BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT THE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN CALIFORNIA JUVENILE DETENTION FACILITIES
California Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) plans to revive a bill to limit solitary confinement for juveniles. The “Stop the Torture of Children Act” defines solitary confinement and would limit isolation for children in juvenile detention to a maximum of four hours, and only if there is a safety risk. The bill is similar to last year’s SB 124, which was shot down in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“While incarcerated young people are in the state’s care, we have a responsibility to help them overcome their challenges,” said Senator Leno. “However, when we isolate kids for long periods of time and deliberately deprive them of human contact we’re not helping them turn their lives around, we’re hurting them. We must end this type of cruel punishment, which can amount to torture.”
The new bill, which will be introduced when the California Legislature reconvenes in January, is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Children’s Defense Fund-California and Youth Justice Coalition.
BILL IN THE WORKS TO ENSURE CALIFORNIA JUVENILES HAVE LEGAL REPRESENTATION DURING INTERROGATIONS
And while we’re on the subject of important juvenile justice bills: California Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has decided to sponsor a bill to make sure kids have access to attorneys during police interrogations. Lara’s announcement was in response to the LA Times’ reporting on the case of a 10-year-old named Joseph who waived his miranda rights and confessed to killing his neo-Nazi father. Joseph’s case has put a point on the debate about whether children, whose brains are still developing, can waive their rights with a true understanding of the consequences of that action. (Read the backstory here.)
The LA Times’ Maura Dolan, who has been following Joseph’s story, has more on Lara’s bill. Here’s a clip:
“This is legislation that recognizes what science and the courts have made clear: Youth are different from adults, and our laws need to reflect this difference,” Lara said.
Judges in three recent California cases raised questions about whether more safeguards were needed to protect juveniles during police investigations. The cases involved youths 10, 13 and 15 who confessed to crimes after waiving their rights.
People have a legal right to refuse to speak to police without a lawyer, but many experts say some juveniles are too young to understand that or to appreciate the risks of talking without an attorney present.
Juveniles are also more likely than adults to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, studies show. Experts said young people tend to think in the short term and may confess just to end an unpleasant interrogation.
SAN DIEGO’S LOST PRE-TRIAL RISK ASSESSMENT PROGRAM
Since October 1, arraignment judges in San Diego County have had to make bail decisions without risk-assessment reports on defendants. These pre-trial risk assessment tools help judges determine how likely a person is to not show up to court or reoffend. Through the reports, judges considered factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, gender, education, employment, and sometimes where the defendant lives.
San Diego Judge David Szumowski says without the reports, which have fallen victim to budgetary woes, it has been far more difficult to make fair decisions about whether to raise or lower bail, or whether to allow a no-bail release.
The controversial cash bail system disproportionately affects the poor, who often cannot afford to post bail, and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.
More than three decades ago San Diego County launched its pretrial risk assessment system to counteract severe overcrowding in its jails. But the program has run out of money, and San Diego must now figure out what “pretrial release 2.0” might look like.
Voice of San Diego’s Kelly Davis has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Over the last two months, Szumowski has been more cautious in making bail decisions. As of Oct. 1, arraignment judges in San Diego County no longer receive risk-assessment reports on each defendant. The reports — which looked at things like a defendant’s criminal history, past failures to appear in court and community ties, like employment — were compiled by the court’s pretrial services program, which ended Sept. 30 due to lack of funding. Judges used the reports to decide whether to raise or lower bail; allow a no-bail release or release a defendant under certain conditions, like attending AA meetings or showing up for drug tests.
“It gave me a better foundation for setting bail at what I thought was reasonable,” said Szumowski, who’s presided over felony arraignment since 1998. Now, he said, he’s “trying to make judgment calls on very limited information.”
The end of San Diego’s program comes amid a national debate on bail reform, spurred by the fact that many pretrial defendants remain locked up not because they pose a public-safety risk, but because they can’t afford bail. Meanwhile, a more dangerous defendant with access to money could get released.
When San Diego’s pretrial services program started more than three decades ago, it was an arm of the Sheriff’s Department, created to help alleviate jail overcrowding by determining who could safely be released pending trial. At the time, San Diego’s central jail was under a strict population cap. But over the years, the program was whittled down and funding responsibility shifted to the court until 2007, when a new state law banned courts from paying for local programs like pretrial services.
Superior Court CEO Michael Roddy said that since then, he’d been using savings and reserves to cover pretrial services’ roughly $1 million annual budget. Roddy said he told county officials last year that the program was running out of money.
“We spent a year working with the county to have someone pick up that program,” he said. “Finally in August 2015, with no progress in sight on the county front, we needed to move forward on the closure.”
Roddy wonders if Prop. 47, the November 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain nonviolent drug and property crimes — resulting in an almost immediate reduction in the local jail population — lessened pressure to have a replacement program up and running on Oct. 1. Or, perhaps, no one believed the court was really going to cut the program.
“I’m not sure people thought we were serious,” he said. “Maybe people thought we were bluffing.”
KERN COUNTY OFFICERS KILLED MORE PEOPLE PER CAPITA THAN ANY OTHER COUNTY IN 2015
Just north of Los Angeles, in California’s Kern County, law enforcement officers have killed more people per capita than any other county in the United States in 2015, according to an investigation by the Guardian. Kern officers have killed 13 people so far this year. With a population of just under 875,000, cops kill 1.5 people per 100,000 residents.
It’s worth noting that five other California counties (San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego) were also among the 14 deadliest counties, all with 10 or more deaths this year. Law enforcement officers in LA County were responsible for 45 deaths—far more than Kern—but with a population of more than 10 million, LA cops killed at a rate of .4 people per 100,000.
The first part of the Guardian’s five-part series on officer-involved shootings takes a close look at the circumstances behind the confrontations that led Kern cops to use lethal force so frequently:
Six of the people killed this year in Kern County died from shots fired by officers of Bakersfield police department, who have been behind a string of controversial homicides over the past several years, including that of De La Rosa.
A couple who witnessed the 22-year-old’s death last November told police investigators a similar story: they watched officers shoot De La Rosa after he exited his car and “threw up his hands”, keeping them outstretched. It appeared he was saying “What’s up?” or even “I’m here, come arrest me,” one of the witnesses said.
The officers claimed otherwise, citing a justification whose improbability has made it a figure of ridicule in protests over police use of force since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. “They said they shot him because was he was reaching for his waistband,” said De La Rosa’s brother Joe. “Why would an individual reach for his waistband if there is no weapon there?” said their sister, Serena. “That makes no sense.”
The officers were quickly cleared of wrongdoing by an inquiry carried out by their own commanders, as has long been standard for fatal shootings by the Bakersfield police department and the Kern County sheriff’s office, the two biggest law enforcement agencies in the county.
A review by the Guardian identified 54 fatal shootings over the past decade by Bakersfield police and Kern County sheriff’s deputies. At least 49 of the 54 were publicly ruled justified by panels of senior officers from the same department as the officers who fired. Four others appear to have been ruled the same, but no records could be obtained. An inquiry into the fatal shooting on Sunday is under way.
A recent history of deadly police shootings by Bakersfield police can be told through the experiences of a single officer.
Rick Wimbish, a Bakersfield native described by one person who worked with him as “a cop to his marrow”, is a department veteran of almost a quarter of a century. For several of those years, his father Mack, a retired state highway patrolman, was the sheriff of all Kern County. Both declined to be interviewed.
Wimbish, who receives a total pay and benefits package of almost $200,000 a year, instructs other officers and leads educational classes with young children in the county on the role of a police officer in the community.
Studies have found that most American police officers make it through entire careers without firing their service weapons. But Wimbish, 54, has been involved in at least four fatal shootings in two years, including that of De La Rosa, during which Wimbish deployed his Taser. None of the four men killed in these confrontations were armed with a deadly firearm themselves. One, a violent criminal, had a BB gun; another was holding a tire iron.
First, Wimbish was the most experienced officer to open fire during an operation to capture a fugitive one night in September 2013, which was bungled to deadly consequence in the parking lot of Bakersfield’s Four Points Sheraton hotel.
As they hunted for Justin Harger, a shooting suspect, Bakersfield police turned to Jorge Ramirez, who knew him. Ramirez, a 34-year-old former amateur boxing champion, had some criminal convictions but had begun to find a better path, according to his family. He had children now.
“For the first time in more than a few years, I saw him change,” said his father, Jorge Sr. “He was trying to be an example for his kids – to learn from his mistakes and be a working man.”
When authorities suggested Ramirez would receive favourable terms on a pending drugs charge in return for working as a confidential informant (CI), he agreed. He was directed by his police handlers to set up a dinner with Harger, the fugitive, who was nicknamed “Joker”.
Internal police files show Ramirez and a Bakersfield officer exchanged 34 calls and missed calls on the day of the meeting, along with multiple texts. As the hour approached, the messages became more furtive. “Yes no more texts,” Ramirez said at one stage, apparently concerned Harger would grow suspicious. Later still he said: “Were headed there now on frwy getting off California exit”. About 15 minutes later, they showed up as promised.
Then things fell to pieces.
Ramirez and Harger got out of their car. Taken aback by officers pouring on to the scene, Harger drew a pistol. In an intense gun battle that ensued, Harger struck one officer and was blown away by police fire. But the storm of bullets also swept up Ramirez. The officers he was assisting shot him 10 times – three times in the chest, three times in his left leg, and once each in the face, buttocks, hip area and shoulder. Then he was handcuffed and left face-down on the pavement.
Subsequent interviews conducted by Bakersfield police investigators suggest there was a lack of preparation and coordination among the police, who apparently had no plan for a confrontation. Three officers refused to answer questions about what happened.
Wimbish told investigators “he had heard that somebody had a CI that was passing on information but he did not know who that was.” He conceded that “he did not actually know why but he was assuming that Harger was going to be the passenger in the vehicle” rather than the driver.