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PBS Documentary on Juvenile Life Without Parole…NY Times Supports Marijuana Legalization….Paul Tanaka’s Retirement Take-home Pay….and More

July 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PBS’ “POINT OF VIEW” LOOKS AT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR LIFE WITHOUT A CHANCE OF PAROLE

Next Monday, August 4, PBS will air “15 to Life,” the story of Kenneth Young, who received four consecutive life sentences for committing several armed robberies as a teenager. Kenneth thought he would never make it out of prison alive, until the US Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the mandatory sentencing of kids to life in prison without the possibility of parole, without a judge or jury having the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances, was a violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.


NY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD CALLS FOR END TO FEDERAL BAN ON MARIJUANA

On Sunday, the NY Times editorial board officially came out in support of repealing the federal marijuana ban, which is something of a big deal. The editorial was also the starting point for a six-part opinion series on legalizing marijuana. (In part one, NYT’s David Firestone argues in favor of the feds stepping back and letting states decide.)

Here’s a clip from the editorial board’s significant endorsement:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.


PAUL TANAKA’S 2013 FINAL PAY WAS NEARLY $600,000

Between seven months of salary pay and 339 days of unused paid leave accrued over his 31-year career, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka took home $591,000 as final pay in 2013. This number was only surpassed by one county employee, the chief neurosurgeon at the biggest county-run hospital.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has the story. Here’s a clip:

Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital.

A certified public accountant (whose license is inactive), Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said.

Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary.

Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time.

Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.

An employee with McDonnell’s standing would be eligible to cash out a maximum of 60 days vacation and holiday time upon retirement, Long Beach administrators said. Also, when he left the Los Angeles Police Department in 2010, after 28 years, McDonnell cashed out his unused sick time, vacation and overtime hours for $90,825, according to the City Controller’s office.

Some argue that such payouts unnecessarily strain local government finances.

“They earned the benefits, and they’re entitled to it, but there’s no reason the benefits should be inflated to the top rate,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They should be paid based on the value of the benefit they earned, at the time they earned it.”

While we’re on the subject of LASD retirement packages, a number of the department’s scandal-plagued supervisors have been able to retire ahead of being demoted or terminated.

This, for example, is what we wrote a year and a half ago about Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram’s sudden retirements—and their estimated yearly retirement pay.


BREAKING FREE OF THE “INCARCERATION ONLY” APPROACH

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, says our warped criminal justice system should be remodeled into a system that bosts public safety while turning lives around. In his essay (inspired by Shaka Senghor’s powerful TED talk, above), Silard says we must keep pushing for sentencing reform—reducing the number of low-level drug offenders and mentally ill in prison—and reinvest money saved through lowering incarceration rates back into programs that rehabilitate and help former offenders successfully return to their communities. Here’s how it opens:

I got a first-hand look at how our criminal justice system could be used to transform lives — not just punish — while serving as a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

In one case, an 18-year-old young woman was arrested for selling drugs on a San Francisco street corner. She normally would have ended up behind bars for a felony conviction that would have followed her for the rest of her life. Instead, she pled guilty, accepted responsibility and entered an innovative re-entry program for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. During the program, she was closely supervised and provided the resources and support she needed to turn her life around. Among the requirements: enrolling in school, performing community service and getting a full-time job. She thrived in the program. After graduating, she received a full scholarship to attend a university and finished her first semester with a 3.8 GPA.

The program, called Back on Track, was one of the first re-entry programs in a District Attorney’s Office. It would go on to become a national model, reducing re-offense rates from 53 percent to less than 10 percent while saving tax dollars — the program cost about $5,000 per person, compared to more than $50,000 to spend a year county jail. Perhaps even more importantly, it helped save lives and strengthen families and communities. The power of second chances was never more evident than at the yearly Back on Track graduation ceremonies. There, smartly dressed mothers, fathers, siblings, children and community members celebrated the young graduates as they prepared to embark on much more hopeful futures.

For far too long, our criminal justice system has been stuck using one gear – the incarceration gear. We lock up too many people for far too long, for no good reason, and we’re doing so at great economic, human and moral cost. As a prosecutor, I saw the same offenders arrested, prosecuted and locked up, only to come back time and time again. I saw low-level, nonviolent offenders return from prison and jails more hardened and posing a greater threat to our communities than when they went in. And I saw African Americans and Latinos arrested and jailed at egregiously greater rates than whites.

Posted in LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 50 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Mystery Message in the Sky Over LASD Headquarters

July 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Around 2 PM Wednesday, just at the time when the Sheriff Department’s executive planning committee was scheduled to meet,
A mystery banner was flown behind a small plane repeatedly over Los Angeles sheriffs department headquarters in Monterey Park.

The banner read: EPC: LEADERS DON’T FEED DEPS TO FEDERAL WOLVES

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Executive Planning Committee, or EPC, is exactly that, the inner circle of command staffers who meet on a regular basis with the LASD’s top brass—the sheriff and assistant sheriff—to talk about the running of the department.

Shortly after the banner appeared a crowd of department members and staffers spewed from the building to gaze skyward and snap cell phone photos.

Rumors circulated quickly about who could have hired the banner-flying airplane, which was in the air a bit over an hour.

Some said it was the LA County deputies’ union, ALADS, which was tired of paying the growing legal bills for deputies who were indicted. (It should likely be mentioned here that, the union has declined to pay any part at all of James Sexton’s legal representation. But that’s another subject altogether. In any case, the illogical rumor circulated.)

Others said it was an ominous warning sent by persons unknown urging department members to return to the code of silence and to cease and desist talking to the FBI “wolves” about any kind of wrongdoing committed by those in the LASD.

Still others said the plane was hired by a group of Tanaka supporters, hoping to protect their man from legal action against him by warning people not to testify or cooperate with the feds against him in any way. (Although how this airborne message would be an effective means of delivering such a warning is unclear.)

Our department sources, however, tell us that these rumors are all complete nonsense, that the banner’s appearance was paid for by an unnamed group of deputies who reportedly work within the LA County Jail system. Their point, as we understand it, was caused by anger that those indicted—and in the case of six of the defendants, convicted—-on the obstruction of justice matter were taking the hit for those higher who gave the crucial orders, all of whom still seem to manage to be in possession of a get out of jail card.

Or something like that.

That’s all we know at the moment.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 47 Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

THE JURY SPEAKS: Six Guilty On All Counts – What the LASD Verdict Means

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE JURY SPEAKS

After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.

Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.

All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.


“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”

According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.

“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”

Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”

Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE

At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.


GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.

As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.

Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.

Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”

The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?

Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?

Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.

It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.

Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.


AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:

Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7

Rina Palta for KPCC

Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang for the LA Times

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 103 Comments »

SWAT Raid Study, Restraining and Isolating Students as Punishment, Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against LASD, and New Gay Marriage States

June 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

POLICE MILITARIZATION AND THE WAR ON DRUGS

The ACLU released a report this week detailing the extreme militarization of police forces in the US. According to the report—which compiled data on 800 SWAT raids by 20 local, state and federal agencies between 2011-2012—62% of raids were conducted in search of drugs. Only 7% of SWAT deployments were for hostage, barricade, or shooter situations (the original function of SWAT teams when they began at the LAPD).

Nearly 80% of deployments were to serve a search warrant, predominantly for drugs, something the ACLU says can and should almost always be done by regular officers—not a paramilitary team.

And in at least 36% (but as high as 65%) of drug search raids, no contraband was found.

SWAT raids also disproportionately affect minorities. Of the raids executed to serve a search warrant, 42% targeted African Americans, and 12% targeted Latinos.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s website:

There are an estimated 45,000 SWAT raids every year. That means this sort of violent, paramilitary raid is happening in about 124 homes every day – or more likely every night – not in an overseas combat zone, but here in American neighborhoods. The police, who are supposed to serve and protect communities, are instead waging war on the people who live in them.

Our new report, War at Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, takes a hard look at 800 of these raids – or at least what state and local law enforcement agencies are willing to tell us about them. We found that almost 80% of SWAT raids are to search homes, usually for drugs, and disproportionately, in communities of color. During these drug searches, at least 10 officers often piled into armored personnel carriers. They forced their way into people’s homes using military equipment like battering rams 60 percent of the time. And they were 14 times more likely to deploy flashbang grenades than during SWAT raids for other purposes.

Public support for the failed War on Drugs is at its lowest ever, and yet police are still using hyper-aggressive tactics and heavy artillery to fight it. This paramilitary approach to everyday policing brutalizes bystanders and ravages homes. We reviewed one case in which a young mother was shot and killed with her infant son in her arms. During another raid, a grandfather of 12 was killed while watching baseball in his pajamas. And we talked with a mother whose toddler was covered in burns, shot through with a hole that exposed his ribs, and placed into a medically induced coma after a flashbang grenade exploded in his crib. None of these people was the suspect. In many cases like these, officers did not find the suspect or any contraband in the home.

Even if they had found contraband, the idea of cops-cum-warriors would still be deeply troubling. Police can – and do – conduct searches and take suspects into custody without incident, without breaking into a home in the middle of the night, and without discharging their weapons. The fact is, very few policing situations actually require a full SWAT deployment or a tank. And simply having drugs in one’s home should not be a high-risk factor used to justify a paramilitary raid.

This militarization has occurred without oversight to speak of, and with minimal data-collection.

Here’s a clip from the report’s recommendations:

…State legislatures and municipalities should impose meaningful restraints on the use of SWAT. SWAT deployments should be limited to the kinds of scenarios for which these aggressive measures were originally intended – barricade, hostage, and active shooter situations. Rather than allowing for a SWAT deployment in any case that is deemed (for whatever reason the officers determine) to be “high risk,” the better practice would be for law enforcement agencies to have in place clear standards limiting SWAT deployments to scenarios that are truly “high risk.”

SWAT teams should never be deployed based solely on probable cause to believe drugs are present, even if they have a warrant to search a home. In addition, SWAT teams should not equate the suspected presence of drugs with a threat of violence. SWAT deployment for warrant service is appropriate only if the police can demonstrate, before deployment, that ordinary law enforcement officers cannot safely execute a warrant without facing an imminent threat of serious bodily harm. In making these determinations it is important to take into consideration the fact that use of a SWAT team can escalate rather than ameliorate potential violence; law enforcement should take appropriate precautions to avoid the use of SWAT whenever possible. In addition, all SWAT deployments, regardless of the underlying purpose, should be proportional—not all situations call for a SWAT deployment consisting of 20 heavily armed officers in an APC, and partial deployments should be encouraged when appropriate. Local police departments should develop their own internal policies calling for restraint and should avoid all training programs that encourage a “warrior” mindset.

Finally, the public has a right to know how the police are spending its tax dollars. The militarization of American policing has occurred with almost no oversight, and greater documentation, transparency, and accountability are urgently needed.

A requirement that SWAT officers wear body cameras would create a public record of SWAT deployments and serve as a check against unnecessarily aggressive tactics.

In his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, Radley Balko
outlines the history of the over-militarization civilian police forces
and how disastrously unsafe it can be for citizens and law enforcement, particularly in smaller municipalities.


RAMPANT (AND LEGAL) PHYSICAL RESTRAINING AND ISOLATION OF KIDS WHO ACT OUT IN SCHOOL

ProPublica’s Heather Vogell turned an investigative spotlight on all-to-common and punitive use of physical restraint and isolation on kids in schools across the nation.

In 2012, schools recorded 163,000 instances of physical restraint. Straps or handcuffs were used 7,600 of those times. And kids were placed in isolation rooms or “scream rooms” around 104,000 times.

At least 20 kids died between 1989 and 2009 allegedly due to being restrained or locked in isolation at school.

(Vogell’s story is co-published with NPR.) Here’s a clip:

Restraining and secluding students for any reason remains perfectly legal under federal law. And despite a near-consensus that the tactics should be used rarely, new data suggests some schools still routinely rely on them to control children.

The practices—which have included pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year, a ProPublica analysis of new federal data shows. Three-quarters of the students restrained had physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities.

Children have gotten head injuries, bloody noses, broken bones and worse while being restrained or tied down—in one Iowa case, to a lunch table. A 13-year-old Georgia boy hanged himself after school officials gave him a rope to keep up his pants before shutting him alone in a room.

At least 20 children nationwide have reportedly died while being restrained or isolated over the course of two decades, the Government Accountability Office found in 2009.

“It’s hard to believe this kind of treatment is going on in America,” says parent and advocate Phyllis Musumeci. A decade ago, her autistic son was restrained 89 times over 14 months at his school in Florida. “It’s a disgrace.”

The federal data shows schools recorded 163,000 instances in which students were restrained in just one school year. In most cases, staff members physically held them down. But in 7,600 reports, students were put in “mechanical” restraints such as straps or handcuffs. (Arrests were not included in the data.) Schools said they placed children in what are sometimes called “scream rooms” roughly 104,000 times.

Those figures almost certainly understate what’s really happening. Advocates and government officials say underreporting is rampant. Fewer than one-third of the nation’s school districts reported using restraints or seclusions even once during the school year.

Schools that used restraints or seclusions at all did so an average of 18 times in the 2012 school year, the data shows. But hundreds of schools used them far more often—reporting dozens, and even hundreds, of instances.

[SNIP]

More than four years ago, federal lawmakers began a campaign to restrict restraints and seclusions in public schools, except during emergencies. Despite a thick stack of alarming reports, the legislation has gone nowhere.

Opponents of the legislation say policy decisions about the practices are best left to state and local leaders. The federal government’s role, they say, should be limited to simply making sure districts have enough money to train staff to prevent and handle bad behavior.

But states and districts have shown they won’t create enough safeguards on their own, say advocates and other supporters of the legislation. Despite years of public concern about the practices, schools in most states can still restrain kids even when imminent danger doesn’t exist.

This February, timed with the re-introduction of legislation to limit the practices, Senate staffers released a report concluding that dangerous use of restraints and seclusion is “widespread” in public schools. Neither practice, the report said, benefits students therapeutically or academically.

“In fact, use of either seclusion or restraints in non-emergency situations poses significant physical and psychological danger to students,” it warned.

ProPublica also has a podcast on this issue that’s worth listening to.


FAMILY OF UNARMED MAN KILLED BY LASD DEPUTY TO SETTLE WITH COUNTY FOR $1.5M

A settlement of $1.5 million will be awarded to the family of 22-year-old Arturo Cabrales, who was fatally shot while unarmed by LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Paez.

Paez allegedly forcibly entered Cabrales’ property, after telling Cabrales that he didn’t need a warrant. Cabrales turned and ran, at which point the deputy allegedly shot him six times in the back and the side.

The suit accuses Paez and his partner Julio Martinez of trying to cover up the incident by planting a firearm in a neighbor’s yard and filing false police reports claiming Cabrales pointed a gun at the officers before throwing it over a fence.

Paez and Martinez were both fired in February 2013 after being charged with planting guns at a marijuana dispensary in order to falsely arrest two men. The ex-deputies face more than seven years each behind bars, if convicted.

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has the story. Here’s a clip:

The suit alleged that Paez and other deputies involved in the shooting were associated with the Regulators, a deputy clique operating out of the Century station. The suit blamed former Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for giving tacit support to such cliques. Tanaka is a candidate for sheriff in the November election.

Paez is no longer with the department. In April, he and another deputy, Julio Martinez, were charged with conspiracy and perjury for allegedly planting guns at a medical marijuana dispensary to justify an arrest. Those charges are still pending. Paez and Martinez were both terminated in February 2013.

Ellis contends the two cases add up to a pattern of false reports and planted evidence. In the shooting case, the lawsuit alleged that Cabrales was standing inside the gate of his home, near the Jordan Downs housing project, when he saw four deputies harassing his uncle.

Paez, one of the deputies, began talking to Cabrales and tried to enter his property. Cabrales objected that the deputies did not have a warrant, at which point Paez answered in “foul, offensive and intimidating language,” saying that he did not need a warrant. Paez forcibly entered the gate, and Cabrales turned and ran. Paez then opened fire, according to the suit. Ellis said Cabrales was hit twice in the size and four times in the back.

Read on.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: GAY MARRIAGE ARRIVES IN INDIANA AND UTAH

On Wednesday, just a day short of the anniversary of the Defense of Marriage Act’s abolishment, federal courts struck down gay marriage bans in both Indiana and Utah. The states have joined the list of (now) 21 states that boast marriage equality. (Congratulations, Utahans and Hoosiers!)

Reuters has more on the decisions.

Posted in ACLU, LGBT, Police, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 20 Comments »

Impact of Criminal Justice System on Latinos….New Anti-Sex Trafficking Foster Program….Juvie Mandatory Minimum Bill Amended….and McDonnell and Tanaka Will Face Off in November

June 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LATINOS DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND CRIME

Latinos are heavily over-represented in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime, according to a new report from Californians for Safety and Justice and director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC, Roberto Suro. (The report compiles existing data and research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and elsewhere.)

The report found that Latinos are murdered at a rate more than twice that of whites in California, and are significantly more likely to be killed by a stranger. Latinos are 44% more likely to be locked up than whites for the same crimes. And Latinos awaiting trial in California also have a higher chance of being denied bail than whites, and average bail amounts are about $25,000 higher than both whites and African Americans. Latinos are also given mandatory minimum sentences more than any other race.

Here are some of the other statistics:

Latinos are more likely to be shot and burglarized than whites.

Hate crimes against Latinos rise as immigration increases.

California Latinos experienced more repeat crimes than survivors overall.

Half of Latino survivors are unaware of recovery services.

And here are some of the notable recommendations from the report:

• Arrest rates vs. convictions: California provides data on arrest rates by type of crime and racial or ethnic group, but data are lacking on conviction rates by types of crime and different populations. There is a need for comparative data on the first time someone is arrested or convicted.

• Community reintegration: Although research exists on how effectively Latino youth reintegrate into the community, there is a lack of documentation on how well Latino adults are reentering society.

• Racial Impact Assessments: Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon have laws requiring racial impact
statements before changing or adding criminal laws, as a way to guard against unintended consequences for people of a certain race or ethnicity. A racial impact statement is a nonpartisan analysis that examines the impact
of justice policy changes on racial and ethnic populations. For example, when new legislation is proposed in California, such an analysis could be conducted by an existing state agency (e.g., the State Interagency Team Workgroup to Eliminate Disparities & Disproportionality) and reported back to legislative committees on the potential adverse effects of the proposed bill.

• Racial profiling: Some law enforcement agencies have strong definitions of what constitutes racial profiling— and training on how to avoid the practice. Such standards should be in place in jurisdictions across the state and nation. Additional best practices in policing Latino communities across the country include Spanish-speaking liaisons (if officers do not speak Spanish), specific education and training of officers, Spanish hotlines and increased officer participation in community events.

• Risk assessments: When someone is arrested, determining their individual risk as they await trial (to reoffend, to show up to court, etc.) is key to managing jail space and minimizing undue disruption to families. Consistent use of proven risk-assessment tools can help local jurisdictions effectively manage their jail populations while also preventing unnecessary or biased decisions from disproportionately affecting Latinos

(The report also notes that while it focuses on Latinos’ contact with the justice system, African Americans do face greater disparities overall.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the report and its significance. Here are some clips:

Lead researcher Roberto Suro, director of USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, compiled public data available on Latinos’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

The data, he said, shows that “for Latinos, the criminal justice system has this process of cumulative disadvantage, where the disadvantages start at even the first encounters with the system.”

[SNIP]

But, until recently at least, criminal justice reform hasn’t prominently featured in Latino electoral politics, Suro said.

“In Southern California now, you have Latinos in positions of power or in positions of advocacy in a way that wasn’t the case twenty or thirty years ago when big decisions were made about a strategy of mass incarceration,” Suro said.


NEW TRAINING PROGRAM TO HELP LA COUNTY FOSTER PARENTS FIGHT CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a training program to teach foster parents and group home workers how to identify kids who may be victims of sex-trafficking and how to intervene on their behalf.

Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe recommended the program, and have both been working to put a focus on child sex-trafficking in LA County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The supervisors voted Tuesday to ask county staff to work with local colleges and universities to develop a training program that will become mandatory for foster care providers.

“The county should move as quickly as possible to help safeguard the county’s most vulnerable population from being sexually exploited,” Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe wrote in a memo to their colleagues.

County officials said state funds may be available to carry out the training. Staff will report back in 60 days on the costs to implement the training countywide.

AND A REMINDER OF HOW MANY KIDS ARE TRAFFICKED…

Time Magazine’s Nolan Feeny has the story on the FBI’s weeklong, nationwide child sex-trafficking bust that resulted in the rescue of 168 exploited children and the arrest of 281 pimps.


UPDATE ON BILL THAT WOULD INTRODUCE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES TO CALIFORNIA JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last week, California bill that would impose the first mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would have required two-year minimum out-of-home sentence on kids convicted of sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious or disabled.

On Tuesday, the committee passed the bill after the two-year mandatory minimum sentence portion was removed. Now, kids convicted of assaulting someone who is incapacitated will receive mandatory treatment and counseling. The bill still takes away the anonymity of kids charged with this crime, and includes a sentence enhancement of one year for kids who share texts or pictures of the crime.

SF Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has the story. Here’s a clip:

The bill was amended to take out language that would have required a two-year minimum sentence at juvenile hall or another out-of-home detention facility for teens convicted of sexual assault against a victim who is incapacitated. The bill now would require mandatory rehabilitative treatment and counseling, which could be accomplished while living at home.

SB838 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, maintained provisions that would open juvenile court to the public in cases where teens are prosecuted under Audrie’s Law and creates a one-year sentence enhancement for those convicted of sexual assaults who share pictures or texts of the crime to harass or humiliate the victim.

[SNIP]

Last week, the Assembly’s public safety committee delayed a vote on the bill after it was evident lawmakers would not support the mandatory minimum sentence provision.

Opponents of the bill argued mandatory minimum sentences create a “one-size fits all” model that emulates broken adult court sentencing laws. Mandatory minimum sentences have never been introduced in the state’s juvenile court system and many states and the federal government have begun to roll back the use of mandatory minimums in the adult court system.

Beall said he would have preferred to keep the mandatory minimum requirements, but he faced a deadline this week to pass the bill. The bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously.


NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION RUNOFF IN STORE FOR JIM MCDONNELL AND PAUL TANAKA IN BID FOR SHERIFF

The mail-in ballots have been counted, and appear to confirm a November runoff between between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the office LA County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will make the results official on July 1.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell — the overwhelming victor in the June 3 primary election — finished just 0.65 percent short of the 50 percent plus 1 mark needed to skip the Nov. 3 election and be sworn in as head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka claimed 15.09 percent of votes to beat out third-place finisher Bob Olmsted and stay in the hunt. The department’s former second-in-command built the race’s largest campaign coffer, collecting more than $900,000 in contributions. McDonnell raised more than $760,000.

With thousands of ballots uncounted on election night, the ultimate outcome was not certain until the final count was released Wednesday.



Graphs: Traci Sclesinger, “Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Pretrial Criminal Processing,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial: Closing Arguments, Part 2

June 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SIX SEPARATE DECISIONS

Monday was the second and final day of closing arguments in the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

On Friday, the prosecution delivered its initial closing followed by hour-long presentations by each the attorneys for three of the six defendants, Lt. Greg Thompson, Lt. Steve Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo.

Monday, attorneys for Deputy Gerard Smith and Sgts. Maricela Long and Scott Craig presented closings for their clients, followed by a rebuttal by the prosecution.

(Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors get the last word.)

A trial of this kind is a challenging one for the jury because, although it is a single proceeding in which all six defendants are charged with the offenses of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the prosecution’s allegations of how that obstruction took place are substantially different for each of the six. This means, of course, that the jury must make an individual decision for each defendant about guilt or innocence. In other words, all could be found guilty, or all acquitted. Or the jury could come up with mixed results, finding some guilty, others innocent.


NOT HIS CALL

The first up among Monday’s lawyers was Bill Genego, the attorney for Gerard Smith.

In August 2011, said Genego, Deputy Smith’s commanding officer directed that Anthony Brown be isolated, that no one have access to him without the okay of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

(The suggestion that Tanaka loomed over much of the action as an unseen shot caller was something that Genego made reference to several times.)

“Gerard Smith did his job. He did not obstruct justice. He did not commit a crime.”

Interestingly, both Genego and Deputy Mickey Manzo’s attorney, Matt Lombard, have not spoken much throughout this trial, and their clients names have been largely absent from testimony, at least when compared to mentions of the other four. It is a strategy that the defense clearly hopes will pay off for the two deputies who, although they have now been placed in the narrative during the government’s closing, still could seem to the jury to be peripheral, because of their absence from much of the action described during these last three weeks of trial.

In his closing on Friday, Lombard labeled Manzo as “the fall guy,” a low-ranking department member taking orders from his superiors — orders that came from the very top of the sheriff’s department.

Monday, when Bill Genego’s turn came, he painted a similar picture of his client for the jury, contending that, while Smith was a trusted deputy, he was nothing close to a decision maker, that over and over again he had to ask his boss, Greg Thompson, about anything outside the scope of his orders.

It was not Smith’s decision to move federal informant Anthony Brown nor to change his name, Genego said. When Brown’s inmate file—his “jacket”—was moved and given to Lt. Leavins (which the prosecution has suggested was done to make it un-findable by the feds), “that was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

At the August 20, 2011, meeting called by the sheriff that set the hiding of Brown in motion, Smith was present but mostly as a bystander, said Genego. “The sheriff was upset,” he said, “and Paul Tanaka said this is one of the most important investigations in the history of the department…” But Smith was not involved in all the communications that followed.

When, three days later—after the FBI managed to get in to see Brown and was tossed out—”Greg Thompson and Paul Tanaka decided to move him. That was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

to be on Brown at all times, he organized the detail.

“Could he choose not to follow that order?” asked Genego.

“Not his call.” It was a mantra Genego repeated throughout the closing.

“He wasn’t on the task force. He’s not on any of those emails. He had no corrupt purpose. Gerard Smith did his job,” attorney Genego concluded. “He did not commit a crime. He is not guilty.”


WHERE IS BACA? WHERE IS TANAKA?

Michael Stone, Scott Craig’s bow-tie sporting attorney, and Maricela Long’s attorney, Angel Navarro, continued the defense theme of officers following what they believed were lawful orders, stressing that Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka were briefed all along the way.

“On August 18, a lawful criminal investigation was ordered,” said Stone, referring the initial meeting in which Baca set in motion the hiding of Brown, ostensibly for his protection, and the probe into the undercover operation led by FBI special agent Leah Marx.

“Conducting a lawful investigation is not a conspiracy.”

After Scott Craig and Maricela Long were assigned to that criminal investigation, “…did you ever hear any evidence that Baca put the brakes on? ” Stone asked. “No. Because it didn’t happen.”

The two sergeants were “worker bees” doing what they were asked to do, he said.

Stone had a somewhat harder time defending Craig against the government’s allegations that he had deliberately tried to persuade deputies Gilbert Michel and William David Courson not to talk to the FBI. The jury had, by this time, had clips of Craig’s and Leavins’ interviews with both men played for them repeatedly. Craig’s interactions with Michel, were particularly hard to dismiss as nothing more than interview techniques designed to get Michel to feel comfortable, which is how the defense portrayed Craig’s side of the conversation.

Both Craig and Long alone are also charged with lying to federal agents, an allegation that stems from the twosome’s visit to Marx’s home where Craig told the FBI agent that he was “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you,” a threat that Long later repeated in a phone conversation with Marx’s FBI boss.

Craig and Long’s attorneys claimed that the arrest threats were were genuine, even though the sergeants would later learn that they had no jurisdiction to make such an arrest (and their grand jury testimonies on the matter were somewhat contradictory).

After all, said Stone, “Baca believed that the FBI agents violated the law.”

It was time for Sheriff Baca to put on his big boy pants and take control of the situation,” said Stone, as he came to the end of his closing.

And then he repeated the question that continues to hang like smoke over this trial.

“Where is Baca? Where is [ICIB Capt. Tom] Carey? Where is Tanaka?”


FOREST GUMP

When prosecutor Brandon Fox began the government’s rebuttal, he talked at first, not about the allegations at hand, but about the “widespread abuse of inmates,” about “jail visitors being assaulted” when they came to see family members, about “false cases” filed against inmates to cover up assaults by deputies, and other allegations by such groups as the ACLU “going back years.”

“Deputies knew they could beat inmates with impunity” said Fox, because LASD executives “didn’t know or didn’t care about the abuse—either possibility equally damning.”

And so the federal government investigated.

“Mr. McDermott said that there was no evidence that this investigation needed to be done,” Fox continued, referring to Lt. Greg Thompson’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, whose closing was Friday.

And once the LASD learned that the feds were probing, “their purpose was to get the federal government out, to get the grand jury out.”

But “that’s not their choice,” said Fox.

And if the LASD felt “disrespected” because they weren’t told all about the government’s undercover investigation…

“That’s not their choice.”

Agent Leah Marx’s investigation was an operation that was approved all the way up to Washington D.C., Fox told the jury.

“It was her work that helped open up Pandora’s Box.”

This was no “turf war” as some of the defense attorneys had argued, he said. It was “a one-sided war on the FBI, on the federal grand jury, and the US Attorney’s Office.”

Fox recapped the government’s reasons for the charges against each one of the six but he was the most scathing when it came to Lt. Steve Leavins.

On Friday, Leavins’ attorney, Peter Johnson told the jury that his client represented “leadership, integrity, excellence and service.”

Fox now listed the words for jury members:

LEADERSHIP
INTEGRITY
EXCELLENCE
SERVICE.

Then he went about dismissing Leavins’ claim to the qualities, erasing all but the first letters of each word as he did so, leaving only….

L
I
E
S

It was a parlor trick, but an effective one when followed up by an account of how Leavins gave misleading testimony about the supposed approval of his actions by deputy county counsel Paul Yoshinaga, and the OIR’s Mike Gennaco, claims that fell apart under further examination, and rebuttal testimony from Gennaco. After that, Fox reminded the jurors how, in another instance, Leavins tried to change his testimony altogether to claim that a significant meeting in late August 2011 between Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and others—in which Birotte had told the sheriff in so many words to “But out” of the federal investigation—-had occurred instead, a month later, at the end of September,* when it would have better suited Leavins case, nevermind that Leavins appeared not to have been present at the second meeting at all.

Leavins was “the Forrest Gump” of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, quipped Fox, claiming to be everywhere, whether he was or not.

As for the fact that, as defense attorney Stone had pointed out, the primary order-giving higher-ups of the LASD remained conspicuously unindicted, Fox said, “to the extent they’re ever charged, that’s for another jury to consider on another day.”

The case went to this jury of six men and six women on Tuesday.


*We originally wrote that the second meeting Leavins said he’d attended was in early October, which was not correct. He testified that it was at the end of September.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 38 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

June 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,
” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE

The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.


WE’LL HAVE MORE ON OTHER TOPICS TOMORROW….BUT IN THE MEANTIME, THERE IS THIS FROM THE LAT’S JIM NEWTON:

PROTECTING KIDS HAS TO COME BEFORE WORRIES ABOUT COUNTY LIABILITY. (IT’S SAD THAT SUCH A THING HAS TO BE STATED, BUT REGRETTABLY IT DOES.)

Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 17 Comments »

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