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LA Deputy Saves Stray Dogs and Cats, FBI Informant Anthony Brown Sues LA County, Task Force to Investigate SF Law Enforcement Misdeeds, One-in-Three Homicides Unsolved in US

March 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD PARKS DEPUTY GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND, MOONLIGHTS AS ANIMAL RESCUER

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Brittany Fraser rescues animals—lots of them. Off and on duty patrolling LA County parks, Fraser picks up stray dogs, cats, and other animals in need. Other deputies now also bring found animals to Fraser instead of leaving their fate in the hands of animal control. If Fraser can’t find the animal’s human family, she bathes and vaccinates them and cares for them until they are adopted through her Brick Animal Rescue. Thus far, Fraser has saved more than 100 homeless animals.

The Daily Breeze’s Carley Dryden has the story. Here’s a clip:

“As much as I want to help people, it’s the same for animals,” Fraser said. “When people need help, they can ask for it. But dogs can’t. They don’t have a voice. You have to be paying attention.”

Sgt. Craig Berger recalled the night he came across two pit bulls eating trash on the on-ramp to the 110-105 freeway interchange. One was clearly young and starving, its ribs sticking out.

“Pre-Brittany Fraser, I probably would have had no choice but to take them to animal control, and that would have been a death sentence,” he said. “But I was able to call her from the freeway, tell her what happened and drive them to her house. She took care of them and took them to the vet.”

Berger, Fraser’s former supervisor, said Fraser has changed the mind-set of deputies when they see or approach stray animals.

“Before, they would just ignore the problem, or maybe occasionally, if they had time, they might call animal control,” he said. “Eventually, the culture was created to call Deputy Fraser.”

[SNIP]

“She is the animal whisperer,” said her husband, Nick Resendez, who met his wife when they were partners at the Lomita sheriff’s station…

Resendez acknowledged that he didn’t have pets growing up, so having a dog in his bed at night now has been quite the adjustment.

“She’ll come home, and I’ll say, ‘What do you have under your coat jacket?’ She’ll smile and reveal a Chihuahua or a cat,” he said. “One time she came home with a raccoon and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But this is the woman I married. She is compassionate and loving. To know that she has the ability to put those feelings into animals is amazing.”


SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY LAUNCHES TASK FORCE TO LOOK INTO WAVE OF SHERIFF’S DEPT. AND POLICE MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS

Moving quickly, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday the launch of a new three-team task force to investigate three separate allegations of law enforcement misconduct.

On Monday, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced that at least four deputies allegedly forced inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. (We linked to that story here.) There have also been allegations of racist text messages between veteran police officers. DA Gascon says there has also been a breach of protocol in the DNA labs, affecting 1,400 cases.

CBS has more on the new task force. Here are some clips:

[SF District Attorney George Gascon] said that during his more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has seen a great deal of misconduct and scandals involving law enforcement officials, but that the frequency and magnitude of these recent allegations are “unusual” and “repulsive,” as well as some of the worst allegations he’s heard.

Gascon said he is concerned that if these allegations are determined to be true, there could be serious potential repercussions for criminal cases, including some which were possibly prosecuted years ago.

Gascon said that these alleged incidents are concerning not only because of “the level of hate that is reflected” but because of “the impact they may have on the criminal justice system.”

He said his office, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, will be taking a second look at cases from the past 10 years involving officers and deputies named in recent allegations.

[SNIP]

Regarding the gladiator-style fights reported this month at the San Francisco County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, Gascon said that it is unlikely only four deputies knew about the alleged abuse and misconduct…

Gascon said he wants to know who else knew about the alleged fights, when they knew and if there have been similar cases of misconduct at the sheriff’s department.

Regarding racist and homophobic text messages from police officers that were recently released in federal court documents, Gascon said he wants to know if other people were involved and to see if any prosecutions could be impacted.


FBI INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN SUES LA COUNTY, SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS, AND 7 DEPUTIES CONVICTED FOR HIDING BROWN WITHIN JAIL SYSTEM

FBI informant Anthony Brown is suing LA County, former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former captain Tom Carey and the seven deputies convicted last year of obstruction of justice for hiding Brown from his federal handlers. (More about that here.)

Brown is alleging cruel and unusual punishment, as well as retaliation, conspiracy, failure to provide medical care, and municipal and supervisory liability.

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

Brown was moved around the jail system, his name was changed multiple times and computer records were falsified to make it appear that Brown had been released from LASD custody.

“I was kidnapped, my name was changed,” said Brown. “They put me in cars late at night and took me places. I think I had more than a dozen guards on me 24/7.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment, municipal and supervisory liability, failure to provide adequate medical care, retaliation and civil conspiracy.

“As soon as defendants became aware of plaintiff’s cooperation with the FBI’s investigation, they conspired to retaliate against plaintiff for his participation as an informant and obstruct that investigation intentionally… hiding and/or kidnapping plaintiff in the jail system under fictitious identities, covertly moving him about and throughout LASD’s jail system, and unreasonably kept him in isolation without cause,” the lawsuit states.

Brown says he was in “dire fear for his life that defendants would carry out a threat on his life or order/allow other jail inmates/gangs to kill plaintiff because defendants told him, ‘No witness, no conviction.’”


WHY HAVE HOMICIDE SOLVE RATES DECLINED BY 26% SINCE THE 1960′S?

In the 1960′s law enforcement officers solved homicides at a rate of about 90%, fifty years later (and despite the advent and development of DNA testing), the national clearance rate is just 64%.

NPR’s Martin Kaste has more on the numbers and what factors may be adversely affecting murder case clearance. Here are some clips:

…that’s worse than it sounds, because “clearance” doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

[SNIP]

Vernon Geberth, a retired, self-described NYPD “murder cop” who wrote the definitive manual on solving homicides, says standards for charging someone are higher now — too high, in his opinion. He thinks prosecutors nowadays demand that police deliver “open-and-shut cases” that will lead to quick plea bargains.

He says new tools such as DNA analysis have helped, but that’s been offset by worsening relationships between police and the public…

Since at least the 1980s, police have complained about a growing “no snitch” culture, especially in minority communities. They say the reluctance of potential witnesses makes it hard to identify suspects.

But some experts say that explanation may be too pat. University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford points out that police are still very effective at clearing certain kinds of murders.

“Take, for example, homicides of police officers in the course of their duty,” he says. On paper, they’re the kind of homicide that’s hardest to solve — “they’re frequently done in communities that generally have low clearance rates. … They’re stranger-to-stranger homicides; they [have] high potential of retaliation [for] witnesses.” And yet, Wellford says, they’re almost always cleared.

Posted in District Attorney, DNA, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 65 Comments »

9th Circuit Grants Bail Pending Appeal for LA Sheriff’s Dept. 7 Convicted by Feds — And Why We Care

March 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted bond to the seven former members
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last year of obstruction of justice for their part in hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions.

The 9th first granted bond to former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was tried separately from the other six. (Actually, he was tried twice. Although he was convicted in September, 2014, his first trial, in the spring of last year, resulted in a six-six hung jury.) Then attorneys for the others were notified.

Sexton and the six were scheduled to surrender early this year to begin their various prison sentences—ranging from 18 to 41 months—but, although they were denied bail by Judge Percy Anderson, the original presiding judge in their respective trials, before their surrender dates arrived, the 9th granted all seven a stay—meaning their lock-up dates were put off while the appeals court figured out whether or not it was going to hear the cases.


OKAY, SO WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT BAIL?

The grant of bond—or bail as it is more commonly known—is significant, because, according to a source knowledgeable about the matter, this means that the three judge panel that issued the bond order thought, as the source put it, “there is a significant issue likely to result in reversal on appeal.”

The source cautioned, however, that the panel that granted the motion most likely won’t be the same three judges who will hear the case, so views of these three may not hold sway.

Yet, there is a possibility that the panel will stay the same, said our source. “I’m pretty sure the panel will shift, but sometimes on an expedited appeal (which this is) they may keep it.”



YES, BUT WILL THIS AFFECT FUTURE FEDERAL INDICTMENTS?

As we noted earlier, various members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department—present and former—were subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury in December of last year, and at the beginning of 2015. According to sources, those questioned were asked almost solely about the obstruction of justice issues for which the seven former LASD members just granted bond were convicted, in particular the actions of former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and Captain Tom Carey who was relieved of duty in December of last year, pending an unnamed investigation.

One presumes that all this grand jury testifying has been in pursuit of some kind of additional indictments, although there is, of course, no guarantee.

Several we spoke to speculated, therefore, that the feds might be waiting to see the outcomes of the above appeals before moving forward with any new, high profile charges—if there are to be any such charges.

There has been, and continues to be, much criticism that, in indicting the seven convicted of obstruction—three of whom were deputies at the time, two were sergeants, and two were lieutenants—the feds were picking low-hanging fruit, so to speak, while leaving those who actually gave the orders that reportedly set the obstruction in motion, completely untouched.

In any case, this story is far from over, so…stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, FBI, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 23 Comments »

Job Changes, Investigations, & a Demotion for 3 LA Sheriff’s Dept. Captains – UPDATED

February 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S FRIDAY UPDATE:

We often hear through the grapevine about personnel changes at the sheriff’s department. Some of what we hear turns out to be merely gossip. But in the cases outlined below, we were able to confirm the changes involving two captains and one acting captain. Moreover, refreshingly, when we contacted LASD spokespeople to ask about the personnel movements in question, although Undersheriff Neal Tyler could not talk directly about any of the cases, he confirmed what he could clearly and forthrightly—without any of the dodging we have sometimes experienced in past years.

Since this story was first posted, we have heard about possible additional changes. We will keep you up to date, as are able to verify the information we have received.



CHANGES & INVESTIGATIONS

In the past week, two captains and one acting captain of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were variously transferred pending an investigation, relieved of duty pending an investigation, or simply demoted and moved to another assignment—an unusual number of LASD management figures to be subject to such changes all at once.

Here are some of the details:

Captain Robert Tubbs was relieved of duty last Thursday pending an internal administrative investigation, the department’s second in command, acting undersheriff Neal Tyler, confirmed to us on Monday. The investigation reportedly involves a potential policy violation.

Up until last week, Tubbs was the captain of the department’s Court Services Transportation Division, which is responsible for busing prisoners as needed from jails to over 50 LA County courts.

The second captain to be moved is Anselmo Gonzalez, who was the head of the North County Correctional Facility (NCCF), one of LA county’s northern jail facilities, located in Castaic, near Magic Mountain. Tyler confirmed that Gonzalez and four others under his command, have been transferred to assignments where they have no contact with inmates, pending an internal criminal investigation. “Those people have been reassigned to non-inmate contact jobs while investigators review evidence and conduct interviews,” Tyler said.

As to what kind of criminal investigation had triggered the moves, Tyler said it had to do with “inmate treatment and safety.” The actions being investigated were different from classic inmate abuse, he said. “It has to with our concern that inmates are treated humanely and safely, and their physical and other kinds of welfare are not jeopardized.”

The third supervisor to be moved was acting Captain Chris Brackpool, who was demoted to lieutenant and removed as head of Operation Safe Streets (OSS), the department’s gang unit. In the case of Brackpool, Tyler verified the demotion but he would not specify the reason. Yet, those familiar with the matter reported that Brackpool’s demotion had to do with uniforms.


THE UNIFORM ISSUE

This requires a little backstory.

Unlike the LAPD where there has long been a strong focus on appearance, in the last few years some parts of the sheriff’s department had gotten a little less—well—uniform, about uniforms. The patrol deputies still wore their regular tan and green class A uniforms (with shirts that come in long or short sleeves). The detectives still had the tradition of wearing suits or sport coats. But some of the specialized divisions were reportedly allowed—even encouraged—to have their own way of dressing. In the case of OSS, the variations evolved until most team members were wearing jeans- (of various shades and washes of denim), with t-shirts, tennis shoes, and green raid jackets, the latter the only nod to any kind of official garment.

When McDonnell was sworn in, he took over a department that was riven by factions, plagued by diving morale, and still reeling from years of negative publicity. One of the symbolic changes he made, as he had when he became chief of the Long Beach Police Department, was to institute a more consistent policy of dress for everyone—the OSS guys included. In other words, they were asked to start wearing uniforms.

In response to the new directive, Captain Brackpool reportedly sent out a memo to his OSS people that they didn’t need to worry about the sheriff’s new thingy about uniforms. They could carry on with their jeans and raid jackets—or a message reportedly to that effect.

Undersheriff Tyler confirmed the part about McDonnell desiring more formality of dress. “He came in here with extremely high standards of professionalism,” Tyler said, “demonstrated by how we talk to people and how we look in the field. He told me one time that he’s kind of a stickler for spit and polish.”

Some people have been more resistant than others to the new dictates, Tyler admitted. As a consequence, “the sheriff will have to make changes with people who are in key jobs that require more than grudging support—or grudging non-support.”

Whether that is indeed what happened with Brackpool, Tyler wouldn’t say.


THE TANAKA FACTOR

According to those close to the department, two of the three captains—namely Brackpool and Tubbs—- have had the reputation for being very strong Tanaka supporters. They’d both given to Tanaka’s past political campaigns for mayor of Gardena. And Tubbs was one of those department members who physically stood behind Mr. Tanaka when the former undersheriff announced his candidacy for sheriff at a press conference in August 2013.

Tubbs was also one of eight LASD supervisors who filed suit against former Sheriff Lee Baca in January 2014 alleging that each had been moved away from their desirable assignments to less desirable positions as a retaliation for supporting Tanaka. ((Tubbs had been moved into his recent Court Transportation post from a previous plum position as the head of Community Oriented Policing Services—–or COPS—a program over which Tanaka at one time reportedly exercised a great deal of control.

According to Tyler and others who work with McDonnell, the matter of who may or may not have prior loyalties to whom does not play a part in the new sheriff’s actions.

Yet it appears sure that there will be further alterations in personnel.

“He’s taking his time to really look at our department, how we have it organized—both personnel and systems—and thinking clearly and analytically about where changes ought to be made,” said Tyler of McDonnell. “This means there will be job swaps and promotions, and potentially demotions. There will be some hard decisions to make. “

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LASD | 67 Comments »

LA Deputy’s Suit Alleges Retaliation for Protesting Inmate Abuse…Fewer Inmates in CA and LA Facilities, Mock School Shootings…and Protecting Access to Justice Behind Bars

February 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTY SUES OVER ALLEGED RETALIATION FROM DEPUTIES, SUPERVISORS FOR REPORTING INMATE ABUSE IN JAILS

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Brock alleges department peers and superiors bullied, discriminated against, threatened, and then fired him for protesting inmate abuse in several LA County jails, including Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers.

A great number of department members are mentioned in Brock’s complaint (a riveting 78 pages), including Sgt. Mark Renfrow, Lt. Mark Guerrero, as well as former Sheriff Lee Baca, ex- Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Sgt. Kimberly Milroy.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here are some clips:

He alleges a “veiled threat” came from Lt. Mark Guerrero, who he says told him about how North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un executed his uncle and the latter’s family members for being disloyal.

“Lt. Guerrero told plaintiff that if something happened to a person for reporting misconduct, LASD would not be responsible,” according to the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The next month, Sgt. Mark Renfrow ordered Brock to fire a stun gun at an inmate who was not aggressive toward any deputy, the suit states.

“The bloodied and battered inmate was then handcuffed and taken away for medical attention,” according to the lawsuit.

Brock alleges he was told by Renfrow to falsify a statement in a report of the incident to state that the inmate was trying to punch a deputy, or else he would be determined to be insubordinate.

Brock “eventually relented to the incredible pressure and wrote in the report that the inmate was punching at (the deputy),” according to his court papers.

Brock says he later received a note from inmates stating they heard deputies saying they wanted to bring false allegations against him in retaliation for his complaints.


CA PRISONS AND LA JAILS SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE OVERFLOWING INMATE POPULATIONS

Late last month, California’s prison population dropped below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The milestone was reached more than a year before the judges’ deadline. This important victory is made possible in large part by the passage of Propositions 36 and 47, but there is still potential for the population to swing back up if the state officials stop making significant strides toward easing overcrowding. (Refresher: 36 reformed the Three Strikes Law, and 47 downgraded certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.) Since Prop 47′s passage in November, 2,035 California inmates have been freed.

California jails have also seen a substantial drop in inmate numbers, mostly thanks to Prop 47. Since November, Los Angeles County Jails have reduced the overall population by 3,200 inmates. San Diego achieved a 900 inmate reduction.

Jessica Eaglin, Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, has more on the numbers’ significance and why neither state nor LA County are out of the woods, yet. Here’s a clip:

This is the first time that the state’s prison population reached this level since 1994. The decline is a direct result of Proposition 36 and Proposition 47. Since Proposition 47 took effect, 2,035 inmates have been released from prison. 1,975 inmates have been released since Proposition 36 took effect.

California jails, too, have experienced reductions in their jail populations in recent months. Initially, Realignment facilitated shifting inmates from prison to county jails. The recent sentencing reforms – particularly Proposition 47 – changed this landscape. Los Angeles County, with the largest jail system in the country, saw its jail population decline by 17%, or 3,200 inmates, since November 2014. The San Diego County jail population, too, declined by 900 inmates. This is a critical development towards reducing overall incarceration in the state beyond simple compliance with the federal mandate.

California still has a long way to go to successfully get its incarcerated population under control. The state continues to send almost 9,000 prisoners out of state in order to comply with the court’s mandate. California increasingly relies on private and public facilities – including by sending 2,000 prisoners to a private facility in the state. The state will spend $12 billion on incarceration this year while trying to accommodate the court’s federal order. Moreover, CDCR’s numbers represent weekly snapshots. It may be that next week the number spikes above the threshold again. On the jails side, the population may creep back up as inmates previously being released early due to overcrowding are now serving as much as 100 percent of their sentences.


STAGING SCARY FAKE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS TO TRAIN KIDS ON WHAT TO DO DURING A REAL SCHOOL MASSACRE

A growing number of law enforcement agencies and schools across the nation are performing “active shooter” drills during school hours to prepare kids for real school shootings. Schools have even carried out these exercises, entirely unannounced to students. In a Florida middle school last November, students believed the cops barreling down their halls with fake guns were real shooters, and sent frantic text messages to their parents.

While most agree that lockdown drills are vital to ensure kids know what to do when there is a human threat on campus, experts say the gunman drills, particularly the unannounced kinds, can traumatize kids. But surprise drill advocates say kids do not take scheduled disaster exercises seriously, and that they do not learn from them.

Kids at a junior high in Bakersfield responded similarly to a surprise active shooter drill in November. And here’s what happened in Harlem.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department has performed similar drills at Topanga Elementary, but only to prepare teachers and staff. Students were not involuntarily involved.

Angela Almeida, who has personally participated in a mock school shooting, explores both sides of this issue in an excellent story for the Atlantic. Here are some clips:

Forget what you’ve learned about fake blood and Airsoft props on-site—in these schools, the word “drill” is a frightening misnomer; neither students nor faculty are given any advanced notice of them.

Last November, a middle school in Florida made headlines after students believed an unannounced drill, in which two gunmen barreled down the school’s hallway with a pistol and AR-15, was real. Turns out the shooters were local police officers yelling, “This is a drill!”—but that didn’t stop many students from texting their parents hysterically, telling them they feared for their lives.

[SNIP]

I asked Joseph LeDoux, a highly-regarded neuroscientist at New York University, what might be the most useful strategy for teaching students to act. While it is possible to change how humans instinctually freeze, LeDoux explained, the most effective route for learning may also be the most traumatic. “The introduction of surprise is probably a very useful tactic, because it means the brain has to learn each time students go through the drill,” he said. “When your expectations are violated, then there’s novel information and that’s where you learn. If there’s no violation of expectation, no learning takes place.”

Put simply, if humans know a drill is coming, it’s unlikely they’ll learn much from it. However, while scaring students senseless might make them more equipped to handle an emergency, LeDoux added, the degree to which people are affected by the trauma, in real life or in a simulation, depends upon their preexisting conditions. Everyone reacts differently to trauma.

For individuals struggling to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for example, reliving memories of high stress and fear can trigger unwelcome flashbacks. As a result, students who fit into this category run the risk of re-experiencing symptoms when confronted with simulation drills firsthand. School psychologists argue that the cost of unearthing terrible memories outweighs the potential benefit of these practices—not to mention the rare chance that someone in the school is carrying a concealed weapon and decides to act defensively. A drill to prepare for tragedy could turn into a tragedy itself.

Bonus: watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about Florida’s surprise drill.


SCOTUS TO HEAR CASE REGARDING INMATES’ RESTRICTED ABILITY TO SUE OVER PRISON CONDITIONS

Alliance for Justice has released a new report spotlighting an important case the US Supreme Court will hear next week. Inmates must overcome huge barriers to sue over conditions behind bars. The biggest roadblock is the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PRLA was intended to weed out petty lawsuits, but has succeeded in barring inmates from justice who have serious grievances about inhumane treatment behind bars, according to the Alliance for Justice report.

The case challenges the PRLA’s three-strikes provision restricting the number of civil lawsuits an inmate can file before the $400 filing fee—a colossal sum for inmates working for pennies per hour—will no longer be waived. Interpretations of the provision vary, and can mean that inmates can run out of waivers for a number of reasons, when their cases are dismissed, due to technicalities, timing issues, and more.

Here are some clips from the report:

Recent court decisions have expanded congressional restrictions on the right of inmates to access the courts. Today, inmates are losing more cases, winning fewer settlements, and going to trial less often than any time in the past two decades. Yet, civil lawsuits are often the only way to hold prisons accountable for violence, overcrowding, and medical neglect.

And as with all burdens in the criminal justice system, these developments disproportionately burden people of color, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. Fifty-eight percent of all inmates in 2008 were African American or Hispanic, despite these groups only making up 25 percent of the general public. Recent events have shown how difficult it can be for members of these groups to find justice in all walks of life, but nowhere is it as difficult as in a prison.

This report details the ways courts have expanded nearly every element of the so-called “three-strikes” rule of the Prison Litigation Reform Act to keep inmates out of courts, in ways Congress never intended. Later this year, the Supreme Court will decide Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson, and with it, the future of inmate justice. AFJ calls on the Supreme Court to restore the right of all Americans to petition their courts. Access to justice is far too important an American value to take away from one of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

[SNIP]

On February 23, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson. Andre Lee Coleman-Bey is an inmate in Michigan who brought a lawsuit against prison officials for interfering with his access to the courts. Coleman-Bey had brought two previous civil cases that were dismissed. He then brought a third case, which was dismissed by the trial court, and he appealed. That appeal is still pending. When Coleman-Bey brought his fourth and most recent suit, the district judge ruled that the three previous cases were strikes, and that he could not have his filing fees waived. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to decide whether a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit can count as a strike—and effectively prevent an inmate from filing any more lawsuits—when it is still being appealed.

This case highlights a much greater trend of lower courts expanding the PLRA to hand out strikes based on technical errors, poor timing, and reasonable arguments that end up losing. Even inmates with law degrees, not just the “frequent filers” the PLRA was supposed to target, could now find themselves locked out of our civil justice system.

Congress enacted the PLRA to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits,” yet the claims of unbounded frivolous prison litigation that sparked its passage do not match reality. Inmates file roughly half as many lawsuits per capita as the general public, but are successful at a similar rate.

Even as pro se litigants bringing cases without lawyers, inmates have been successful in bringing and winning cases in the United States Supreme Court. And litigation has brought reform to prisons that desperately need it. Recent lawsuits have successfully improved inmate medical care, reduced violence and overcrowding, and reformed prison use of solitary confinement.

Posted in Civil Rights, LA County Jail, LASD, Supreme Court, Trauma | 44 Comments »

Longtime LA Sheriff’s Investigator Sues for Alleged Retaliation Over Refusal to Falsify Job Applications & to Campaign for Paul Tanaka

February 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


DEMANDS TO FALSIFY EMPLOYMENT DOCUMENTS & TO SUPPORT A CERTAIN CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF

A longtime background investigator for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was severely retaliated against when he refused to falsify employment applications for unqualified applicants who were reportedly favored by then-undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In the lawsuit filed last Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, plaintiff Ban Nyegen, who has been with the sheriff’s department since 1996, alleges that, at the end of 2012, he began getting requests to alter LASD employment applications so that certain job applicants who “failed basic requirements” would be able to “pass through the background process.” Nyegen was reportedly told by a sergeant in the personnel bureau that the orders to falsify documents came from then-undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

When Nguyen refused whitewash documents for the specially designated applicants, he alleges that the applications in question were given to other background investigators, who were presumably more willing.

The lawsuit further alleges that, sometime after he refused the orders to doctor the background checks, Nguyen was approached by LASD Captain Kevin Hebert who asked him to support Tanaka’s campaign for sheriff and actively campaign for him. Again, Nguyen declined.

(Previously, WitnessLA reported in depth on a pay-to-play scheme within the department involving Paul Tanaka’s previous campaigns for mayor of Gardena.)

Subsequent to his refusal to agree to campaign for the former undersheriff, Nguyen’s complaint states that Hebert moved him out of his position as a senior background investigator to another far less desirable entry level position in personnel.

The complaint describes other retaliatory actions including the filing by Hebert of “an unwarranted internal affairs investigation against the plaintiff.”


NGUYEN GOES TO BACA WHO DECLINES TO INTERVENE

Near the end of 2013, according to the lawsuit, Nguyen told then Sheriff Lee Baca about the demand to “lie about or conceal damaging background information concerning Tanaka connected applicants,” and the retaliation that occurred when he would’t comply, or support Tanaka’s political campaign. Rather than helping matters, the lawsuit reports that after Nguyen went to Baca the retaliation got worse, and he was warned by another captain, Judy Gerhardt, that “he was not allowed to go beyond the chain of command again with his complaint, and she refused to transfer plaintiff out of the hostile workplace.”

(Note: by August of 2013, Paul Tanaka had been forced to retire, but reportedly he still had much behind-the-scenes influence in certain quarters, long after that.)

Nguyen alleges that, as part of the retaliation for his having reported to Baca, he was required to fill in as a bailiff at various court locations six times a month, and was given make-work projects by Captain Gerhardt “that prevented him from being able to do any meaningful work,” according to the lawsuit.

Eventually, the work-place stress got to Nygen and he took a medical leave

And in November 2014, of course, Jim McDonnell defeated Paul Tanaka for the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Sheriff McDonnell was sworn in on December 1, 2014, with a strong message of reform.


RETALIATORY PATTERNS

Nyegen’s lawsuit has many things in common with other reports by department members who have alleged to us, and in still active lawsuits, that refusal to go along with wrongdoing, or any attempt to report alleged departmental wrongdoing, resulted retaliation. With some people the retaliation included unwarranted internal affairs investigations and, in certain cases, physical threats.

According to the reports we have received most recently, in some cases the retaliation is still occurring.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 17 Comments »

4 LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Suspect of Theft and Bribe Taking…CA Poor Often Given Cut Rate Legal Defense, Report Finds….Will There Be Fed Indictments for former LASD Top Brass?…& LA Press Club Award to Charlie Hebdo

January 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



FOUR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS INVESTIGATED FOR THEFT AND BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into reports that the four engaged in a scheme of thefts and bribes regarding towed vehicles or vehicles about to be towed.

According to a statement released by the LASD on Monday morning, the department became aware in December 2014 of evidence that three deputy sheriffs and a parking control officer were implicated in individual incidents of theft from towed vehicles or accepting cash from vehicle owners to avoid towing and impounding of their vehicles. All four of the department members relieved of duty worked out of Century Station located in Lynwood.

As of now, department investigators do not believe that any additional personnel were involved in the alleged theft and bribery.

“As a law enforcement organization, it is imperative that we earn the public’s trust each day,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in an email that went to all department members. “Acts such as those described above tarnish the badge all of us wear and erode the confidence the public has in law enforcement.

“We will respond swiftly and resolutely whenever acts of this nature come to our attention,” McDonnell continued. “We must demonstrate to the public and to our own Department family that conduct which violates the public trust will not be tolerated. In doing so we also reaffirm that the vast majority of our personnel perform their duties in an exemplary manner.”

The department is pointing to the announcement of the investigation as evidence of a new policy of transparency.

Those department members—working and retired—we spoke with about the matter on Monday said they appreciated the strategy.

“It sets a good tone,” said one retired LASD lieutenant. “It says the department is no longer going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.”

(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and patch photo above by Jaime Lopez, LASD)


ARE SOME OF CALIFORNIA’S POOREST CRIMINAL DEFENDANTS GETTING A CUT RATE DEFENSE?

In the 1963 landmark SCOTUS decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the assistance of counsel for a defendant who could not afford to hire a lawyer was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court’s ruling specified that such legal assistance applied to the preparation for trial as well as the trial itself.

According to a new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, more and more of the state’s counties are cutting funds formerly allocated to provide lawyers for those in need of counsel—and many defendants are getting inadequate “cut-rate” representation as a consequence.

Karen de Sá of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the story. Here are some clips:

Counties are increasingly hiring legal firms that offer cut-rate representation by failing to spend money on investigators or experts that are needed for adequate defense, said the report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created to examine ways to guard against wrongful convictions.

“This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it’s spreading,” said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms “a race to the bottom.”

Traditional public defenders in the pay of the various California counties are generally okay, said the report.

But lawyers who are paid a flat fee for representation, the report said, may be tempted to cut corners on pretrial preparation and avoid going to trial to save time and money.

As a solution, commissioners recommend that the state Legislature establish a body to oversee the way counties provide representation to criminal defendants, and also recommend a law to ensure that funding for experts and investigators is separate from the fee paid to the lawyers in publicly funded cases.

The Fair Administration of Justice Commission report cited research by California Western School of Law Professor Larry Benner, who found that inadequate investigation is a recurring problem in cases in which convictions were overturned because of poor representation….

The new California-based report reflects other dismal reports outlining a national crisis in indigent defense that prevents a growing number of Americans from getting adequate legal representation when they most urgently need it.


ARE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS GUNNING FOR BACA AND TANAKA WITH NEW GRAND JURY SUBPOENAS?

For the last month or so we’d been hearing that various current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had received subpoenas to appear in front of a federal grand jury, as part of an ongoing investigation into the events that resulted in the conviction of seven LASD members for obstruction of justice last year.

Moreover, several of those who were asked to appear were among the seven former department members who have already been convicted. Since all seven contended that the actions that led to their convictions were the result of orders that originated at the LASD’s highest echelon—namely from Baca and Tanaka—there has been much speculation that federal prosecutors are now hoping to indict some of those very former department higher ups.

Over the weekend, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on the matter of the new grandjury subpoenas.

She wrote:

The questioning has focused partly on meetings where then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, Paul Tanaka, discussed how to deal with the discovery of a cellphone provided to a county jail inmate by the FBI. In addition to the convicted officials, some current Sheriff’s Department officials have also received grand jury subpoenas.

Many in the Sheriff’s Department believe that low-ranking officials took the fall for following orders from Tanaka and Baca. Now, with the convening of the grand jury, it appears that prosecutors are attempting to target more sheriff’s officials after convicting seven last year for obstructing justice.

Of the seven, Gregory Thompson, a former lieutenant, and two ex-deputies, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, are known to have testified before the grand jury in December, according to a source.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Assn. (PPOA), the union that represents sheriff’s department supervisors, said that he knows of at least one more grand jury subpoena related to the obstruction of justice issue. But, he said, he has heard credible reports of still more such subpoenas.

So will there be new indictments?

When LASD Captain Tom Carey testified at the trials of the seven last year, he admitted that he was the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. And, as WLA has previously reported, Carey was relieved of duty in December pending the result of an internal departmental investigation.

Tanaka also admitted last year to knowing he was the subject of a federal criminal probe.

Yet, despite much pestering on the part of reporters, WLA included, federal prosecutors and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility—or lack thereof—of more indictments, and will say only that the investigation is ongoing.

Still, the new grand jury hearings have fueled new rounds of speculation.

“Of course, many of us hope the government is going to reach higher than those who have already been convicted,” Moriguchi said. “But in the end all we can do is speculate. It’s hopeful speculation, but it’s speculation, nonetheless.”

NOTE: Chang’s story has more that you’ll likely find interesting, so be sure to read the whole thing.


LA PRESS CLUB 2015 AWARD FOR COURAGE & INTEGRITY IN JOURNALISM TO GO TO CHARLIE HEBDO

The Los Angeles Press Club announced on Monday that its 2015 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism will go to Charlie Hebdo.

“We are deeply honored. Of course, we’ll accept, said Gerard Biard, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo.

“No act of terrorism can stop freedom of speech. Giving the Daniel Pearl Award to Charlie Hebdo is a strong message to that effect,” said LA Press Club President Robert Kovacik of NBC LA.

Since 2002, the Los Angeles Press Club in conjunction with Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl—who was kidnapped in 2002 by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have handed out the award to those who have displayed unusual courage in reporting.

Past recipients have included Richard Engel, the NBC correspondent who covered multiple mid east wars on the front lines, before being abducted in Syria in 2012, and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist/author who became famous for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, who was murdered in 2006 in the elevator outside her apartment in what was widely viewed as an ordered assassination to prevent her latest deeply reported story from being published.

The 2015 award will be presented by Judea and Ruth Pearl at a gala awards dinner held at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 28th.

In the meantime, Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the murderous attack on its Paris offices that killed 12 people, will feature a tearful prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” The magazine’s headline says “All is forgiven.”

The magazine, which will go on sale on Wednesday, will reportedly print as many as record 3 million copies in 16 languages, instead of its usual 60,000.

The cover cartoon, which you can see below, was drawn by the weekly’s cartoonist Luz, who survived the massacre because he was late arriving at the office.

(Click on the Charlie Hebdo cover image to enlarge it.)

Posted in art and culture, FBI, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, media, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 19 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

December 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy James Sexton became the 7th member of the LASD
to be sentenced to prison for a conviction of obstruction of justice due to his part in a plan to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Sexton to 18 months in a federal lock-up, plus an additional year of supervision after he is released.

Sexton, 30, is a former Eagle Scout who was offered an appointment to West Point and recently got his master’s in public administration at USC. He was 26, and in the department for three years, when in August 2011, he was assigned by then lieutenant Greg Thompson, his boss on the Operation Safe Jails unit (OSJ), to participate in a complex scheme to keep federal informant Brown away from the FBI and other federal representatives with whom he’d previously been in contact. Brown was, at the time, part of a civil rights investigation into brutality by deputies against inmates in Men’s Central Jail, plus other forms of LASD corruption.

According to department higher ups, the hiding of Brown was for the inmate’s own safety. Sexton and his team members were told that the order to move Brown to various secret locations within the county jail system, through the use of name changes and computer manipulation, came from the very top of the department, namely from Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who were briefed regularly on the operation that Sexton began unofficially calling Operation Pandora’s Box.

Judge Anderson gave Sexton the shortest sentence of any of the seven, stating that the deputy was “the least culpable” of the group. (Co-conspirators Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricela Long drew terms ranging from 41 months for former lieutenant Steve Levins, to 21 months for former deputy Mickey Manzo, after being convicted in July of this year in a trial separate from Sextons)

Sexton’s attorneys had pushed for a far lower six month sentence, or even probation with no jail time, pointing out that Sexton had repeatedly cooperated with the feds as a whistleblower in 37 different meetings, and had been convincingly threatened by department members once his whistleblower role became known. (Sexton was the only one of his co-defendents who was allowed by the judge to keep his personal firearms until his conviction this fall.) Anderson, however, was adamant that “the public” expected a sentence that did not trivialize the offense.

“The public expects that the police will not obstruct justice,” said the judge

At the same time, Anderson praised Sexton’s “loving family,” that the deputy “has respect of many in his hometown,” and was “smart and educated” and was “devoted to public service.”

Anderson paused, then added, “Obviously at some point he allowed the core values that had served him well to give way...to the corrupt values of the sheriff’s department.

Finally Anderson spoke directly to Sexton.

“Sir, you didn’t show courage in your misguided attempt to protect the LASD.”

While Sexton and his family looked both grim and saddened by the sentencing outcome, they seemed unsurprised. Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.
The September trial was Sexton’s second legal go-round for the same charges. His first trial, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

When questioned outside the federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said that the sentencing of Sexton was not the end of the story when it came to pursuing civil rights violations and corruption inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He ticked off some of the trials of other LASD members that will take place in 2015. “This is the end of one chapter,” Fox said, “but we have many chapters yet to come.”

As to whether the feds are focusing on other department members for possible future indictments, Fox would only say “it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Fox also declined comment on the news that Captain Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative unit, ICIB, had recently been relieved of duty, pending an LASD investigation. Carey, who testified in both Sexton’s trials, was asked by Fox when he was then on the stand if he was aware that he was the focus of an ongoing criminal federal investigation.

Sexton will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on February 2015. His six co-defendents are required to surrender on January 2.

Sexton reportedly has made plans to appeal his conviction.


Be sure to read ABC7 Lisa Bartley’s excellent account of Monday’s proceedings. Bartley has also linked to some documents pertinent to the sentencing including letters of support from such people as an L.A. County Deputy District Attorney, a retired CIA official, a Captain in the U.S. Special Forces, a Green Beret and the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 36 Comments »

Prop. 47, the Releases Have Begun….McDonnell Makes Plans…. How Elections Affect LA….Monday’s American Justice Summit Live Streams

November 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In the days since California voters passed Prop. 47 by a healthy margin
, real world responses to the initiative’s victory have been swift. For instance, Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that in San Diego County, teenagers were released from juvenile hall the day after voting day, while the SD Public Attorney’s Office was getting 200 calls an hour from inmates in the county’s jail hoping for reduced sentences.

In the Bay area, judges did not even wait for election results to be certified before resentencing inmates and reducing charges write Matthias Gafni and David DeBolt in the San Jose Mercury News.

And in Santa Rosa County one lawbreaker was very, very cheery when he showed up in court on November 5, according to the Press Democrat’s Paul Payne.

Here’s a clip:

When Judge Lawrence Ornell took a seat in his Santa Rosa courtroom the morning after Election Day, a man with an “I voted” sticker on his lapel walked up to the bench, beaming.

Ornell noticed the man’s sunny disposition then looked down at the charge. It was possession of cocaine, an offense that a day earlier was a felony but with the passage of Proposition 47 by California voters had been reduced to a misdemeanor.

His chances of receiving a stiff punishment vanished overnight.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” Ornell said Thursday, recounting the man’s good fortune. “He was a happy man.”

The scene is playing out frequently these days as courts, prosecutors and police grapple with a new reality intended to cut prison crowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars for rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 reclassifies nonviolent offenses that used to be felonies — including many property crimes valued at $950 or less, grand theft, forgery, shoplifting and simple drug possession — and reduces them to misdemeanors carrying lighter punishments.

Some estimate a third of all felonies, many drug-related, will be downgraded to lesser crimes, creating a domino effect that will keep petty criminals out of custody and free some who are already behind bars.

Statewide, as many as 40,000 people a year could be affected, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said.

State prison officials estimate 4,770 inmates would be eligible to petition the court for resentencing and possible release. Nineteen are from Sonoma County, local prosecutors said, and the Sheriff’s Office has identified 209 of its 1,200 jail inmates for possible consideration.

All would go before a judge who would review the details of their offenses and their records. Those previously convicted of violent or serious crimes would not qualify, Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker said.


SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL WILL GATHER INFO BEFORE STAFFING & FOCUS FIRST ON LA COUNTY JAILS

Soon-to-be LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was still in a post-election daze, with zillions of requests for meetings, interviews, and call-backs piling up, when LA Daily News reporter Rick Orlov talked to him about his plans.

Here’s a clip:

“I am not looking at any big transition team,” said McDonnell, who spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was second-in-command, and served as a chief of police in Long Beach since 2010. “I will reach out to different experts, but I want to talk to the people in the department and see the talent that is there.”

His first priority in rebuilding confidence in the troubled department, McDonnell said, will be a review of the county jail system to determine what changes have been made since the release of a critical report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which he was a member. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000 to 20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illnesses.

“I want to see what has been done and what can be done as quickly as possible,” McDonnell said. “It is our top priority.”

But before he does that, there is a long-delayed trip to Boston to see his 88-year-old mother and celebrate with his family back there.

“I’ll be there four days, but there is not a lot of time left before I take office,” McDonnell said. “I have just a few weeks before I take office on Dec. 1.”


NATIONAL ELECTIONS WON’T PARTICULARLY AFFECT SO CAL BUT STATE ELECTIONS WILL, WRITES LA TIMES JIM NEWTON

LA Times columnist Jim Newton lists those of last Tuesday’s races most likely to affect the actual lives of So Cal voters—most particularly the election of Jim McDonnell as LA County’s new sheriff, the passage of Jerry Brown’s water bond, and the victory of Sheila Kuehl in the LA County Supervisor’s race. Here’re are some clips:

The Sheriff’s Department has struggled for decades, resisting attempts to reduce violence in jails and impose meaningful civilian oversight. Sheriff Lee Baca often seemed overwhelmed by the task, and Baca’s former top deputy, Paul Tanaka, who ran against McDonnell in last week’s election, was widely seen as an impediment to reform.

McDonnell, by contrast, has pledged to move ahead with efforts to constrain excessive force and to lead the agency into a more sophisticated relationship with the public and county government. And he has the right credentials to make that happen. Most recently, McDonnell headed the Long Beach Police Department. Before that, at the LAPD, McDonnell helped lead the department to a new kind of policing that embraced community engagement, and he did it at a time when that department was trying to reconstruct trust after years of controversy — as the Sheriff’s Department is today.

It won’t be easy, but McDonnell has a chance to make real progress.

[BIG SNIP]

Most of the post-election commentary on Kuehl’s victory has focused on whether she can hold the line on county worker pay hikes, given the backing that public employee unions gave her. That’s a fair question, though Kuehl is famously stubborn and a little bit prickly, so I wouldn’t envy the person trying to call in a chit with her.

To me, the more intriguing aspect of her victory is what it might mean for one of the county’s gravest responsibilities: the operation of its foster care system, which cares for children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect and which has seen too much tragedy. This is an area that Kuehl knows and cares about.

Kuehl, whose sister is a judge in the Sacramento foster care system, speaks movingly of her determination to help young people. And as a state legislator, she wrote a slew of bills intended to protect children in the system.

Now she’s about to join a board that oversees the largest child welfare system in the nation, one that is responsible for more than 30,000 children at any given time.


DAILY BEAST’S TINA BROWN HOSTS AMERICAN JUSTICE SUMMIT LIVE STREAMING ON MONDAY

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting what is being called The American Justice Summit, which will live stream on Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, featuring the likes of John Jay College president Jeremy Travis, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Right on Crime’s Grover Norquist, and many, many more.

I’ve you’ve got an interest in criminal justice issues, it’ll likely be worth your while to tune in to this event.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, race, racial justice, Sentencing | 36 Comments »

Recommended Reading: Post-election News Roundup

November 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SHERIFF: JIM MCDONNELL TAKES OVER THE REINS

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell secured 75% of the vote, effectively trouncing former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. (If you missed it, WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, reported from McDonnell’s camp on election night.)

Of McDonnell’s decisive win, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said, “Today Los Angeles County residents made history. They elected an outsider to lead the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their vote is nothing short of a mandate for reforming the department. We look forward to working with Sheriff McDonnell to bring about the much needed changes that voters deserve and that justice requires.”

On KPCC’s Take Two, McDonnell discusses his victory, coming into the department as an outsider, and the future of Men’s Central Jail and mental health diversion.

Here’s a clip from the transcript, but take a listen for yourself:

Your predecessor Sheriff Lee Baca left under a cloud of controversy. There were charges of corruption and violence in the jails, allegations by the DOJ that mentally ill were being housed in inhumane conditions. Some policies have been put in place to deal with this, but what do you think still needs to be done?

I think it’s a work in progress. The DOJ is looking closely at it. A lot has been done since the jail commission’s report with 63 recommendations for change. Many of those have been implemented and others are in process. Moving forward, infrastructure is one issue. Mens Central Jail needs to be replaced. But also the philosophy within the jail environment. We also talked about a two-track system where deputies aren’t sent from the academy directly into the jails for the next seven years, and then on the streets until they are promoted back in or get in trouble and go back into the jail. It was for too many years treated as a dumping ground for the organization, and it’s one of the most high-liability areas of the department, and to treat it that way, if we were a business, we’d be in trouble.

What would you most like to see a new Mens Central Jail facility have?

I’d like to see a secure facility that is state of the art. It also provides for treatment of inmates who are mentally ill, but before we even deal with that issue be able to have some screening on the front end where we don’t use incarceration as the first option for those who are mentally ill and have offended based on that illness. But have community-based mental health clinics and courts that would screen an individual and provide the appropriate treatment rather than just incarceration as the only option.


MOVING FORWARD WITH PROP 47

Proposition 47—the reclassification of certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors—passed on Tuesday with 58.5% of the vote.

Prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates are already rushing to adapt to the changes. The LA City Attorney’s Office is looking to hire 15 new attorneys and staff to help manage the coming flow of downgraded misdemeanor cases, while social workers and drug courts are working to sort out what 47 means for substance abuse treatment.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John and Marisa Gerber have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown walked into a Pomona court Wednesday and saw first-hand the impact of Proposition 47 — the voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

His office had deliberately postponed sentencing for a defendant facing more than a year behind bars for possessing heroin and methamphetamine to the day after Tuesday’s election, waiting to see what voters would do.

The gambit worked. The man was sentenced and released from custody with no further jail time.

“They were felonies yesterday. They’re misdemeanors today,” Brown said. “This is the law now.”

The day after California voted to reduce punishments, police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors and even some advocates were scrambling to figure out exactly how it was going to work.

The greatest effect, experts said, would be in drug possession cases, noting that California is now the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors. Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails.

City attorneys accustomed to handling traffic tickets and zoning violations are now responsible for prosecuting crimes that used to be felonies, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. District attorneys who used to threaten drug offenders with felony convictions to force them into rehabilitation programs no longer have that as an option. Social workers said they worried that offenders who voluntarily seek treatment will have trouble finding services.

“It’s going to take a little while to figure out,” said Molly Rysman, who operates a housing program for the destitute who sleep on sidewalks in L.A.’s skid row. She is glad that drug users now face only brief stays in jail, if any time at all, but said options for someplace else to go in L.A. are “dismal.” Rysman said caseworkers now spend weeks trying to find an opening for clients who need a detox bed or room in a treatment program.

U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg says California’s passage of Prop 47 has the makings of a new national trend.

The Yes campaign brought together a wide assortment of interest groups that had not agreed about criminal justice policy in the past. Recent campaigns to challenge capital punishment and to reform the three-strike law helped forge a broad coalition of some victims’ rights groups along with powerful allies such as organized labor, the California Teachers Association, the California Nurses Association and state Democratic Party.

​The most visible advocates for Prop 47 were San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, Santa Clara district attorney Jeff Rosen and former San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne. These respected law enforcement officials viewed California’s mass incarceration policies as fiscally unsustainable and harmful to low income communities.

Even prominent national conservative figures like Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul announced their support for Proposition 47, arguing that current sentencing laws waste taxpayers’ dollars and do not curtail drug use. They prefer a focus on locking up violent offenders.

While Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke out against Prop 47, many other state leaders such as Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris remained neutral. One traditionally powerful lobby group, the Corrections Peace Officers Association took no position on Prop 47

It is significant that virtually all the past California governors and attorneys general almost always sided with the tough-on-crime position in ballot initiatives. In the case of Prop 47, their silence was deafening and hampered fundraising for the No camp.

[SNIP]

Public confidence in the state’s prison policies has eroded.

Even the US Supreme Court declared the prisons so crowded and inhumane that it ordered the release some inmates. This dramatic court judgment led Californians to reconsider who should go to prison. Harsh criminal justice laws have been on the books long enough for Californians to be able to weigh the cost and benefit of these measures. The well-publicized failure and financial drain of the so-called “War on Drugs” has created has an environment in which voters are seeking new ideas.

More generally, the popularity of Prop 47 resonates with a growing distrust of government overreach into citizens’ lives and a preference for decision making that is closer to where people live. The demographics of the voting public which is younger, more ethnically diverse, and more highly educated than ever before is also favorable towards more progressive social policies.

If California helped lead the national charge in favor of more tough on crime laws, the state could lead the charge in the opposite direction.

California has traditionally been ahead of national developments, but a good predictor of future political trends. Since California is the largest state in the country, if Prop 47 passes other states may well follow suit. As California goes, so goes the nation.


TOM TORLAKSON KEEPS HIS OFFICE AS CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

Incumbent California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson landed a victory for teachers unions, with 52% of the vote, over reform-minded competitor Marshall Tuck. (Backstory: here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Katy Murphy has more on Torlakson’s win. Here are some clips:

“We knew that when Californians look for direction on how to improve education,” Torlakson said in a statement, “they don’t look to Wall Street. They don’t look to Silicon Valley. They look to the people who are in the schools in their neighborhood every day — the teachers, the school employees, the teacher’s aides, the nurses, the counselors.”

The latest tally from the California Secretary of State’s office showed Torlakson winning by about 4 points.

Tuck conceded the race Wednesday morning, releasing a statement that said: “Together we proved that in California there is a growing call for change and that parents, kids and families can have a voice in education.”

[SNIP]

The contest showed a growing rift within the Democratic Party on how to better educate poor and minority students who languish in low-performing schools.

The reform agenda carried by Tuck – and just as passionately resisted by its opponents, including the state’s teachers unions — promotes competition from independently run, taxpayer-funded charter schools and an overhaul of teachers’ pay, evaluation and job protections.

Tuck had vowed to reinvent the state superintendent’s office, turning it from a “mouthpiece for insiders” to a “voice for students and parents.”

Torlakson, the union and Democratic Party favorite, said he would bring stability and continuity as schools recovered from the devastating budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession.

“I think that resonated well in the education community,” said Maria Ott, a former superintendent and an executive in residence at USC’s Rossier School of Education Community.


SHEILA KUEHL WINS 3RD DISTRICT LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR SEAT

Sheila Kuehl beat out Bobby Shriver in a very tight race for outgoing LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze and Alice Walton have more on Kuehl’s win and what it will mean for LA County. Here’s a clip:

“It’s the biggest job I’ll ever have, and it’s a career capper for me,” Kuehl said from her campaign victory party at The Victorian in Santa Monica. “Being one of 80 0r one of 40 is very different than being one of five running something the size of Ohio. It’s a much tougher job.”

Kuehl, 73, will be the first openly gay member of the county board, which controls a $26 billion budget. Final ballots were still being counted into the morning. She won 53 percent of the vote.

Kuehl had campaigned on her experience as a member of the state Legislature. She argued it better prepared her to sit on the county board, which must implement a slew of state laws on health care, welfare and a range of other issues. She said Shriver was ill-prepared for the job.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 43 Comments »

Recommended Reading as We Head into Nov. 4 Elections: Education, Attorney General, County Supervisor, and Sheriff

November 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC EDUCATION RACE ROUNDUP

California’s race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is attracting a lot of attention, in part, because it has the potential to set a precedent for public education nationwide, but also because of the unusual amount of campaign money involved—over $20 million in contributions.

The race to oversee the state’s public schools, which rank 45th in the nation, has been pegged as “reformer versus union” sets education reform heavyweight Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson (who, along with the state, was slammed with a Temporary Restraining Order over Jefferson High School’s scheduling disaster, last month).

The NY Times’ Motoko Rich points out that the superintendent race has drawn a great deal of interest from outside the state because it represents a battle taking place at the national level. Here’s how it opens:

In California, one of just 13 states where the schools chief is an elected post, this year’s race is unusual: It seems to have drawn more attention from outside the state than inside, because it is seen as a proxy for the national debate over teacher tenure rules, charter schools and other education issues that have divided Democrats.

The contest for California superintendent of public instruction has attracted more than $20 million in campaign contributions, largely because it is viewed as a referendum on the future direction of policy in public schools. And with two Democrats — Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, and Marshall Tuck, the challenger — vying for the office, the race also reflects a national schism within the party.

On one side are those like Mr. Tuck, who say that teachers’ unions hold too much sway over the Democratic Party and that public education needs a more entrepreneurial approach. On the other are those like Mr. Torlakson, who say the proposed changes, which include the expansion of charter schools and greater use of test scores to evaluate teachers, amount to a corporate takeover of public schools.

The superintendent race is also the costliest in the state, with three times more campaign funding than the gubernatorial race.

Bloomberg’s Karen Weise has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

When the country’s most populous state heads to the polls for the midterm elections next week, big money won’t be riding on who will be California’s governor or represent it in Washington. Instead, a mountain of cash has focused on who will head the state’s Department of Education. Donors put $30 million into the race for state superintendent, three times more than in the gubernatorial campaigns, according to data compiled by EdSource.

And in an op-ed for national business magazine Forbes, former presidential appointee to the U.S. Dept. of Education, Dallas Lawrence, endorses Marshall Tuck, pointing out his triumphs as founder of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which included bringing up graduation rates at struggling LAUSD schools by 60%. Here’s a clip:

The most hotly contested race in the Golden State will have no impact on who controls the U.S. House or Senate. It won’t impact the gubernatorial race and it certainly won’t alter the lopsided Democrat majorities in the California legislature. Nestled 61 pages into the 2014 California Voter guide is perhaps the most important campaign being waged in America today—a campaign to reform the state’s broken public school system and shake up the dysfunctional status quo that has fueled a race to the bottom for California’s public schools which now rank 45th in the nation. The campaign for California’s non-partisan Superintendent of Public Instruction is about much more than which Democrat (as both candidates are Democrats) will be elected the state’s chief school officer. It is, as a recent San Diego Union Tribune headline declared, a campaign pitting “reformer versus union” in an election with significant national implications.

The reformer is Marshall Tuck, a scrappy, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-to-work fixing our schools, kind of leader. Tuck served most recently as founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a groundbreaking collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle and high schools serving 15,000 historically underserved students. Under Tuck’s leadership, these schools increased four-year graduation rates by over 60% while improving school safety and student attendance. Over the last five years, the Partnership schools ranked first in academic improvement among school systems with more than 10,000 students.


KQED’S CALIFORNIA REPORT PROFILE ON CA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS, SEEKING REELECTION

KQED’s Scott Shafer has an interesting profile piece on California Attorney General Kamala Harris, including her battle against California’s truancy crisis and her efforts to be “smart on crime” rather than tough (or soft) on crime. Here’s how it opens:

California’s attorney general is often known as the state’s “top cop.” And to be sure, Kamala Harris has done her share of “law and order” press conferences announcing drug busts and gang takedowns.

But, as she heads into Tuesday’s election, Harris has clearly emphasized different priorities than her predecessors.

One of Harris’ new TV ads makes clear how different she is from previous attorneys general. The ad features a smiling Harris sitting around a classroom table with young schoolkids.

“If you’re chronically truant from elementary school, you are four times more likely to drop out and become a perpetrator or a victim of crime,” Harris says in the commercial. “That’s why we’re taking on the truancy crisis in the California Department of Justice.”

The ad ends with a smiling Harris high-fiving all the children. It is, Harris acknowledges, a distinctly different emphasis from the typical “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to law enforcement.

“I think we have accepted a false choice, which suggests that one can either be soft on crime or tough on crime, instead of asking, ‘Are we smart on crime?’” Harris said this week. She compares law enforcement with public health — favoring prevention over treatment.

“If the sniffles (come) on, then it’s early intervention,” she says. “But if we’re dealing with it in the emergency room or the prison system, it’s much too late and it’s far too expensive.”

Harris has made reducing truancy a cornerstone of her job. Yet an A.G. has little direct impact over that. And Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed two anti-truancy bills she was pushing.

But Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero, who heads the state association of DA’s, appreciates Harris using the bully pulpit on issues like truancy.

“Truancy is a big issue,” Otero said. “If the attorney general comes down and starts talking about something like that, then you know I’m all for it.”


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATES SHEILA KUEHL AND BOBBY SHRIVER DEBATE ON WHICH WAY, LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY

If you’re looking for a way to decide between Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver, the the two candidates looking to replace LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for the 3rd District, take a listen to KCRW’s radio debate, moderated by Warren Olney.

Here are some clips from near the end of the program in which Kuehl and Shriver discussed the proposed $2 billion jail plan, mental health diversion, jail abuse, and the impending federal consent decree to address issues with mental health care within county jails.

Olney: The current board has voted to spend $2 billion on a new jail with a wing for the mentally ill, at the same time as an effort to reduce the number of inmates, partly through the diversion of people who are mentally ill. Would you, if you became a supervisor, continue the process of building that $2 billion new jail?

Shriver: No. I’ve said widely and everywhere that I would not. I think mentally ill folks should be treated in community settings. We’ve got a lot of research showing that it’s very, very bad to jail them—these are the non-violent mentally ill people.

Olney: But the jail is for other people as well. Is there a need for a $2 billion jail?

Shriver: No. There’s a need for a new jail, for bad people. There is not a need for a new jail to incarcerate mentally ill or substance abusing people. They should be treated in the community. But that’s the current plan—I think it’s important for your listeners to know—the current plan, brought forward by Mr. Fujioka and others, is to build a $2 billion jail and keep mentally ill people in that jail. I am completely against that. I am for community mental health care.

Kuehl: I agree. I’m against it as well. The supervisors did not vote uniformly on this jail, and I’m hoping there will be some way to open that up again, should I be elected. And I know Bobby agrees about trying to open it up. The difference, I think, between what they adopted and what would be right, is the ability to send more people into community treatment, not only for mental illness, but also substance abuse.

[SNIP]

Olney: The federal Justice Department is seeking consent decree to get in control of the county jails, which it describes as “dimly lit, vermin-infested, unsanitary, cramped, and crowded.” And that, they say, is one reason for the suicides of so many inmates, especially those who are mentally ill. Abuse by sheriff’s deputies appears to be part of the problem, but you don’t control them. The Dept. of Mental Health has a major presence in the jails. Does it need new leadership?

Shriver: It does. It reported to Mr. Fujioka, by the way. The consent decree will come, and I will not oppose it. I think that management in the jails is just been a disaster. Police officers have been indicted. As sheriff-candidate Jim McDonnell said the other day, they’re going to do hard time. So, when you’ve got police officers being indicted by the federal government, who are going to go to jail, you’ve got a situation that needs real addressing.

Olney: What responsibility is that of the board…?

Shriver: If I were on the board, I would be gnashing my teeth…. I would be examining the budget in a very aggressive way….The sheriff is independently elected. You can’t tell the sheriff how to police things. What you can do, is run the budget. That’s the supervisor’s job—to supervise the budget. And if you run somebody’s budget, you can have a lot of influence over them, and that just wasn’t done here. The CEO didn’t do it, the board didn’t do it, and this situation is out of control, and needs to be fixed.

Olney: And Sheila Kuehl, what about the consent decree? That’s liable to cost the county a lot of money.

Kuehl: It’s going to cost the county a lot of money. The supervisors actually have a great deal more they can do in addition to the budget, because their hands are going to be tied a little bit by the consent decree costing so much more. And that’s really about what needs to be done in the jail itself….it’s not just budget. It’s a question of, can there be a citizen’s oversight commission? It’s a question of whether the inspector general can have subpoena power…


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA’S NEW COMMERCIAL

Sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka has released a new TV ad with a focus on public safety.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, Paul Tanaka | 8 Comments »

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