard the rights and well-being of people with disabilities.

  • It’s critical to understand that accused persons may often have disabilities. In this brilliant article, the writer makes a far-reaching analysis of the issues. She notes that some of these quick fix ideas, like greater punishment, do far more harm than good. We need to turn to experts like Ms. Lew, who have longevity in the field, to help guide us with good policy making decisions, because this issues are extremely complex.

  • Gooey Hooey.

    Without doubt some types of sentencing enhancements can be eliminated without harm to the general public; other types–whaaat!!!

    A person whose sentence has been enhanced because he used a weapon in a crime or injured somebody in a hate crime should remain in a jail cell for as long as is practicable.

    For everybody’s safety.

  • I call bullsh-t. In my over three decades in law enforcement I have never known officers to knowing fail to talk to or look out for vulnerable disabled persons. That’s why most get into the business, to help the weak and vulnerable. Since you offer no evidence other than talking to people, I reject your characterizations of Officers behaviors regarding victims with disabilities base on my personal experiences.

    • Some people go to liberal learning institutions, write papers, look for every excuse under the sun for criminal behavior, and call themselves experts.

      Others, like us, work a lifetime to protect humans from criminals and are experts in doing so. We know that certain folks will keep committing crimes no matter what, so the only way to keep them from victimizing is give them a time out – you know, prison style. Our elected representatives recognized the problem areas and added sentencing enhancements to further discourage criminal behavior.

      As I frequently say here, liberals need to redirect their effort to prevent the criminal element from victimizing regular folks, and we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations.

    • Seeking all this would not have happened if Sheriff Bow legs would not screw up everything he touched. I call bullsh*t on all your conspiracies you lay out here. I see you are Allie’s favorite keyboard warrior. You distort.. lie, and twist like a pretzel. Since you know all that occurs .. besides filling his ego from Monterrey Park can you fill me as to why SRT is now the Covid Police. Is Bowlegs trying to score brownie points. Just asking for a friend.

  • On a previous comment I noted how Gascon plays to the upper middle class and upper class west side ladies and their politics. Witness la was kind enough to provide an excellent example, along with some pretty telling comments.

    They’re “courageous and compassionate” heroes in the story they tell each other. A story of heroes and villains not unlike a Hollywood movie or mini series. Not very much to do with reality, but they can afford high enough home prices and rent to keep reality far enough away so as not to spoil the fantasy.

  • Hey folks-
    Let’s stay focused on the discussion that was opened up, the issue of criminal sentencing enhancements as helpful or harmful. I spent ten years everyday, focused on sentencing in the criminal courts during the 90’s when all the enhancements and minimum mandatories were added. It was pure politics with the Reps trying to replace the Dems in power in the California legislature. And it did work for a while leaving all these sentencing laws still in place that need to be dismantled. Hard to do. Instead of a communist under every bed from the 50’s, or immigrants destroying the nation from the 80’s all the way until today, it was a criminal under every bed, and the fear issue was the coin of the realm. Fear remains the most potent political motivator. I appreciate the author trying to add some reality and courage to the meta conversation, based on something she knows from personal experience. Listen up.

    • “Fear remains the most potent political motivator.”

      You betcha.

      There are all kinds of sentencing enhancements; criminals whose enhancements include stabbing, shooting, clubbing are exactly where they belong: in jail, for as long as possible.

  • To all these middle (and higher) class folks wanting to defund police and who support Gascon, I quote a Black woman from Compton and mother of a murdered son: “Stop making decisions for our neighborhood when you don’t even live here!”

    • I would like to inform the “Black Woman” about the infamous clique of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies called the executioners. They are fully supported and backed ( their execution’s of Blacks and Latino’s) by the Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his dear beloved.

      • As Chris rock once so eloquently pointed out (before being throttled into unfunnyness by the P.C. Establishment) it’s not the Deputy cliques you fear while visiting the ATM at night.

      • I would like to inform you, she don’t care! Until you lose a close family member to violent crime you don’t know the feeling. Simple!

  • I appreciate this thoughtful and nuanced article based on years if working in the trenches and understanding the need for comprehensive not punitive approaches.

    • Spoken like a true liberal: “nuanced” and “not punitive”

      So, what do you suggest as a remedy for crimes such as robbery, assault, and rape? How about foot rubs and understanding?

  • Oh please, the Black Woman has standing, she lost a child, you have none.
    This articles claim that a cop would talk to caregiver/suspect and not to a disabled victim or representative of is a flat out lie. She puts it out there as if it happens as a matter of course. She’s a liar. Depending on the severity of the disability an investigation can be very difficult but to take the suspects word alone with no input from the victim or others? Try getting that through your immediate sup. She makes absolutely no case for eliminating sentencing enhancements, her whole article is lawyer gobbly gook with no substance at all. Root causes, we all know them, it’s why so many of us use off duty time to work with at risk kids, do any of you? [WLA edit.]

  • Fife, I do. I put my money where my mouth is. I feel they are our future and their education and upbrining is the future of LA County. I am not like the dipshit that runs your Department. I do not do photo ops like that clown. He has never ever done a single thing in the community.

    • Really, point out the post where I stated where I worked. Good luck with finding it Einstein. Should watch your language. I get edited for using initials Celeste doesn’t like, course I’m me.

  • As a fellow LA County Tax Payer of “color” I don’t fear the police, nor did I teach my adult sons to fear the police. I find it hard to believe there is a pervasive wind blowing amongst police officers to deliberately and earnestly avoid contacting everyone and trying to get them to talk after a crime has occurred. I think on many situations the police have the opposite problem in trying to find someone who will cooperate and talk. The writer is coming off pretty presumptions and condescending by basically alleging police don’t do their job when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities. Really! This is a one-off experience at best that draws upon anecdotal incidents. In the spirit of the new LA County DA, where is the research that shows and supports this assertion?

    Oh, and I don’t live in Compton, so the remarks about the Los Angeles County Sheriff, the Department and its cliques are irrelevant to me and my families. The experience with the police department in my city, which is also in LA County, has been favorable. I taught my sons what to do when stopped by the police and to always be respectful. If their is a problem wait until afterwards. When they were young I told them to call me and now as adults to request a supervisor.

  • Wait…why does your work with the disabled and dependent adult abuse have any relevance to sentencing enhancements? Were you a prosecutor or defense attorney??

    victimla.com

    • It’s because liberals think any exposure to their pet projects gives them gravitas across the lib spectrum. You know, using buzzwords like, “restorative justice,” “social justice,” “reimagined,” “tolerance,” “acceptance,” “inclusiveness,” “equality, “reform,” and on and on get thrown around, all while the average people are being abused and murdered by their favorite people – CRIMINALS.

  • There’s an armed standoff at the Capital House front door, between Capital police officers and Terrorists supporting Don the Con. The guy is like Cancer and this is as close to a Coup as we can get in our Country.

    • By terrorists, I believe you mean the ones who know the election was stolen and have finally reacted violently to try to stop it. It’s the wrong thing for them to have done, but how long do they have to suffer being taken advantage of after mountains of evidence to prove the theft exist?

  • Oh please, you make me laugh. Nothing any liberal says about this matters to me one bit. They burn historical churches, destroy historical statues, burn down police stations with officers in them, take over portions of our cities and you say nothing and this little bit of protest brings out the “T” word?

    You’re a joke like all on the Left that have lacked the courage to call out the real “T’s” who we’ve been picking up after for a long time why you all have sat silent. What a damn joke you and all the other frauds like you are. This will be done quick and anyone who was involved, who committed crimes should be hooked but, unlike your little buddies from the riots Kamala and her pals won’t be bailing them out, will they?

    Oh, Trump’s called out the NG, happy?

  • We are a country of citizens with the right to “protest”, peacefully or violently depending on how the media and powers that be want to characterize it. I’m afraid, this this is our new normal. A society where anyone, group, movement or terrorist bloc can launch a “protest” regarding what they don’t like or disagree with. They can destroy monuments, private businesses and assault police officers without district attorneys filing charges or any repercussions. We are in the reimagined “Pseudo-United States of America”.

    This is but a day or moment compared to four years of uninterrupted harassing and obstructing the President as well as the months of “peaceful protest” and civil unrest supported and funded by the Democrats and their comrades.

  • Dose of reality, show me your evidence. Just like Don the Con who says ” people say ” elections are rigged. Do you believe in facts when dealing with an arrest or providing material to the Courts during a trial. Or, do you tell the Judge, and Prosecutors ” well people say ” the suspect committed the crime. Please feel free to provide your evidence. In addition did you think all the Republicans who won contests in the swing states won their elections. Interesting!!!!

    • Sorry, if you are so disrespectful as to call the president of the United States by some asinine pejorative, you get no further attention.

      • @ Dose of Rejection

        Lame & weak response, typical when you have no answer.

        A clown (donald trump) called by any other name is still a clown.

  • Ladies,
    How about that senate race in GA? A black man just became senator in Georgia and your toothless brethren throw a tantrum as the sun sets on their white privilege. It must sting. Georgia, for god’s sake.

    And, you should be grateful for Gascon as it gives your petty lives some meaning and a target for your venom and hate. You bitch about Gascon, and cant even come up with $22.00 to fight the budget cuts and layoffs coming your way despite your continual feeding at the government trough. You must really need that job and those $22.00.

    Who would have thought that the land of Ronnie and Pete Wilson and prop 209 and 187 would turn so blue. I love it. You aint in the Adam-12 /Dragnet world anymore, Dorothy. You ladies have a nice day.

  • Childish Fool keep loving it. You and your fellow Democratic police hating breathern had better start hiring those unarmed crisis response social workers fast. The salem-esque witch trials against all law enforcement, lack of support, demonzing, lack of support by DA’s like Gascon and defunding got you where you wanted to be right now…….police departments and police officers who “won’t serve and protect”. Why? What For? I hope over the next four years the “wave of peace and tranquility” spreads over the Biden/Harris kingdom and everyone behaves and no one commits any crimes. The few law enforces still employed are going to take a break and the others, those that are de-funded out of a job…well they can just sit back and draw “big fat unemployment checks”, hang out in the park and live off the generosity of the taxpayers in a different way.

  • Conspiracy, there are plenty of good Cops who go in everyday, work hard and do it for the right reasons. However, the Bandidos, Reapers, Executioners, jump boys, 2000, 3000 & Vikings cannot have the privilege to serve the people of LA County. You are insinuating somehow Deputies will not Patrol streets, or go on service calls when crimes are committed. If so the County does not need the those Deputies. We will work with like minded Cities and replace Sheriff’s who serve in those Cities. You know what that means. They will be fired by the County of Los Angeles since their services will no longer be needed. Those “fat County checks” will stop along with all those fat benefits. You will not be eating those “fat burritos” on a daily basis.

    If we need to go further we will recall Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He thinks he can play King just like Don the Con. I would love to make that TV campaign ad and slap it all over East Los Angeles portraying the female Deputy who ran over those 2 young brothers. The same one protected by the Sheriff and his dear beloved.

  • I believe it is the duty of police officers to enforce laws that don’t go against their Departments policies, infringe upon those rights guaranteed in the US Constitution, are in line with the states respective constitution, supported by the local District Attorney and in agreement with the political winds. Take Oregon for example, in the most recent election the people voted to legalize the possession and use of “personal quantities” of all drugs. Would any thinking police officer in their right mind be eager to enforce a law such as trespassing, petty theft, littering or being under the influence of a controlled substance in this environment? Are the risks to the public justified by the means to enforce laws that society has deemed to be “no big deal”. Recently, the mask mandate ordered by the governor, I am glad most “risk management minded” law enforcement leaders resoundingly refused to enforce such a “mandate”. The Constitutionally protected right to protest was something that could not be stopped even while a raging pandemic was in full force? As if the virus new not to spread itself during these incidents of insurrection. Now, states and local governments have come down full force with restrictions and closures on businesses and restaurant owners? Police officers should remember, if these businesses don’t remain open to generate the revenue which the cities and counties rely on for taxes to pay the salaries of state, city and county workers, defunding the police won’t just be a pie in the sky re-imagining but a fiscal necessity. Most big city majors and county governments are more than willing and eager to put the heads of police officers on the chopping block as well.

    In the land of the new Los Angles DA, it doesn’t make sense to go in pursuit of a car thief when the risks to public safety and officers far outweighs the fact the suspect if caught will only be given a citation and released. Why would an officer risk his life, endanger the public, risk his career and subject himself to be tried by the court of public opinion to enforce laws that might lead to a confrontation and the officer being the national news story of the week. Working smarter with an eye to the outcome is a must. We are in an era of selective law enforcement as mandated by the media and public opinion, it’s just the way things are.

  • Has the #33 Sheriff of Los Angeles County “Steady Hands” made any comments regarding the United States Capital fiasco?

    I do recall him wishing Donny and his wife a speedy recovery regarding Covid..

    • If anyone in the LA Office of Inspector General reads this site: You need to find out if any members of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were part of the terrorist group who broke into the US Capital. If so were they sent to the Capital at the direction of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his wife. They and their associates are followers of Trump’s conspiracies. Also, how many members of LA County Sheriff’s Department are members of Proud Boys

      OIG you need to get to the bottom of this.

      • Really….

        Where is Max Huntsman when you need him? That ignoble bottom feeder and BOS lackey. Let him leave no stone unturned and spare no expense or efforts to root out those Deputy Sheriff’s not wearing masks who think they are above the law. Oh, he and his team should investigate this. While they’re at at, he needs to go over to the DA’s and make sure they are abiding by the law and will of the voters. He should also follow up on the effectiveness of, “arrest, cite and release” and its impact on public safety.

        I would like to see that.

  • The recent news conference put on by the District Attorney regarding the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha seemed to be thorough, unbiased and well done. The DA laid out all the details and facts collected over the course of their investigation, all of which were virtually unknown by the media and public. He also spent a great deal of time explaining the legal principles and his reasoning for not charging the officers with any crime, even though others gave various non-legal reasons to so. This all came after public sentiment, fueled by media reporting ghouls and weak political leaders fanned the flames of division and unrest in the country…all for political ends. The officer in this shooting were tried, judged and found guilty by the court of public opinion, with headlines such as, “white officer shoots black man in front of children” being blasted across the networks. The city of Kenosha had riots, businesses were destroyed and I’m sure those two officers, though ultimately found to have done nothing wrong, lives have been destroyed and won’t be the same. At least this case was not like Atlanta were the mayor, police chief and District Attorney wasted no time in firing and charging police officers after a shooting.

    I see people driving like crazy on the freeways and streets, homicides on the rise and the revolving door of people committing crimes, being arrested, released, committing crimes, being re-arrested and released again. The definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome” comes to mind. I appreciate the work police continue to do in this environment but also understand the reality of work-life balance.

  • It is time the people of LA County recognize that the department is infiltrated by the fringe neo nazi elements who are part of the proud boys and Q Anon conspiracy theorists. These guys conduct their work with impunity within the Sheriff’s Department all with the blessing of Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The US DOJ will come for them. You know these clowns are trying to scrub their social media but newsflash you can’t.
    OIG Huntsman and BOS you guys need to look into it.

  • “Neo Nazi elements”? Have you seen the demographics of the department lately? The field force these days is easily 75% Hispanic and I have yet to see any of them goose stepping or wearing Doc Martins and red suspenders. Your male white cop whipping post is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In five years, a male white cop will be nothing more than a novelty who, by virtue of his skin color, will be deemed too polarizing to work a law enforcement job in LA.

    You know, diversity and inclusiveness and stuff.

    • Interesting to see some of these terrorists flash their badges to break into the US Capitol. This was insurrection. The US Attorney is going to charge these terrorists with sedition.
      OIG and the Board of Supervisors need to investigate if any LA County Sheriff’s Deputies were part of the terrorists that broke into the US Capitol.

  • And to the so called clown “Bandido” shot caller hosting his rat throwing parties… if u want to play games and continue your behind the scenes games. Make sure you hand deliver your rat personally.. You seem to only show up after the fact..

  • And this crying little clown. Here we go…..
    wife works for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. She will be assigned as a Detective if needed to assist in any cover up etc….at times listed as Deputy. My experience was her as a hugging compassionate Detective. And as far as her being a LIEtenant (LT) this promotion would not surprise me, given “steady hands” tactic for loyalty/cover up is handing out promotions.

    https://news.yahoo.com/la-attorneys-push-back-directives-131351290.html

  • Editor’s note:

    Dear S1 of 1,

    I generally don’t have a problem with your comments, except for two things: First, there are too many of them. Today there were ten. Maybe combine? Also, you’re using real names and referring to real people, whom you seem to be accusing of things, which you don’t prove or even make quite clear, which is problematic.

    I only put one of the latest batch through. Please dial it back, a bit.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    C.

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