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Special Committee to Recommend Subpoena Power & More to Give Teeth to LA Sheriff’s Dept. Civilian Oversight Commission

May 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



SUBPOENA POWER, YES, LASD MEMBERS ON THE COMMISSION, NO

After nearly five months of work and nine town hall meetings held around Los Angeles County, a specially-appointed working group has is nearly finished hammering out a comprehensive strategy for civilian oversight of the nation’s largest—-and, in recent years, most troubled—-sheriff’s department.

The seven-member working group charged with coming up with a plan for the formation and function of the civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department voted Friday on some of the last and most crucial recommendations for the oversight body that is soon due to be formed by the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Most notably, the working group voted 4-3 to recommend that the commission be granted subpoena power in order to get the documents and information it needs from the department to function adequately. To make subpoena power possible, however, would require the Board of Supervisors to vote to put a measure on the ballot.

The other vote that caused arguments among the working group members—who reportedly have been operating on most issues with great cooperation—was the 4-3 decision to prohibit any members of the LASD, currently working or retired, to serve on the oversight commission for the sheriff’s department.

The three who voted against the recommendation to go for subpoena power and also the motion to nix anyone from the LASD, were the present department undersheriff, Neal Tyler, Les Robbins, a past president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), and former FBI agent, Brent Braun.

According to group member, Hernán Vera, subpoena power and excluding members of the sheriff’s department emerged as important issues to the community at the string of well-attended town hall meetings that the working group sponsored.

“We really got an earful from people at the town halls telling us that the commission would not have the public trust if department members were on it,” said Vera, the former longtime president of the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, now an attorney in private practice. “After all, it’s a civilian oversight commission, and having sheriff’s department members would harm public confidence and present a conflict of interest.”

As for subpoena power, Vera explained that, “after looking at other jurisdictions like San Diego we found out what had been most successful,” and subpoena power was one of the ingredients, he said.

Advocate groups and inspector general, Max Huntsman, who is one of the working group members, have all expressed strong support for subpoena power. Huntsman, in particular has said he’s already been having trouble getting documents.

Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, agreed on both issues. “It’s a no brainer that they need subpoena power,” he said. “Any argument against it is laughable. I don’t know a single expert on the issue of civilian review commissions who would say otherwise.”

Eliasberg also agreed that having LASD members on the commission would present “an obvious conflict of interest. I’m afraid they’ve dug their own grave on both these issues. The department has proven over and over that it can’t police itself.”


WHY THE COMMISSION….?

The creation of a civilian oversight commission for the LASD was approved by the newly configured LA County Board of Supervisors last December, with the idea that the oversight body would “help restore public trust and promote transparency” in the sheriff’s department, which had been lacerated by scandal in the last few years.

In order to facilitate the commission’s creation, the board nominated the seven-member working group to study how best to proceed, then to make recommendations about the commission’s mission, authority, size and structure.

Although the department is widely considered to be moving forward with substantive reform under Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the wisdom of creating a permanent external oversight body was once again emphasized by the recent indictments of the department’s once powerful second in command and sheriff’s candidate, Paul Tanaka, along with the former head of ICIB, the LASD’s internal criminal investigations bureau. Both men are alleged by the feds to have turned away from investigating reports of egregious wrongdoing by department members, along with allegedly actively obstructing an FBI investigation into brutality in the jails.


…AND HOW IT WILL BE CHOSEN

The groups other big vote on Friday had to do with how many members ought to be on the commission, and how those commission members should be chosen—a decision that, unlike the previous two, was reportedly made with little controversy: After considering six different possible configurations, the group went with nine commission members, the first five of whom would be chosen by the board of supervisors, with each picking one out of the five. The remaining four would be selected by a majority vote of the full board from a field of vetted applicants, meaning that community members could apply.

The working group is expected to deliver its final report to the supervisors in June.

“All seven of us have worked together very productively and professionally,” said Vera. “And the final product will incorporate the community’s comments,” along with “real life language to flesh out our recommendations.

“It’s something I’ve very proud of.”

Posted in Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 2 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX FINALLY GOES UP THE LADDER: The Day That Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Were Federally Indicted – UPDATED

May 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

- David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge, LA offices of the FBI



THE ARRAIGNMENT

On Thursday, May 14, the day it actually happened, the mood among even the observers was of an almost theatrical unreality.

For weeks sources had dropped hints that former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, with him, former captain William “Tom” Carey, were going to be federally indicted—and soon. But who knew? Eight months ago several sources close to the U.S. Attorney’s office said that a Tanaka indictment simply was not going to happen.

Carey, maybe, but not the former undersheriff.. The man was, after all, a runner-up in the November 2014 race for sheriff and he was still the 3-term elected mayor of the city of Gardena.

Yet seven lower-ranking members of the department had been charged, convicted and handed prison terms for engaging in actions that, according to all credible accounts, Tanaka, and to a much lesser degree, Carey, had ordered. So were the feds really going to let the underlings take the whole big, bad hit, while the shot-calling guys at the top walked away unscathed?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is: no.

Both Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey learned for certain late Wednesday afternoon through their attorneys that a grand jury had indeed handed down indictments . In reality, however, both the indictees and the lawyers had all but known for weeks. And then there were subtle hints that went out to both the Carey and Tanaka camps that planning a vacation in May would likely be….unwise.

Paul Tanaka is, of course, the former number two of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and, at one time, the man who most insiders believed was all but guaranteed the top job after then-sheriff Lee Baca stepped down. But that was before a string of departmental scandals became public, before Baca “finessed” (his word) his once blindly trusted second in command into early retirement, before Tanaka hit back with verbal stiletto strikes delivered via the press, and before Baca resigned under still ambiguous circumstances on January 7, 2014.

Prior all that, Tanaka was Baca’s anointed successor, the crown prince, the guy whom nearly everyone in and around the department—everyone save Baca himself—believed truly ran the show. It was Tanaka who reportedly micro-managed nearly all important promotions, civil service rules be damned. He was also the person who could and would tank your career if you crossed him. He had to put his “people.” in place, Tanaka once confided in former LASD Commander Robert Olmsted. Because, he said, after Baca, he was going to be sheriff for the next 16 years.

Instead, at around 6:30 am on Thursday, Tanaka self-surrendered to federal agents at the FBI head quarters building in Westwood. Tom Carey too self-surrendered at around the same hour. Later that day, both men were led, in handcuffs, to holding cells inside the Edward Roybal federal building. Then at approximately 3:05 p.m. Tanaka was arraigned on 5 counts of obstruction of justice. Carey was arraigned right afterward. Tanaka wore a baby blue shirt, no tie, and sport coat, for the arraignment. Carey wore a bright white, long-sleeved Oxford shirt that looked very J. Crew-ish, no jacket. Neither were handcuffed anymore.

Both men were granted bail. Tanaka’s bail was set at $50,000, to be secured by a condo in Diamond Bar that is in his wife’s name. Carey’s bail was $100,000 but it was unsecured by either property or other assets. During the bond discussion, Judge Victor B. Kenton, the jurist presiding over the arraignment, wondered to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox why Tanaka needed to be a bond at all—before acceding to the government’s wishes with some reluctance. (Since we’ve seen people charged with a couple of hand-to-hand sales of dime bags of meth slammed with a $100,000 in bail, no kidding, we wondered about his honor’s thinking, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

As is customary, both men were required to surrender their passports and firearms. (Carey didn’t have a passport, and Tanaka’s was out of date.) There was a small kerfuffle over the fact that Tanaka’s wife is an LASD detective thus legitimately needs her gun. Carey’s son, who lives in his father’s household, is also a sworn member of the sheriff’s department, so needs his gun as well. With a bit of back and forth, everyone settled on the notion of acquiring new lock boxes forthwith for the weapons of the spouses and offspring.

A joint trial for the two “co-conspirators” was set for July 7 in the courtroom of Judge S.James Otero—although absolutely no one involved thinks the trial will commence anywhere near that soon. Moreover, sources rate the chances at approximately 80 percent that Judge Percy Anderson will elect to snatch this juicy trial for himself, thereby moving Otero out. Anderson, those following closely will remember, presided over both of the trials of James Sexton (whom it took two trials to convict), and the trial the other six former department members who, along with Sexton, were convicted of obstruction of justice 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.

UPDATE: Judge Percy Anderson did indeed manage to snatch the Tanaka-Carey case. But there are still no new trial dates.

Both men were released on bond at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. They left the building with their lawyers, looking grim and rattled. Tanaka also had his wife beside him, a pretty woman who, on this particular afternoon, looked like she’d been through one hell of a 24 hours.


THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The news that two of the guys near the top of the LASD’s hierarchy were facing federal indictments was officially announced at Thursday’s 9 a.m. press conference where Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura laid out the charges:

Tanaka was charged with obstructing a federal investigation for allegedly “directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil right violations by sheriff’s deputies” in two of the county’s jail facilities, Men’s Central Jail, and Twin Towers, she said.

Tom Carey, the former head of ICIB-–the LASD’s unit that oversees criminal investigations within the department—was indicted along with Tanaka for “participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation.” In addition, Carey was charged with two counts of “making false declarations” (basically perjury) for things he said in last year’s trials of former deputy James Sexton and six former members of the department, including two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two more deputies.

As she spoke to the hyped-up crowd of reporters, Yonekura used unusually descriptive language to describe the context in which the obstruction of charges against the two men were filed, particularly concerning Tanaka, whom she said (allegedly) didn’t merely obstruct justice regarding the Anthony Brown matter, but “had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department” as a whole.

David Bowdich, the new the Assistant Director in Charge for the LA offices of the FBI, went further when he took the podium after Yonakura. “The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

As mentioned above, the charges against Carey and Tanaka are similar to the obstruction of justice charges levied against the seven former department members convicted last summer and fall (and whose cases are being heard on appeal by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this coming fall). Except, of course, Tanaka’s and Carey’s roles were supervisory in nature. In other words, they were the ones who allegedly gave the orders that led to the obstruction charges—and the convictions—of seven department members, not the ones who mostly carried out what higher-ups told them to do.


THE INDICTMENT

The joint indictment of Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey is a 25-page document that makes for interesting reading.

The first nine pages cover what are called Introductory Allegations. These are the sort of back story that puts the the rest of the legal tale—namely the various “counts” that comprise the charges—into a larger narrative context. On page three, for example, the document states that:

“Defendants TANAKA and CAREY were well aware of allegations of rampant abuse of inmates at MCJ and TTCF [Twin Towers] and of allegations of insufficient internal investigations and enforcement of deputy misconduct by the LASD.”

It then goes on for the next two or three pages to give a list of examples of how Tanaka and, in some instances, Carey, ignored reports of deputy abuse of inmates when they were brought to them by such varied sources as a jail chaplain, an ACLU monitor, an LASD deputy, a lieutenant, a commander, and more.

The indictment also describes how Tanaka, in particular, allegedly seemed to foster misbehavior—as with his infamous “work the gray” speeches, or his reported 2007 threat to “put a case” on captains “who were putting the most cases on deputies,” and so on.

The remaining pages outline the “counts,” which basically have to do with ordering and/or overseeing the alleged hiding of inmate/informant Anthony Brown from the feds, surveilling and threatening FBI special agent Leah Marx, and attempting to threaten and cajole potential deputy witnesses from talking to the FBI—plus other related actions.

A careful reading of 25-pages is also intriguing in that it suggests, among other things, a list of possible witnesses that the feds could call at trial. (It most cases, the individuals mentioned in the indictment are not named, but comparing the anecdotal material in the document with, say, accounts of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence hearings, and WLA’s own coverage of the LASD over the last few years, may offer relevant clues.)

In response to the indictment, both in a written statement and in conversation outside the courtroom, Tanaka’s two attorneys said that the charges against their client were “baseless,” and they were confident he would be exonerated of any wrongdoing.

“We’re not going to roll over, we’re going to fight it.”

If convicted of all the charges, Tanaka could get fifteen years in a federal prison. Carey, with his extra two counts, could do 25. Yet, judging by the sentences handed down to the other seven department members last year, where the longest term ordered was 41 months, should Tanaka and Carey be found guilty, their sentences too would likely be far shorter than the maximum.


AND WHAT ABOUT BACA?

At Thursday’s press conference, a good number of the questions asked by reporters weren’t about the recently indicted Tanaka and Carey, but about about the man who most conspicuously was not indicted—namely former sheriff Lee Baca. He was, after all, present at many of the meetings laid out in the charges. And in several instances he was reportedly the guy who called the meetings.

Acting US Attorney Yonekura declined to say whether or not Baca was or was not the focus of any ongoing investigation. She mostly answered the blizzard of questions by stating that “Mr. Baca is not charged at this time,” and “We will continue to look at any evidence that comes to us.” As to how they could indict the number two guy, without indicting the number one guy, she said, “We’ve charged the cases we feel we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile, back among the non-indicted working department members, once the news broke about Tanaka and Carey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell sent out this message to the troops:

Today, the Department of Justice announced the indictments of former Sheriff’s employees Paul Tanaka and William Carey. The last several years have been hard on everyone. The indictments are part of a process that will run its course. During this time it is important for us to focus on our mission and look toward the future in demonstrating what the LASD is all about.

The US Attorney’s announcement is by no means a reflection on the tremendous work that you consistently do and the commitment that each of you provide to make a difference in the communities that we serve. The Sheriff’s Department is a national leader in law enforcement, an agency second to none.

I look forward to the future and continuing to work with you in moving the Department forward, not only in leadership, but in the eyes of the public.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 54 Comments »

Indictments of Former Top LASD Officials Paul Tanaka & Tom Carey to be Announced Thursday Morning

May 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The indictment of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,
and the man that many considered the shadow sheriff during the last years of Lee Baca’s time in office, will be announced at a 9 a.m. press conference Thursday at the federal building, according to sources. Former LASD Captain Tom Carey will also reportedly be indicted and is expected to self-surrender Thursday morning.

Although the FBI has reportedly been investigating Tanaka on a number of fronts over the last couple of years, Thursday’s unsealed indictment is expected to pertain to an elaborate scheme of hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions—a scheme that has already resulted in convictions of seven former department members for charges of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka and Carey testified at both of the trials that resulted in the seven previous obstruction convictions (all of which are being appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with hearings to take place next fall). Although, on the stand, Tanaka in particular disavowed specific knowledge and oversight of the hiding of Brown. Yet the testimony of others made it hard to see him as the distant supervisor who never asked his underlings about details, whom he attempted to portray himself to be. Carey too, as the head of ICIB, the department’s unit for investigating internal criminal matters, appeared to be assigning many of the components of what came to be unofficially called Operation Pandora’s Box.

Both men admitted on the stand at the earlier trials that they knew they were the “objects” of a federal criminal investigation.

More after the press conference.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 105 Comments »

More Pandora’s Box Indictments? …”Electronic Backpacks” for Dual-Status Foster Kids…LA Mayor and LAPD Chief Missed Important Opportunity…Two Mississippi Officers Murdered…and More

May 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

RECORDINGS AND DOCUMENTS SUGGEST RESPONSIBILITY FOR OBSTRUCTING PANDORA’S BOX MAY LIE WITH LASD HIGHER-UPS, INDICTMENTS LOOMING

Last year, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were convicted of obstruction of justice for hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers. (Backstory here, here, and here.)

New court documents and FBI recordings obtained by ABC7′s Lisa Bartley once again suggest that fault may lie higher up in the LASD chain of command.

In the recordings, an indignant then-Sheriff Lee Baca can be heard loudly accusing the FBI of breaking the law by sending a phone into the jail. Upset that he was kept out of the loop while the feds investigated reports of abuse and corruption in Men’s Central Jail, Baca launched his own investigation into the matter.

Sources have told WLA that more indictments could come as soon as this month or next.

Here are some clips from Bartley’s story (but go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: The FBI doesn’t have a right to break the law!

At the heart of this case is Baca’s anger: How could the feds infiltrate HIS jail and go after HIS deputies, without telling Baca himself? Baca fervently believed the FBI had broken the law by setting up a sting that led a corrupt deputy to smuggle a cellphone into the jail and to inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka told FBI agents about the angry phone call he received from Baca.

UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA: I just remember him being mad, mad, mad! A lot of colorful language – just mad! And – you find out that F-ing phone, you get that phone you hold onto that phone. I don’t want it to leave our custody!

Baca convenes a high-level Saturday meeting. Despite FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez telling him that the phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI operation, Baca wants an investigation of his own. How did the phone get into jail? Who is responsible?

It’s NOT a crime, because it’s all part of a sanctioned, undercover operation by the FBI. Still, Baca issues the order: No one can get into see inmate Anthony Brown without permission from Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In the days and weeks to come, Anthony Brown is hidden from the FBI – his name is changed and computer records are falsified. The sheriff’s department puts Brown’s FBI handler Special Agent Leah Marx under surveillance and later threatens her with arrest.

Two sergeants harassed and threatened to arrest Special Agent Leah Marx, Brown’s federal handler, outside of her home (more about that here).

Baca told federal investigators that he was unaware that “we have an interest in arresting an FBI agent. That…strikes me as extreme.”

Yet, Captain Tom Carey testified that he, Baca, Lieutenant Steve Leavins and Paul Tanaka met prior to the incident, to discuss what to do about Special Agent Marx. According to Carey, Baca said “Just don’t put handcuffs on her.”


KEEPING IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS ON A “CLOUD” SYSTEM FOR KIDS INVOLVED IN BOTH JUVENILE JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE SYSTEMS

The Sierra Health Foundation, in collaboration with ZeroDivide, are working to create what they are calling “electronic backpacks” for California’s dual-status foster kids (kids who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems).

Dual-status (or “crossover”) kids often face trauma, neglect, and instability. And communication between agencies serving dual status kids, including school districts, can be patchy or nonexistent, making it hard for kids to access important services and enroll in school.

The “electronic backpacks” would allow kids to easily access their important documents (like birth certificates, proof of vaccination, and school records) from computers and mobile devices anywhere, by storing them on a “cloud” system.

Health Affairs’ McCrae A. Parker and Matt Cervantes have more on the effort, which is part of the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative. Here’s how it opens:

“And despite all best intentions, when youth leave the foster care system as adults, they are typically only given a sheaf of papers that detail their complicated histories. These records are easily lost and usually incomplete, which often creates burdens these young adults must carry for life.” –Wendy Lazarus, Founder and Co-President of the Children’s Partnership

Over the past year, ZeroDivide has collaborated with Sierra Health Foundation to serve as a thought partner in the integration of technology into the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative, which aims to create a major shift in California’s juvenile justice practice and policy at the county level. The initiative focuses on crossover youth—that is, young people with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma, and engagement in the child welfare system, who currently are involved with county juvenile justice systems.

As part of our exploration of promising practices in the use of technology in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, we discovered the “electronic backpacks.”

The central idea behind the electronic backpack is that a youth’s important life documents, medical records, and program reports “live” on an easily accessible, secure, “cloud” system. For crossover youth, the design, use, and adoption of the electronic backpack concept can potentially lead to better coordinated services and outcomes. Mobile technology provides a greater level of access to critical intervention and service records for youth, their families, and their friends or supportive adults.

Crossover youth are in particular need because of interaction with two systems (child welfare and juvenile justice), and the delay and withholding of services that they may experience without specific documents. For example, a youth who arrives at a new group home placement may have difficulty registering at his or her new school without vaccination records. With an electronic backpack, this issue can be eliminated.


STEVE LOPEZ: MAYOR AND LAPD CHIEF SHOULD HAVE ATTENDED TOWN HALL MEETING ABOUT BRENDON GLENN’S DEATH AT THE HANDS OF POLICE

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote that, by not attending a Venice town hall meeting to discuss the recent shooting death of an unarmed homeless man by a police officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti missed an important opportunity to show that Brendon Glenn’s death mattered. Here’s a clip:

When Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police last August in South Los Angeles, Beck and other top LAPD brass went into full damage control mode, meeting with a crowd of concerned citizens at Paradise Baptist Church.

Does Venice not matter as much as South L.A.?

Does Brendon Glenn not matter as much as Ezell Ford, both of them black, and both of them unarmed?

If City Hall wanted to send a message that these shootings matter, two people in particular should have gone to that meeting together Thursday night.

“Where is the mayor?” Mike Neely, a commissioner with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, asked from outside the standing-room-only Venice meeting. “Where is the chief of police?”

They were missing in action, that’s where they were.

The first matter the city needs to attend to is the police killing of an unarmed man. That in itself is worthy of the police chief’s and mayor’s attention…

But figuring out why Brendon Glenn was killed is only a small beginning. The next step is to address the underlying failures that foster these killings and so many other woes…

Being a cop isn’t easy, particularly when you’re asked to deal with the fallout from the city’s failure to help people off the streets and into services that can transform their lives, make neighborhoods safer and even deliver a savings to taxpayers.

A scuffle broke out near the Venice promenade, police were summoned, they wrestled with the suspect, and Brendon Glenn — said to have been intoxicated — ended up dead.

It happens too often.

Chronic homelessness is rampant in Venice. The first thing to consider, when there’s a call about a disturbance near the boardwalk, is that it might involve someone who is homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted. The situation might call for backup help, or one of the mental health/police units, or use of a disabling, less lethal weapon than a gun.

And yet, here we are once again, with police as the designated default agency when it comes to homelessness.


FATHERS OF TWO MISSISSIPPI POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY TALK ABOUT THEIR SONS

The nation got heartbreaking news on Saturday night when it learned that two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers, Liquori Tate, 25, and Benjamin J. Deen, 34, had been shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.

On Sunday morning, four suspects were arrested.

Benjamin Deen was a K-9 officer whose father, Dan Deen, told NY Daily News reporter Joel Landau, that his son, a former “officer of the year” in the department, chose his profession so he could follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was a very good cop. He loved his family, he loved his job,” he told The News. “He did his job to the best of his ability.”

Benjamin Deen was married and had two children, a 9-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, his father said. The family is devastated by what happened, he said.

Ronald Tate, father of Liquori Tate, who was not yet a year out of the police academy, talked with CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet about his son’s passion for policing and the way he treated those he was charged with protecting and serving.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul, and I knew he meant that,” Ronald Tate said.

That doesn’t mean Liquori Tate didn’t know he was putting his life in danger when he joined the force.

“He really knew the risk,” Ronald Tate said, “but I think my son just thought people…are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”


Late last week, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban grand juries from investigating officer-involved shootings and excessive use of force incidents.

Eliminating the grand jury option would give local district attorneys no choice but to handle such cases. And because DAs are elected officials, the bill supporters believe there would be a higher level of public accountability involved.

The bill, SB 227, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-LA, must next be approved by the state Assembly.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Protests sprouted up nationwide last fall after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict white police officers who had killed unarmed black men during confrontations. The system, in which a jury of citizens weighs the evidence to decide whether to bring charges, came under fire for its secrecy.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who introduced Senate Bill 227, argued that the lack of transparency and oversight in grand jury deliberations, which do not involve judges, defense attorneys or cross-examination of witnesses, did not serve the public.

“The use of the criminal grand jury has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise the nature of our justice system,” she said.

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 17 Comments »

DOJ, LASD Approve Antelope Valley Settlement…For-profit Prison Companies’ Political Influence…and How We Label Kids

April 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES OKAY DOJ AND SHERIFF’S DEPT. SETTLEMENT OVER DISCRIMINATION IN THE ANTELOPE VALLEY

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement that will bring much-needed reforms to the LA County Sheriff’s Department stations in Lancaster and Palmdale.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved the settlement in a closed-door meeting Tuesday. The Supes voted 4-1, with Mark Ridley-Thomas as the dissenting vote.

The settlement was announced nearly two years after the DOJ slapped the LASD with a 46-page “findings” letter detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) residents.

The DOJ investigation found that officers from the Antelope Valley stations were conducting racially biased searches and seizures, using excessive force against people already in handcuffs, and harassing and intimidating Section 8 housing voucher holders along with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

The DOJ is working out a separate agreement with the Housing Authority of LA County.

Tuesday’s settlement agreement also instructed the county to set aside $700,000 to compensate the Section 8 housing voucher holders whose rights had been violated—a far cry from the $12.5 million the Justice Department originally demanded of the county in 2013. The county is also ordered to pay an additional $25,000 penalty to the US.

An independent team will monitor the department’s progress as it puts the ordered reforms into action, against a four-year deadline.

Here are the issues to be be addressed, according to the DOJ:

Stops, searches and seizures: measures to improve collection and analysis of policing data to identify instances and patterns of unlawful police-civilian contact, such as stops without adequate legal justification;

Bias-free policing: improved training and supervisory review to prevent and identify biased or discriminatory conduct;

Use of force: measures to improve the quality of use-of-force investigations and develop a better means to detect and correct problematic force patterns and trends;

Policies and training: revised policies on use of force, preventing retaliation, supporting officers who report misconduct, and improving the field training program to ensure that officers develop the necessary technical and practical skills required to use force in a lawful and effective manner, with an emphasis on de-escalation and use of the minimal amount of force necessary;

Internal and civilian complaint investigations: including standards for conducting objective, thorough and timely investigations;

Supervision: including holding supervisors accountable for close and effective supervision; and providing guidance on effective accountability systems to improve public trust;

Housing: measures to ensure proper limits on deputy involvement in searches of Section 8 voucher holders’ homes for compliance with program rules; and

Community engagement: including measures to strengthen civilian involvement and feedback in setting policing priorities; public information programs to keep civilians informed of policing activities; requirements for community interaction at all levels of LASD; and establishing community advisory entities to ensure that meaningful feedback is obtained from the community.

The Sheriff’s Dept. has implemented around a third of the DOJ’s 150 requirements, thus far, but LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he “will not be satisfied, nor should others be satisfied, until we are in full compliance with the high bar that we have willingly taken on – and I welcome the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards.” Sheriff McDonnell said the LASD will look at the DOJ requirements as “opportunities” for the department to improve knowledge, training, and policies.


BY THE WAY: THERE ARE THREE MORE TOWN HALL MEETINGS (INCLUDING THURSDAY) TO DISCUSS THE LASD OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of civilian oversight for the sheriff’s department has been holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. There are still three more meetings in different LA County locations through which you can have a voice in the creation of the oversight panel. Here’s the info.


THE GROWTH OF PRIVATE PRISON COMPANIES THROUGH SPENDING $$ ON POLITICS

Private prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America purport to save states and the federal government money, but in doing so treat prisoners like commodities, even employing lock-up quotas and “low crime taxes.” (Read WLA’s previous posts about troubled private prisons—here, here, and here.)

In order to business from various states and the federal government, since 1989 the two companies have donated $10 million to candidates campaigns, and another $25 million lobbying. And the expenditures have paid off. In 2010, CCA and GEO Group made around $3 billion in profit. GEO Group’s 2010 profits, in particular, jumped 121% over their 2001 figures.

Presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio, appears to have close ties with GEO Group. When the now-senator served as Florida’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House awarded a $110 million contract for a new FL prison to the private company. GEO Group received the contract after Rubio hired a former GEO Group trustee as a financial advisor for his campaign. The senator has also received around $40,000 in campaign donations from the company throughout his career.

California has its share of private lock-ups run by the GEO Group, some federal, others local.

Michael Cohen shines a light on this issue for the Washington Post. Here’s a clip:

With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit. For instance, privatization created the atmosphere that made the “Kids For Cash” scandal possible, in which two Pennsylvania judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks from for-profit juvenile detention centers for sending more kids to the facilities and with unusually long sentences. The influence of private prisons creates a system that trades money for human freedom, often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: children, immigrants and the poor.

The biggest beneficiaries of private prisons’ political donations have been Republican politicians in Florida, Tennessee, and border states with high populations of undocumented immigrants. The Republic Party of Florida PAC has received nearly $2.5 million from GEO and CCA since 1989. In 2010, GEO and its affiliates pumped $33,500 into political action committees benefiting Florida Republicans, including the Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate PAC. Since 2009, GEO Group’s co-founder and chief executive, George Zoley, has personally donated $6,480 to Rubio.

A 2011 investigative report published by The Center for Media and Democracy detailed the connections between Rubio and GEO during his time in the Florida House. It notes that Rubio hired Donna Arduin, a former trustee for GEO’s Correctional Properties Trust, as an economic consultant. Arduin worked with Rubio’s then-budget chief, Ray Sansom, who pushed through a $110 million deal for a new GEO prison in the House Appropriations Bill. The report also detailed how legislation favorable to GEO Group has shadowed Arduin’s presence in government from California to Florida. In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott – who also used Arduin as a budget adviser – pushed (unsuccessfully) to privatize 27 prisons south of Orlando.


“DELINQUENTS,” AT-RISK YOUTH,” AND “DROPOUTS”

For those of us who are word-junkies, Anya Kamenetz has a fascinating story for NPR about the history of what we have called kids who have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are homeless, or who are not in school, or any combination of the three. From “juvenile delinquent,” to “superpredator,” to “at-risk youth,” Kamenetz breaks down what each label represents and suggests about kids they identify. Here’s how it opens:

Much of our recent reporting, especially from New Orleans, has focused on young people who are neither in school nor working. There are an estimated 5 1/2 million of them, ages 16 to 24, in the United States.

But what do we call them? The nomenclature has fluctuated widely over the decades. And each generation’s preferred term is packed with assumptions— economic, social, cultural, and educational — about the best way to frame the issue. Essentially, each name contains an argument about who’s at fault, and where to find solutions.

“I think the name matters,” says Andrew Mason, the executive director of Open Meadow, an alternative school in Portland, Ore. “If we’re using disparaging names, people are going to have a hard time thinking that you’re there to help kids.”

Mason has worked in alternative education for more than 23 years and has seen these terms evolve over time.

To delve deeper into just how much the taxonomy has changed, I used Google’s Ngram Viewer tool to track mentions of some of the most popular phrases in published books. I started at the year 1940. Back then, the prevailing term was:

Juvenile Delinquent

This is among the oldest terms used to describe this category of young people. It was originally identified with a reformist, progressive view that sought special treatment for them, outside of adult prisons. It lumped together youths who broke a law, “wayward” girls who got pregnant or young people who were simply homeless.

The New York House of Refuge, founded in 1825, has been called the first institution designated exclusively to serve such youth. An 1860 article in The New York Times described its mission as “the reformation of juvenile delinquents.”

This was the beginning of the “reform school,” aka “industrial school” movement. The primary response to young people in these situations was to institutionalize them, sometimes for years, with varying levels of access to food, shelter, work and education…

Posted in Civil Rights, Department of Justice, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, media, racial justice | No Comments »

Will Barry Bonds 9th Circuit Ruling Affect LASD “Pandora’s Box” Appeals?….(& Further Indictments?)

April 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



OBSTRUCTION NOT ALWAYS SO OBSTRUCTIVE AFTER ALL

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling en banc, overturned former San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds’ felony conviction for obstruction of justice, also forbidding the feds to retry Bonds on the same count.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th didn’t give Bonds a reversal, so his attorneys petitioned for an en banc rehearing—meaning they wanted the whole court. Bonds and his lawyers got it, and the new ruling—as we learned on Wednesday—went in a very different direction.

The court found, in a 10 to 1 decision, that Bonds’ meandering obfuscation in answer to the one of the prosecutors’ questions did not “materially” get in the way of the government’s investigation into the illegal distribution of steroids. In other words, the baseball star’s dodging of a question he didn’t want to answer wasn’t all that, you know, obstruct-y.

Moreover, Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote a concurring opinion, seemed to be chiding the prosecutors for stretching the definition of obstruction the point that, the judge suggested, practically anyone in the vicinity of a federal investigation could get charged.

For instance, here’s a clip from Kozinski’s opinion:

Because the [obstruction of justice] statute sweeps so broadly, due process calls for prudential limitations on the government’s power to prosecute under it. Such a limitation already exists in our case law interpreting section 1503: the requirement of materiality. Materiality screens out many of the statute’s troubling applications by limiting convictions to those situations where an act “has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body.” Put another way, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged conduct was capable of influencing a decisionmaking person or entity — for example, by causing it to cease its investigation, pursue different avenues of inquiry or reach a different outcome.

And there’s this:

We have no doubt that United States Attorneys and their Assistants would use the power to prosecute for such crimes judiciously, but that is not the point. Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy. It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass.


SO-O-O-OOO… DOES THE BONDS RULING IN ANY WAY AFFECT THE 7 PANDORA’S BOX OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE CASES THAT ARE GOING TO BE HEARD BY THE 9TH CIRCUIT IN THE FALL?

This is the question that we understand is being tossed around by some of the various defense attorneys representing each of the seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted of obstruction of justice around the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown.

On the surface we would imagine that the actions of the six former LASD folks convicted last summer, and those of former LA County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton convicted in the fall, are quite different from the on-the-stand phumphering of Barry Bonds. On the other hand, if the 9th is feeling less-than-friendly toward prosecutors’ use of obstruction as a charge in general, suggesting—as Kozinski seems to do in some of the verbiage above—that the feds are overreaching with their use of the statute, will their cranky view extend far enough to cause any of the seven convictions to be similarly overturned?

And if that is any kind of possibility, could it also cause the feds to hold their collective fire on any new indictments that we keep hearing rumored could be coming this spring?

(cough) Tom Carey and Paul Tanaka (cough, cough)

We don’t pretend to know the answers to any of these queries, but we thought you’d like to know that the questions are, in certain quarters, in the air.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 20 Comments »

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.

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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.

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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 »

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