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Judge Makes Clear That Former Sheriff Lee Baca Is on the Hook for Legal Damages, But Taxpayers Will Likely Pay

January 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


As most of you know, a month ago, on December 15, 2015, a federal jury found in favor of 8 working members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who brought suit
in civil court against the County of Los Angeles in general, and former sheriff Lee Baca in particular for what they and their attorney described as career-damaging retaliation, which they said occurred after the eight plaintiffs publically endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his 2013-2014 run for sheriff.

Those who brought the lawsuit were: Capt. Charles Antuna, Sgt. Casey Dowling, Cpt. Louis Duran, Cmdr. Kevin Hebert, Cpt. Robert Tubbs, Cmdr. David Waters, Lt. Robert Wheat, and Custody Assistant Rocio Martinez.

According to our sources, the plaintiff’s were originally hoping to collect upwards of a $1 million or more apiece—or $8-$16 million collectively. But while the jury found firmly in favor of the eight, plainly concluding that retaliation did indeed occur, they did not award big dollar amounts when it came to damage done to the plaintiffs. The cumulative cash amount awarded for all eight amounted to under $800,000—less than one tenth of what was desired. And nearly half of the total awards ($360,000) came in the form of punitive damages aimed directly at the former sheriff personally.

Yet, the awards were not trivial either. So one presumes the jury intended to make some sort of statement.

Near the end of last month, the intent of the jury’s verdict was further clarified by the United States District Judge Michael Fitzgerald when he delivered his post trial judgement (which you can find right here). In this more formal judgement it is even more evident that the jury’s findings were directed at Baca.

It is also interesting to note that the monetary awards not aimed at punishing the former sheriff, were nearly all for “non-economic damages”—in other words, pain and suffering. No damages whatsoever were awarded for loss of income—past, present or future—despite the plaintiffs’ earnest claims of income losses that ran, for each, into the single digit millions, all bolstered by the numbers floated by their hired gun expert witness.

Nevertheless, the jury didn’t appear to buy that the eight were all that hideously harmed, particularly not economically. But jurors did believe that Lee Baca had been deliberately retaliatory against every one of the eight for their perfectly lawful public support of Tanaka’s candidacy, and the final judgement reflects that belief.

(Judge Fitzgerald was, by the way, a very attentive jurist who did not seem to favor one side or the other, but who appeared mostly to want to see the facts of the matter—whatever they might be—elucidated as well as was legally possible during the course of the trial.)


OKAY, WHO PAYS?

So what does all this mean? Is the former sheriff going to be on the hook for some or all of the $800,000 tab?

Uh, well, no. Probably not.

A source with knowledge of the case told WLA that it is unlikely that Baca will pay a penny. “By statute the county must cover compensatory,” the source said, meaning the compensatory damages part of the judgment. Making Baca pay the punitive damages “is optional” the source added. But due to the fact that the county has always covered Baca’s tab before, they likely will now.

“The county,” of course, means LA County taxpayers.

And while we’re discussing this lawsuit, we should also note here that a great many department members we’ve spoken with—both working and retired—feel that several of the plaintiffs in the case have, in past years, been champion retaliators themselves.

But these last two issues were beyond the jurors’ knowledge and control. What was within the jurors’ control, however, they seemed to get remarkably right.

Here’s the complete rundown of who received what:

On each Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the jury returned a verdict in favor of each Plaintiff and against Defendant Leroy Baca, awarding each Plaintiff damages as follows:

1. Damages awarded Plaintiff David Waters:
Past and present non-economic damages: $80,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $128,000

2. Damages awarded Plaintiff Rocio Martinez:
Past, present, and future medical damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $48,000

3. Damages awarded Plaintiff Kevin Hebert:
Past and present non-economic damages: $35,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $83,000

4. Damages awarded Plaintiff Charles Antuna:
Past and present non-economic damages: $48,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $96,000

5. Damages awarded Plaintiff Casey Dowling:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

6. Damages awarded Plaintiff Robert Wheat:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

7. Damages awarded Plaintiff Louis Duran:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

8. Damages awarded Plaintiff Robert Tubbs:
Past and present non-economic damages: $25,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $73,000

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 11 Comments »

How Has Jim McDonnell Done in His First Year as LA County Sheriff?

January 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



How has Sheriff Jim McDonnell done in his first year since he was sworn into office on December 1, 2014?

WitnessLA will be looking the question in a few weeks, but the LA Times has taken their own look in an editorial on Sunday.

In their report card, the Times made two main points:

The first had to do with whether or not McDonnell has adequately “de-Tanakafied” the department. The Times felt that he’d made a great deal of progress in that endeavor, writing that the sheriff has spent a year quietly overhauling the organization chart to remove those “most closely associated” with the discredited former undersheriff.

Critics feel that McDonnell hasn’t gone nearly far enough with de-Tanakization. (But, as we have seen very recently, removing people simply because they have an association with someone you don’t like can lead to large lawsuits, so such cleaning projects can be tricky.)

Yet, the Times points to the fact that McDonnell was a member of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence and, while the CCJV was mandated only to look at problems in the jails, the problems they saw in custody pointed to more fundamental problems that affected the department as a whole, and that started at the very top. In its final report, the commission stopped just short of saying that Sheriff Lee Baca had to go. But, with the then undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, the commissioners pulled no punches at all. They wrote:

The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct. His repeated statements that deputies should work in an undefined “grey” area contributed to a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and that their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline. The Undersheriff also made numerous statements disparaging the Internal Affairs Bureau (“IAB”) and the disciplinary process — remarks that undermined the authority of IAB and the ability of Department supervisors to control or remediate inappropriate deputy behavior….

Campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka from many Department employees furthered perceptions of patronage and favoritism in promotion and assignment decisions.

And so on.

In other words, when he came into office, McDonnell was very clear about the deleterious effect that Mr. Tanaka—-who has been federally indicted and will go to trial in March—has had on the department over which he had so much control.

The Times writes:

“The organization has a different tone,” McDonnell said recently, and that new tone was exemplified last year by the resignation of Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, following a Times report that he had purchased a stolen car that deputies had seized from a suspected gang member. Rothans had been a trusted part of McDonnell’s effort to reboot the department, but he violated policy, and he was out.

Where the editorial board is less sure is in the arena of “whether McDonnell’s reform vision is limited to a thorough de-Tanakafication of the department, or if instead it will embrace the sweeping and overdue reinvention of the criminal justice system now under discussion and underway to some degree around the nation.”

In other words, is McDonnell a true reformer?

The Times, right now, has mixed feelings on that question. They write:

There are some discouraging signals on that front. We are dismayed at McDonnell’s hostile reaction to Proposition 47, the landmark California ballot measure that decreases penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. The sheriff acknowledges that instead of arresting suspects on misdemeanor charges, his deputies are often not arresting them at all. Yet he blames an uptick in crime not on his department’s practices, but on the ballot measure.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl did not mention McDonnell by name at a board hearing on Proposition 47 last fall, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was talking at least partly about him when she noted that there was no evidence to support claims that the measure is increasing crime.

“I would really encourage those spreading this disinformation to reconsider and be more responsible,” Kuehl said.

However, in noting an emerging—albeit still polite–struggle for power between the sheriff and the board of supervisors, the Times’ board is not prepared, for the moment anyway, to root against the sheriff.

They write:

The question should instead be who, or what, will bring Los Angeles County a Sheriff’s Department that protects safety on the streets and in the jails, constantly improves standards and performance and holds itself accountable for failures. It has been only a year, and McDonnell still deserves a bit of patience. For now.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, law enforcement | 18 Comments »

Jury Finds That Baca Retaliated Against 8 Tanaka Supporters & Awards $$ Punitive Damages

December 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



$360,000 IN PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST BACA PERSONALLY

Just before 3 pm on Monday, December 15, a federal jury found in favor of the plaintiffs in a civil case that featured eight working members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who sued the County of Los Angeles in general, and former sheriff Lee Baca in particular, for career-damaging retaliation they say occurred after the eight plaintiffs publically endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his 2013-2014 run for sheriff.

Those who brought the lawsuit are: Capt. Charles Antuna, Sgt. Casey Dowling, Cpt. Louis Duran, Cmdr. Kevin Hebert, Cpt. Robert Tubbs, Cmdr. David Waters, Lt. Robert Wheat, and Custody Assistant Rocio Martinez,

According to the plaintiffs lawyer Brad Gage, after Tanaka announced his candidacy for sheriff on August 15, 2013, a furious Lee Baca subjected the seven men and one woman to retaliatory actions such as frivolous investigations by the department’s internal affairs bureau, an unwarranted freeze on their promotions, sudden transfers to inferior assignments, and/or “freeway therapy,” which is the term used to describe a punitive transfer to a county post that is faraway from one’s home. And in the case of three of the eight plaintiffs— namely Durant, Wheat and Dowling—they were relieved of duty, altogether, and forced to stay home (while still retaining their full pay, one should note), while the department allegedly dragged its feet on an investigation into as yet unproven wrongdoing.

In the course of the trial, which lasted nearly a month, Gage used a PowerPoint which featured timelines for each one of his clients, as he sought to illustrate how events in the early Tanaka campaign, with which the plaintiffs were very publicly involved, seemed to correlate with “adverse actions” that occurred in each of their individual careers.

“This is a case about eight employees who expected that the sheriff would follow the law,” said Gage. “He didn’t. And they have all been harmed and damaged by malicious actions.”

The county’s legal team, which was headed by George E. Peterson, along with Avi Burkwitz, rebutted Gage’s contentions in detail. Their primary defense theory may be summed up as follows: “When eight people felt they didn’t get things they felt they should get” they filed a lawsuit. “This is not about justice, it is about money.”

The jury, however, disagreed. And while the entire monetary award for all eight reportedly amounts to under $800,000, a big part of that amount includes $45,000 in punitive damages for every plaintiff levied directly against Lee Baca, for a total of a $360,000 hit against the former sheriff.

Plaintiff’s attorney Gage said he was “pleased to see that my clients were vindicated. The jury clearly found evidence that Baca had acted maliciously.”

Gage also noted that the jury determined that all eight were “victims of 1st Amendment retaliation.”

He was disappointed, he said, that the dollar amounts weren’t higher, but Gage also thought it significant that the jury chose to reach into the former sheriff’s pocket to pluck out $350 thousand. “The plaintiffs were all grateful,” he added. “They felt validated.”

As to what specific elements were the most and least persuasive, on the part of the plaintiffs and the defense, in helping the jury reach its verdict and its awards, that remains, for the moment, unknown since they jurors declined to speak to either set of attorneys because, they said, they wanted to go Christmas shopping.

More on the case and the verdict, so stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 56 Comments »

Agreement Appears to Be Reached for Access to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Records

December 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WHO GETS ACCESS TO WHAT INFO?

It appears that at next Tuesday’s meeting, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will finally vote on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that sets down a plan to govern what kind confidential information the LA County Sheriff’s Department will share with the two watchdog entities that have been created to oversee the departmen, and under what conditions and circumstances the department will share that information.

This MOA has been a long time coming.

Following the report on misconduct inside the county’s jails issued in September 2012 by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, at the CCJV’s recommendation, the Supervisors voted to appoint an Inspector General to provide primary oversight of the sheriff’s department. That IG is, of course, former prosecutor Max Huntsman

Then, a year ago, the Supes voted, in addition, to set up a civilian commission to oversee the LASD along with the IG. To this end, they caused the formation of a working group to recommend the structure that such a civilian oversight panel might take and what kind of power it should have.

In July of this year, after holding thirteen public meetings and nine town halls across the county to gather community input, the working group presented its final recommendations to the board.

Top among its recommendations was the group’s 4 to 3 vote in favor of giving subpoena power to the commission, even though that would involve putting the matter on the ballot to be voted on by LA County residents.

“First, we believe at the end of this process, that this commission wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without that power,” said working group member, Hernan Vera, who is also the former CEO of Public Counsel. “That was made clear to us. So much of the public testimony centered around this issue.”

Yet, those three group members who voted against going for subpoena power (which included Assistant Sheriff Neil Tyler, who was part of the working group), felt that some kind of Memorandum of Agreement should be tried first. Tyler told the board that Sheriff Jim McDonnell was concerned about the idea of subpoena power, and thought it unnecessary.

If an MOA was tried, but did not live up to the level of access desired by the commission and board, Tyler said, subpoena power could always go on the 2016 ballot.

So during the months between then and now, members of LASD, the OIG, the District Attorney’s office, plus County Counsel (with additional input from the two LASD unions), have been working to hammer out an agreement that satisfied everyone. The MOA to be voted on next Tuesday is the result.


“UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS”

According to next week’s motion to approve for new agreement, sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the final version of the MOA gives the OIG, as the Board’s agent, “unprecedented access to confidential LASD records, information, and meetings” and will “enable the OIG to aggressively monitor LASD operations and to assist the Board and, ultimately, the Commission in the oversight of LASD.”

Both Sheriff McDonnell and Inspector General Huntsman are poised to sign the MOA once the board gives its go-ahead. And when the new civilian commission is established (which reportedly—and hopefully—will occur shortly after the 1st of the year) the commission chair will also be a signatory.

Among other things, the MOA allows the IG to monitor in-progress investigations into things like excessive use of force, deputy-involved shootings, misconduct by LASD personnel, complaint inquiries and the like.

But it also puts limits on the IG’s actions. For example, without specific authorization from the Sheriff, OIG personnel are not allowed to interview any of the involved parties or independently collect evidence while an active LASD criminal or administrative investigation is in progress.

Under the MOA, the IG and his representatives will have access to a wide variety of privileged and/or confidential information, but only under circumstances that appropriately safeguard and maintain the confidentiality of information such as peace officer personnel records and the like.

To give one example of such protections, OIG personnel are permitted to read and review records of pending investigations but, except in “unusual circumstances,” they may do so only on site at the sheriff’s department. Moreover they may not make copies, but they are permitted to take notes.

There’s a lot more to the proposed MOA (which you can find here if you scroll the bottom of the supervisors’ motion). It’s interesting reading and seems, for the most part, to be fairly sensible.


CAUTIONARY REMINDERS FROM THE PAST

The move forward on oversight of the sheriff’s department, and an agreement on access to its records, comes at a time when a string of fifteen former members of the LASD have been convicted of federal charges having to do brutality, corruption and misconduct inside the county jail system, with more criminal trials coming up next year, including that of the former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In addition, it is worth nothing that when two most recently convicted department members were sentenced to terms in federal prison of six and seven years, respectively, for brutally beating a visitor to Men’s Central Jail, then falsifying felony charges against their beating victim to cover their actions, Judge George King, who handed down the sentences, was not willing to characterize the deputies as a couple of bad apples who engaged in isolated wrongdoing. Instead he made a point of saying that the actions of the deputies and their previously sentenced co-conspirator did not represent a “one-time incident.” They were instead part of “a practice” that existed inside the jails,” said King, a “course of conduct.”

And that “course of conduct,” according to what the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence exhaustively described in its final report, was routinely okayed or ignored by department supervisors like former Men’s Central Jail captain, Dan Cruz, whom the CCJV found—in many instances—never reviewed force reports or deputy misconduct cases at all. Instead, he buried the force reports in drawers or on shelves until the year-long statue of limitations expired, and the reports were useless.

The CCJV further found that the failure to address brutality and misconduct existed at the highest levels in the department. The commissioners wrote that then undersheriff Tanaka not only “fail[ed] to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them.” As for former sheriff Lee Baca, the CCJV found his claim of ignorance of problems with brutality in his department to be “remarkable.”

With the above in mind, among the most important recommendations made by the CCJV to the Board of Supervisors was the formation of an independent “oversight entity,” with “unfettered access” to “department records, witness interviews, video footage, data, personnel, and facilities.”

Next Tuesday’s vote takes an important step closer to that goal.

Posted in Inspector General, LASD | 11 Comments »

Fed Judge Sends Loud “Message” With 6 & 7 Year Sentences for LA County Sheriff’s Deputies in Jail Visitor Beating Case

December 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday morning, federal Judge George H. King sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies,
Sussie Ayala, 30, and Fernando Luviano, 37, to six and seven years respectively in a federal prison.

The sentencing followed Ayala and Luviano’s conviction on June 24, 2015, along with their supervisor, former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, of charges pertaining to the brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, along with a conspiracy to cover up the beating by falsifying official reports, thus causing the victim to be criminally charged as the aggressor.

After King pronounced the sentence, he remanded both former deputies straight into federal custody, refusing to allow either of the two to surrender after the holidays, as their attorneys had requested.

Judge King-—who is, incidentally, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California-–-made it clear that he wanted to send a message with the sentences to serve as “general deterrence” to other law enforcement officers that “they are not above the law, they are subject to the law.”

King also stated unequivocally that he did not believe the crimes of which the two were convicted were any kind of one-off, as defense attorneys claimed. Rather, he said, their actions were part of a pattern, and that there was “evidence of prior violent behavior toward inmates” at Men’s Central Jail by Luviano specifically.

The judge’s words for Ayala were equally harsh telling her that that she had been the instigator, setting the beating in motion by summoning other deputies to use force. Her subsequent attempt to cover-up the beating “demonstrates that this really was a practice,” King said, and “hardly a one-time incident.” It was a “course of conduct.”

Luviano wept quietly as he was led from the courtroom. Ayala was dry-eyed.


THE CASE BEHIND THE SENTENCES

For those unfamiliar with the case, the whole matter began on February 26, 2011, when Gabriel Carrillo and his girlfriend (now his wife) went to the Visiting Center for Men’s Central Jail intending to visit Carrillo’s recently arrested brother. Both Carrillo and his girlfriend carried their cell phones into the visitors’ center, although phones are prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, Carrillo was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where he was slammed around physically, but not really injured. In response, Carrillo mouthed off, albeit fairly. According to prosecutors, Carrillo’s backtalk triggered a “savage beating” by at least three deputies at once. He was also sprayed in the face with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. Paramedics later transferred Carrillo to the hospital, suffering from injuries to his face, ribs and wrists.

In December 2013, five LA County Sheriff’s department members were indicted for the Carrillo beating and cover-up. (A 6th department member, Byron Dredd, was indicted last month for his alleged involvement in falsifying internal reports.) This past June, Gonzalez was convicted on all counts along with Ayala and Luviano. Two other former LASD deputies—Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—took plea deals earlier in the year and thus became witnesses for the prosecution. They will be sentenced in January.

During their testimony, both Womack and Deputy “Z”—as Zunggeemoge was called— provided harrowing descriptions of a cluster of large deputies kicking and slugging the far smaller Carrillo, who writhed, handcuffed, on the floor, trying to escape the blows, as Gonzalez looked on. “He was no threat to anyone,” said Womack of Carrillo.


PATTERN OF BRUTALITY

Judge Kings statement about “evidence of prior violent behavior toward inmates” is backed by piles of documentation.

For instances, the ACLU’s massive class action suit, Rosas v. Baca, featured 70 signed declarations by victims of—or witnesses to—such incidents. The abuse described in the declarations was deemed credible enough that it forced a landmark settlement that was approved by the LA County board of supervisors last December, and then given final approval in April 2015 by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. (The settlement, just to remind you, was not for money, but to force a system of jail oversight that is intended to help prevent such incidents from happening in the future.)

Moreover, the name of Fernando Luviano, is featured prominently in several of the Rosas declarations, plus in the accounts of still other former inmates who were not part of the lawsuit.

As we have reported in the past, at WLA we have read declarations by eight different former jail inmates, some of them also witnesses, who described beatings, pepper spraying, outsized threats of retaliation, and similar actions in which Luviano allegedly took part. In the majority of cases, he was described as the main player, or at least one of them.

Earlier this year, we spoke to one of the Rosas victims, a 35-year-old named Michael Holguin, who works for a car auction company. Holguin explained how he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, Luviano prominently among them.

Holguin was, at the time, in jail on a charge of possessing an illegal weapon—-namely a cop baton, which was inside the compartment on his motorcycle, where he’d reportedly stashed it, then forgotten about it.

According to Holguin’s civil complaint, in October of 2009, he and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy chanted the requisite “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after inmate Holguin had been knocked—still handcuffed—to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Holguin with a long stream of pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes, a description that now sounds creepily similar to Luviano’s close range and entirely punitive and gratuitous spraying of the handcuffed Gabriel Carrillo, who by then had open wounds on his face.

Although he declines to disclose the dollar amount, Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services (see above), Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

But, again, Holguin’s report is only one of eight we read. There are also declarations by Robert Dragusica (2009), Antonio Candelario (2010), William Littlejohn (2011), Jonathan Goodwin (2011), Alex Rosas (2011), Jabaar Thomas (2011), and Arturo Fernandez (2011)—all naming Luviano.

But, despite these reports, at least two of which have resulted in high ticket civil settlements, until Luviano was convicted by the jury in June of this year, incredibly he was still employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (albeit relieved of duty, as was required once he had been indicted in December of 2013).

Yet, as complaints alleging brutality by Luviano piled up in 2009, 2010, and 2011, there were no consequences. So, it is hardly surprising that former deputy Luviano thought the same would be true when he and his colleagues assaulted jail visitor Carrillo, then falsified reports hoping to send their victim to prison on a phony felony charge to cover their tracks.

“I think it’s meaningful,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, that finally there are consequences. “Certain deputies like Fernando Luviano engaged in a rein of terror in Men’s Central Jail. And that’s over,” he said. “Luviano is going to spend a long time in prison.”


MORE TO COME

This case is one in a series of cases resulting from investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jails in downtown Los Angeles. Fifteen current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.

A string of additional federal trials based on indictments resulting from the same investigation into corruption and brutality at the LASD, including the trial of the former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, will take place in 2016.

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

Federal Judge Sends a Message With 8-Year Prison Sentence for LA Sheriff’s Sergeant in Jail Visitor Abuse Case

November 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


A MESSAGE OF DETERRENCE

On Monday morning, federal Judge George H. King sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, to eight years in a federal prison. The sentencing followed Gonzalez’ conviction on June 24, 2015, of charges pertaining to the brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, along with a conspiracy to cover up the beating by falsifying official reports, thus causing the victim to be criminally charged as the aggressor.

After King pronounced the sentence, he remanded Gonzalez, 46, straight into federal custody, rather than giving him a few weeks or more to wrap up his affairs and surrender, as had been the case with some of the other department members convicted of wrongdoing by the feds in the past two years.

Judge King —who is, by the way, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California-– made it clear that he wanted to send a message with the sentencing, stating grimly that Gonzalez “abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold.”

When law enforcement officers “think they are above the law,” King said, “the entire rule of law is threatened.”

The judge expressed hope that the stiff sentence would provide “general deterrence,” because, he said, law enforcement must know that there are “very serious consequences for the type of gross misconduct” Gonzalez’ actions represented.

“This conduct went beyond the pale” said Judge King.


THE BEATING BACK STORY

For those unfamiliar with the case, the whole matter began on February 26, 2011, when Gabriel Carrillo and his girlfriend (now his wife) went to the Visiting Center for Men’s Central Jail intending to visit Carrillo’s recently arrested brother. Both Carrillo and his girlfriend carried their cell phones into the visitors’ center, although phones are prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, Carrillo was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where prosecutors said he was subjected to a “savage beating” and sprayed with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. Paramedics later transferred Carrillo to the hospital, suffering from injuries to his face, ribs and wrists.

In December 2013, five LA County Sheriff’s department members were indicted for the Carrillo beating and cover-up. This past June, Gonzalez was convicted on all counts along with former LASD Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. Two other former LASD deputies—Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—had taken plea deals earlier in the year and thus became witnesses for the prosecution.

During their testimony, both Womack and Deputy “Z”—as Zunggeemoge was called— unspooled harrowing descriptions of a cluster of large deputies kicking and slugging the far smaller Carrillo, who writhed, handcuffed, on the floor, trying to escape the blows, as Gonzalez looked on. “He was no threat to anyone,” said Womack of Carrillo.

During his turn on the stand, “Z” described how, after the beating, he was given specific language by Gonzalez to insert into the necessary report. Z said that, with Gonzalez coaching him, he wrote of a violent, assaultive, escape-minded Carrillo, using a narrative that was entirely fiction, he said, but that succeeded in triggering felony charges against the handcuffed victim.


NOT A “ONE TIME THING”

During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Carrillo asked to speak to Judge King. “This wasn’t a one-time thing,” he told King, “this was a one-time get caught.”

Carrillo argued for the 10-year-plus sentence recommended by prosecutors, noting that the false charges that Gonzelez and company caused to be filed against him, could have resulted in a 14-year prison stretch.

In fact, Carrillo was a week before trial for the false allegations when his attorney, Ron Kaye, found the photos of Carrillo’s injured wrists (shown above) that his girlfriend had taken and forgotten about, not realizing their importance. Kaye also found a neutral witness, a middle-aged woman who had been in the visitors center sitting near the so-called break room during Carrillo’s beating, and was able to describe what she heard coming out of the room. “She was very important,” Kaye told me.

Thus, instead of going to prison, Carrillo works in construction as a fork lift operator and is married to his former girlfriend, Grace Torres, with whom he has two children.

Judge King also discounted the argument of Gonzalez’ defense attorney, Joseph Avrahamy, who argued that the battering of Carrillo, and the ensuing fabricated reports, represented an isolated incident. King said that the speed and ease with which the cover-up fell into place, suggested “a known course of conduct that has played out before.”

Indeed, in the original indictment that preceded the two deputy plea deals, prosecutors laid out three additional incidents of alleged abuse against people who came to the jail to see friends or loved ones, including the beating of a jail visitor who was slammed around by deputies to the point that his arm was fractured, all reportedly because he asked to see a supervisor when his combat veteran brother repeatedly couldn’t be located in the jail.

Each of the incidents allegedly involved some mix of the same cast of characters. And in at least two other cases, according to the indictment, deputies prepared “false and misleading reports in an attempt to show that…their uses of force were justified.” Sergeant Gonzalez, the indictment alleged, “would assist deputies in preparing these reports and would approve these reports knowing they were false.”

The original indictment also included an allegation by the feds that former Sergeant Gonzalez would “maintain, perpetuate and foster an atmosphere and environment” in the visiting area “that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law, including the use of unjustified force….” among other abuses.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if the visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.” He allegedly would “praise overly-aggressive behavior by deputy sheriffs and criticize” deputy behavior “that was not aggressive” and would “encourage deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force,” according to information the FBI and the prosecutors gathered.


NO APOLOGIES

At the sentencing, Gonzalez was not in the least contrite. Instead, he energetically defended his actions to the judge. As ABC7′s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez wrote in their account of the sentencing:

“Gonzalez told the court that the jail’s Visiting Center was controlled by gang members before he cleaned it up, changing it from ‘a violent place… to Disneyland.’”

The now ex-Sergeant also said that he and his fellow jail deputies routinely dealt with some of the most violent criminals in Los Angeles County, and while they could have had “uses of force every day,” they were “limited to a handful.”

The government was not impressed.

“Today’s lengthy prison sentence demonstrates that individuals who abuse their positions of trust as law enforcement officers will be held accountable,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker after Gonzalez sentence was handed down. “The former deputy sheriffs who participated in the scheme to violate the civil rights of a handcuffed man who was beaten without cause cast a stain on the entire Sheriff’s Department, where virtually all of the deputies serve admirably.”

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted a sixth deputy in relation to the incident at MCJ’s Visiting Center. Former Deputy Byron Dredd pleaded not guilty on Friday to conspiracy to violate civil rights and two counts of making false reports, and he was ordered to stand trial on December 22.

The case against Gonzalez and the five others is one in a series of indictments, that have resulted in the convictions of 15 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on federal charges. At least seven of those convictions will be reviewed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals next year.

Still more indicted department members have yet to come to trial. The highest profile of those trials looming in the future is that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka scheduled for March 2016.

Whether the feds’ still ongoing investigations will produce any more indictments of LASD personnel in the months to come is anybody’s guess. But rumors abound.

So, stay tuned.


VIDEO NOTE: The video above shows Carrillo being interviewed by then LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who had, a few hours before, supervised the Carrillo’s beating and the cover-up. It was shown at trial and the jury watched it with rapt attention. ABC-7 News producer Lisa Bartley obtained the video, so we have her to thank for being able to show it to you. Here’s ABC-7′s excellent story on Gonzalez’ sentencing, written by Bartley and reporter Miriam Hernandez

Posted in LASD | 35 Comments »

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy to File $15 Million Lawsuit Against Paul Tanaka, LA County, & More, for “Egregious Abuse of Power”

October 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

DID LASD INVESTIGATORS PUSH THE DA’S OFFICE INTO FILING ON 2 INNOCENT DEPUTIES DUE TO PAUL TANAKA’S DECADE OLD WISH FOR REVENGE?

The accusation seems outlandish, but insiders, and a new lawsuit suggest otherwise.


THE ACQUITTAL

On Thursday, June 11, of this year, a Southern California jury took less than three hours to acquit two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of charges alleging that the twosome conspired to file false police reports in the course of a drug arrest.

After the verdict was announced by the jury foreman, however, something unusual happened. The attorneys, the defendants and other trial watchers filed out of the Judge Renee Korn’s courtroom in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. But the jurors, who after most trials typically walk quickly to their cars to avoid the press, in this instance didn’t seem to want to go home. Instead, they waited in the court hallway in order to meet and talk with the two deputies, Robert Lindsey, 33, and Charles Rodriguez, 40, to tell them how convinced the panel had become of the deputies’ innocence.

Several of the 12 insisted on hugging the newly-acquitted defendants. One juror, a tall black man named Alvin Green, reportedly told David Martinez, the lead investigator for the Lindsey defense—who is also a retired LASD lieutenant—that “it was a shame” that the two deputies had been prosecuted, that they “had done nothing wrong.”

Another, juror, a woman named Sylvia Thomas, took Lindsey’s mother Kathy Lindsey aside to explain how she and her fellow panelists had become so sure of the rightness of their decision.

After that, everyone trooped outside the court building, where exuberant selfies were snapped—along with a group shot featuring seven of the jurors and the two deputies, plus some of the legal staff.

“In all my years of practice, I’ve never had a jury do any of that,” said James Blatt, Rodriguez’ attorney.

Yet, despite the June acquittal, although the two deputies are again receiving their salaries they have not gotten the months and months of back salary, they are not back to work, nor do they have their badges, guns and credentials. Instead, they are now both the subjects of an Internal Affairs investigation by the LASD which, in turn, means that they are on what amounts to house arrest. Thus if they need to leave their homes during business hours, they must get permission from the department.

With all of the above and considerably more in mind, on October 8, Deputy Robert Lindsey—known to his friends as Robbie-–filed a notice, through his attorney, Paul M. Mahoney, of his intention to sue the County of Los Angeles for $15 million for actions that include “the deliberate fabrication of evidence,” “the creation of false police reports,” “the violation of the claimant’s civil rights,” among other things. (You can find the Notice here: Government Claim Oct 8th)

Those to be named in the lawsuit include: former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former captain Tom Carey, Captain Rod Kusch, Sergeant Dan Tobin, former department members, Stephen Leavins, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, plus a string of deputy DAs, and more.


THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

The case involving Lindsey and Rodriguez was a curious one right from the beginning. In an era when great swaths of the American public are suspicious of U.S. prosecutors whom they believe are overly reluctant to file on law enforcement officers, the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB), along with some members of LA District Attorney’s office, pursued the two deputies with what appears to be unusual vigor.

In fact, it reportedly took three tries on the part of the ICIB investigators involved with the case to get a charge to stick in the district attorney’s office. In the first instance, the reviewing deputy district attorney approached by the ICIB guys in the spring of 2013, reportedly said there was nothing to file.

A month later, ICIB personnel found a more sympathetic prosecutor who agreed to assign the case. However, on its first round in front of a judge at a preliminary hearing the case again ran into a wall when the judge did not find enough evidence to support the charges and kicked the case.

Undaunted, the investigators and prosecutor pressed on and managed to acquire a copy of a video that they claimed would support their charges. A new prelim was held, and Lindsey and Rodriguez were indeed bound over for trial.


COCAINE, VIDEOS AND U-VISAS

Although this time the deputies were charged, they were also firmly acquitted by jurors who clearly felt they had saved two good men from an obviously wrongful fate. The charges for which Lindsey and Rodriguez were tried stem from a June 2011 drug-related arrest outside the Durango Bar in Huntington Park. Earlier in the evening, the partners had gotten a tip that a man named Abraham Rueda was dealing cocaine in the Durango’s parking lot out of a white Lexus. When the twosome arrived in the lot, they spotted a white Lexus with two men standing outside the car with the driver’s door of the vehicle open. One of the two men matched the description they had of Rueda. Lindsey exited the patrol car and called out to Rueda who immediately identified himself.

Looking in the car windows, Lindsey spotted a plastic “bindle” of what appeared to be cocaine protruding from an air-conditioning vent. After he and Rodriquez placed Rueda and his companion inside the patrol car, Lindsey proceeded to search the Lexys and removed the protruding bag of coke, but subsequently found no additional drugs.

Believing there may be more coke hidden, Rodriguez requested a drug-sniffing dog from his boss, a sergeant, who said none were available and that the deputies should just drive the Lexus to the Lynwood station where it could be further searched in a contained environment. Rodriquez and Lyndsey did precisely that, with Lindsey driving the Lexus, Rodriguez the patrol car, which contained Rueda and his pal, both of whom who had, by that time, been Mirandized but were not handcuffed.

At the Lynwood station, Lindsey further searched the car, while Rodriguez booked the prisoners. Then each deputy wrote brief reports about the night’s activities and the arrests.

ICIB investigators alleged that some elements of the deputies reports were untrue.

But, as described above, the purported discrepancies were not persuasive enough to form a case the first two times around. It was not until the district attorney’s office was provided with videotape from a security camera focused on the bar’s parking lot, that the case managed to move forward.

Lindsey was charged with one count each of filing a false report, conspiring to file a false report and conspiring to obstruct justice.

Co-defendant Rodriguez, was charged with one count each of conspiracy to file a false report, conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory after the fact.

In plain English, the prosecution alleged that Lindsey was not standing where he said he was standing when he first spoke to Rueda and first glimpsed the cocaine and scrap of packaging in the air-conditioning vent. Prosecutors also claimed that Rodriguez lied and said that he and Lindsey drove the Lexus and the two suspects to an undisclosed second location—not the station—to search the Lexus for drugs. And finally, the deputy DA said that Rueda and his friend were handcuffed when they were transported to be booked, although the deputies reported that they were not.

There was no accusation of planting of drugs, no claim that the deputies had roughed up the two arrested men, tricked them, or otherwise violated their rights.

And the video, which was central to the case, turned out to support the accounts of the deputies, and not those trying to convict them, according to jurors, who said afterward, that they’d reviewed the video with extraordinary care, frame-by-frame.

Moreover, it was revealed during the trial that Rueda, who was the primary witness for the prosecution, was an undocumented man who had been promised, in return for testimony, what is called a “U-Visa,” which was originally created for victims of crimes who have endured mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement and government officials investigate and prosecute the abuser.

It was further revealed that one of the deputy DAs who brought the case told Rueda’s sister that he added the obstruction of justice charge to the other two charges against Lindsey and Rodriguez specifically in order to qualify Rueda for the U-Visa.

(WitnessLA has obtained documents that show multiple exchanges between then prosecutor Kevin P. Stennis—who is now a Superior Court Judge—and Rueda’s sister, Veronica Flores.)

Nevertheless, by the trial’s end most of Reuda’s testimony had reportedly decompensated and changed enough that it too supported that of the deputies.


THE TANAKA FACTOR

So why in the world would the internal criminal investigative arm of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department push and keep pushing to have two of the department’s deputies brought up on criminal charges for actions that, when pulled apart in the light of day, caused a jury to reject them dramatically and vocally?

And why would several prosecutors at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office buy in to what appeared to be a loser of a case at best and, at worst—if the defense is correct—may have persuaded the prosecution to either deliberately ignore or outright alter facts in order to get the thing to trial at all?

Sources close to the case told us that the answer may be found in a previous LASD vendetta, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Deputy Lindsey or Deputy Rodriguez—at least not directly. It’s roots, they claim, have everything to do with Robbie Lindsey’s father, retired LASD commander Robert Lindsey, who allegedly refused to engage in actions he was ordered to perform for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, more than a decade ago, actions that Lindsey Sr. believed were unethical and likely illegal. As a consequence, sources said, threats were allegedly made by Tanaka, who was—at the time—still at the rank of chief.

The charges against Lindsey Jr. were the threats being made good all these years later, with Rodriguez as “collateral damage,” sources claim. To accomplish the deed, sources further claim, required the participation of various FOPs—Friends of Paul—both in the LASD and possibly in the DA’s office, in at least one case.

There are many additional colorful details to the story, of course. But they will have to wait.

The specifics of the claim will reportedly be laid out in the civil case, which is scheduled to be filed in LA Superior Court in the near future.

So stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 100 Comments »

Fed Judge Denies Immunity for Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca to Testify at Paul Tanaka’s Criminal Trial

September 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


A new moment of drama in the run-up to the trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka occurred on Monday
when District Court Judge Percy Anderson told Tanaka’s attorney that, no, he was not going to give former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca immunity from future prosecution should Baca be called to testify at Tanaka’s trial.

Tanaka’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, filed the request in mid-August, asking that the former sheriff be granted immunity because, “if he testifies truthfully, [Baca] will provide evidence that will contradict the government’s evidence” and thus provide a basis for [Mr. Tanaka’s} “acquittal of the charges.”

The motion was almost certain to be a non-starter with Judge Anderson from the get go. But it was also understandable that that attorney Steward would roll the legal dice, no matter how slim the chance for success.

When Tanaka was originally indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice back in May 2015, former LASD Captain William (Tom) Carey was indicted at the same time as a co-conspirator and also for perjury, having to do with his previous testimony in the trials of seven other former LASD members indicted with obstruction of justice for some of the same series of alleged actions. (The seven have since been convicted of the obstruction charges, and their convictions are on appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

At that time, Seward made confident statements to the press about his client’s innocence and how Mr. Tanaka would prevail when it came time for trial—which certainly he still may.

However, in mid-summer, the odds of an acquittal for Tanaka suddenly rearranged themselves when Tom Carey took a plea deal in return for his cooperation in Tanaka’s trial and any subsequent proceedings relating to department member misdeeds of which Carey had had knowledge, and which related to the original indictment concerning the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown and other actions designed to thwart the FBI’s investigation into chronic corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system.

Carey’s plea, which was filed on August 13, 2015, sent Tanaka’s defense scrambling for a witness to counter what Carey was likely to say on the stand.

Hence, presumably, the motion about immunity for Baca.

Carey and Tanaka took the stand in the previous obstruction of justice trials, and former Sheriff Baca was on the witness list for the defense at least twice, most notably in the two trials of former LASD Deputy James Sexton (who was tried twice before the feds could produce a guilty verdict). Yet Baca was never called in either of the trials because his then-attorney informed Sexton’s legal team both times that Baca would take the fifth if put on the stand.

Baca hired a new attorney, Michael Zwieback, earlier this month. While Zwiback did not attend the Monday hearing, he confirmed to us that Baca would indeed be invoking his 5th Amendment rights this time around, if called as a witness.


COST/BENEFIT

At least one federal witness was reportedly given immunity that was limited to his testimony before a federal grand jury during hearings that likely contributed to Tanaka’s and Carey’s eventual indictment. But that witness had already been convicted of obstruction of justice, so the government’s cost/benefit ratio in issuing limited immunity was presumably very different that it would be in the case of Baca, who at remains conspicuously un-indicted.

To put it another way, if federal prosecutors are able to convict the former undersheriff of the allegations arrayed against him, the notion that Baca’s once powerful second in command is guilty of corruption charges that have already resulted in seven additional convictions and one plea bargain, it becomes less and less believable that Tanaka’s former boss, the man who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half, is legally blame free.

Originally Mr. Tanaka’s trial was scheduled to begin in early November of this year. But on Monday Judge Anderson agreed to delay proceedings until March 22, 2016, at the request of Mr. Tanaka’s attorney.

Posted in LASD | 41 Comments »

“Evolution of a Criminal,” Solitary Confinement Pt. 2, LAPD Community Guardians, and the Beneficiaries of Prop 47

August 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

Darius Clark Monroe was a 16-year-old honors student in Texas until he robbed a bank with a shotgun in a foolish attempt to bring his family out of extreme financial hardship.

In an award-winning PBS documentary, filmmaker Darius Monroe talks about the circumstances that led to his decision and asks his victims for forgiveness.

As a teenager, Darius says he did not think of the repercussions when he robbed the bank: the psychological harm done to the bank employees and customers present for the robbery, and the pain inflicted upon his tight-knit family and upon himself.

You can watch the whole documentary on PBS’ website until Sept. 11.


NEW MEXICO EXPERIMENTS WITH EFFORTS TO REDUCE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN PRISONS

The second installment in a three-part NPR series on solitary confinement in US prisons takes a look at the prison system in New Mexico where officials are working to reverse the state’s overuse of isolation. New Mexico has made real progress: 6% of the prison population is in solitary confinement this year, compared with 10% in 2013. But as the numbers creep lower, the task becomes more challenging, says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. (We pointed to the first here.)

Here’s a clip from Natasha Haverty’s story for NPR:

In New Mexico, many low-risk inmates were moved out of solitary. The men still housed in isolation can now earn their way out in nine months with good behavior. That’s still more time in solitary than most reform advocates and most mental health experts support, but not so long ago, New Mexico’s solitary unit was packed with inmates who were thrown into cells “and then we really had no clear-cut way to get them out of there,” says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. He says when he came in as corrections secretary four years ago, that heavy reliance on solitary had been unquestioned for decades.

“It’s very, very easy to overuse segregation. I mean, for a guy like me it’s safe, right? It’s safe — if these prisons are quiet, I don’t get fired,” he says.

One of Marcantel’s new programs gives prisoners the chance to live in a more open group setting if they swear off their gang affiliations.

For corrections leaders like Marcantel trying to change the system, it’s a struggle to get it right. None of his reforms get rid of solitary. He says he can’t see it ever going away.

“But i­n a perfect world, one that maybe involves unicorns, yeah, I would love to get rid of it,” he says.

So far, New Mexico’s first steps toward change seem to be working. Two years ago, 10 percent of the state’s prison population was in solitary. That’s down to 6 percent this year.


LAPD: THE TRANSITION FROM “WARRIORS” TO “GUARDIANS”

The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a series of five-hour training (or retraining) sessions in the wake of controversial officer-involved shootings in LA and across the nation.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather sat in on some of the LAPD training lectures, which emphasized replacing the “warrior” culture of the 70′s and 80′s with a mindset shift to “guardian” of communities. (WLA pointed to another story exploring this issue here.)

Here are some clips from Mathers’ story:

“We were warriors,” Deputy Chief Bill Scott recently told a room filled with LAPD rank-and-file officers, a group of fresh-faced rookies watching from the front.

Now, he said, officers need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities — not warriors cracking down on them.

“That means if we’ve got to take somebody to jail, we’ll take them to jail,” Scott said. “But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we’ve got to do that too.”

[SNIP]

The five-hour lectures in Los Angeles have covered matters such as the way officers should interact with people who are mentally ill, how they can build community trust, when they are permitted to curse while dealing with the public and why they should avoid walking with a swagger. Department brass emphasized that public perceptions of police can be influenced by the way officers treat residents during their daily work.

Scott warned one group assembled at a department pistol range that the brash attitudes some officers have — “I’m the cop, you’re not” — can appear disrespectful. “That’s one of the biggest problems that we have,” he said. “How we talk to people.”

In an Eastside auditorium, Deputy Chief Jose Perez told a crowd of Hollenbeck officers that just because department policy allowed them to curse at uncooperative suspects — the LAPD calls it “tactical language” — they shouldn’t automatically use foul language when walking up to someone.

“It doesn’t let you go up to them, when you’re getting out of the car, and you go: ‘Hey … come here,’” Perez said, using a profanity. “We use it because we have to, not because you can or because you want to.”

When and how officers should use force was another key focus. Police were reminded to be patient with people who may be mentally ill and to try to build a dialogue in an effort to avoid using force to take them into custody.

In one session, officers were implored to carry less-lethal devices such as a Taser or beanbag shotgun in their patrol cars, so the option is always available. The department does not require all officers to carry less-lethal devices.

Last week, the LA Times’ Patt Morrison interviewed Deputy Chief Bill Murphy on the evolution of training within the department. (WLA linked to it here.)


PROP 47 IS HELPING FORMER OFFENDERS BREAK FROM STIGMA OF FELONIES

During her 20s, Sholanda Jackson was incarcerated 13 times because of an addiction Sholanda’s mother sparked by giving her crack cocaine as a teenager.

A poster child for rehabilitation, Sholanda has now been sober 11 years, has a degree, and works at a non-profit.

Thanks to California’s Proposition 47, which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, former offenders like Sholanda are receiving a second chance—one that will free them from the stigma of old felony convictions, and help them secure employment, as well as government assistance.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the issue, including the story of Sofala Mayfield, another former felon who received a second chance through Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

His life began to fall apart in his teens, after his grandmother suffered a stroke and his mother fell back into drug addiction. After a series of minor run-ins with the law as a teenager, he was convicted of felony theft two years ago for stealing an iPhone.

Mayfield has three younger siblings that live with him. But he said when he got out of jail, he couldn’t find a job.

“I didn’t get any calls back, I would call them back — our hiring manager’s not in, you know. I just had a feeling that’s what it was, just me having the felony on my record and stuff,” he said.

At the urging of his probation officer, Mayfield called the public defender’s office and asked if he would qualify to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor under Prop. 47. Within a month, a court had approved the change.

He now has two jobs, is helping support his family and hopes to go to culinary school.

“I was just very grateful,” he said.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WEIGHING THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT CRIMES ON COMMUNITIES TO BETTER FOCUS POLICE ENERGY AND RESOURCES

In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


LAPD DEPUTY CHIEF WILLIAM MURPHY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING, TRAINING, AND MORE TRAINING FOR OFFICERS

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR IS ON A CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE IN POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES

The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.

Why?

“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.

[SNIP]

As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


FORMER LASD CAPTAIN TOM CAREY’S OFFICIAL GUILTY PLEA, AND WHY FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SHOULD WORRY

On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.

[SNIP]

Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

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