Civilian Oversight Commission
Gets to Work

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Civilian Oversight Commission. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

The Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department held its inaugural meeting, heralding a new era in the relationship between law enforcement and the people it is sworn to protect and serve.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion that created the  Commission, administered the oath of office to its members during a ceremony at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall.

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The Sheriff and Supervisor celebrate the Commission. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“(The Commission) will play an important role in promoting transparency, restoring public trust, validating reform efforts, and enhancing the effectiveness of the Sheriff’s Department,” he declared. “I believe these things are fundamentally important.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the Commission, composed of community and faith leaders, a retired Sheriff’s lieutenant, former prosecutors and public defenders, professors and executives from legal non-profit organizations, would bring “much needed and welcome outside expertise and points of view.”

“The Civilian Oversight Commission will allow the people of Los Angeles County to participate in the process as we seek resolution to some of the most challenging criminal justice issues of our time,” he said.

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Community engagement at the inaugural meeting of the Civilian Oversight Commission. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

The Commission will meet on the fourth Thursday of every month to provide robust opportunities for community engagement, ongoing analysis and oversight of Sheriff’s Department policies, practices and procedures. It will work in partnership with the public, the Board of Supervisors and Office of Inspector General, in addition to the Sheriff’s Department.

The Commission’s members, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Robert Bonner, lawyer and former U.S. Attorney and DEA Administrator, who will chair the Commission;
  • Patti Giggans, Executive Director of Peace Over Violence;
  • JP Harris, former Sheriff’s lieutenant;
  • Sean Kennedy, Executive Director of Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School and former federal public defender;
  • Heather Miller, Rabbi, Beth Chayim Chadashim;
  • Priscilla Ocen, Loyola Law School Associate Professor;
  • Lael Rubin, former Deputy District Attorney;
  • Xavier Thompson, President of Baptist Ministers’ Conference and Senior Pastor of the Southern Saint Paul Church, who will serve as the Commission’s vice chair; and
  • Hernán Vera, lawyer and former president and CEO of Public Counsel.
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Members of the Civilian Oversight Commission recite their oath. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

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Board of Supervisors Makes Deeper Commitment to Youth Diversion

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Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

In a move that could lead to a fundamental change in juvenile justice practices, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to look into dramatically expanding diversion programs for youth.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion, noted that shifting the juvenile justice system’s focus from punishment to mentoring, healing, restorative justice and similar techniques produces better outcomes for youth, while also saving taxpayer money. He noted the cost of keeping a teenager in a probation camp for year has risen to $247,000, and added that any involvement in the juvenile justice system increases a youth’s risk of dropping out of high school, becoming unemployed, and ending up homeless.

“This motion is centered on figuring out what works when it comes to serving and diverting youth, and then expanding and investing in those proven strategies,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion’s co-author, added, “All of our stakeholders recognize the need to devote resources to keeping kids out of jail and the importance of celebrating the potential of every child, devoid of any stigma that law enforcement contact may bring.”

Youth of color are disproportionately impacted at all stages of Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system, and represent 95 percent of youth in probation camps and juvenile halls.

At present, diversion programs are unevenly spread out, vary widely in approach, and have limited funding. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Hahn’s motion calls for crafting a comprehensive, coordinated and expanded system countywide that also addresses racial disparities in access to diversion opportunities. It drew wide support from both County leaders and community stakeholders, many of whom testified before the Board over the course of an hour and half in favor of the motion.

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Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald, Chief Deputy Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell, and Office of Diversion and Reentry Director Judge Peter Espinoza testify in favor of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“We’re in full support of the motion because it further gives us the opportunity to keep children out of the justice system or to minimize their involvement in it,” newly hired Chief Deputy Probation Officer Sheila Mitchell said. “Children that don’t pose a risk to public safety need not be in the juvenile justice system.”

“It is important to keep children out of the court system, out of custody, and out of the juvenile justice system entirely,” Acting Public Defender Kelly Emling said. “The stigma alone of being attached to a court case, or being attached to probation, is a very deep stigma for a child (but) outcomes have been shown to improve with any type of diversion effort.”

Cheryl Bonacci, program director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said the current punitive approach has not been effective. “I’ve sat with too many 12- and 13-year olds who don’t belong in juvenile hall, and who would’ve benefited a lot more from a restorative pathway than punishment without proper support and guidance,” she said. “I’ve seen too many teenagers who’ve been locked up over and over, and moved around the probation camp system without success, only to end up in adult court at the age of 16 on a case that has them set to be thrown away.”

Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, explained that many youths’ problematic behavior can often be traced to childhood trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse, witnessing family or community violence, emotional neglect, separation from parents and caregivers due to incarceration or deportation, and other factors. He added that when immature brains are traumatized, the ability to make rational decisions is impaired.

“We have criminalized too much of what ails young people across this country,” Dr. Ross said. “We must prioritize ways of helping to hold them accountable while keeping them out of the justice system.”

“There’s no question that young people need to be held responsible for their actions, but in a way that’s supportive,” Dr. Ross added. “Punishment and incarceration are not the only ways.”

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Advocates for youth and reforming the juvenile justice system testify before the Board of Supervisors. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

Turning Up the Heat on a Cold Case

weston-rewardHoping to bring justice to a family that has been waiting seven years, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the killers of Waymon Weston.

“His death can’t be seen as anything other than an absolute tragedy,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at a press conference to announce a renewal of a reward that he first offered in 2011.

weston-reward-2“He had his whole life in front of him and he and his family were essentially robbed of that,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It is our job to do something about it.”

Weston’s mother, Yolanda Williams, appealed to the public for help. “This is my eighth Christmas with my son being gone,” she said. “It’s really hurting me real bad to know that someone out here in the streets took my son away and they’re still walking around freely.”

On October 19, 2009, Weston was standing outside his house, talking on a phone with his girlfriend, when at least two men walked over, asked him if he had a gang affiliation, opened fire without provocation, and fled in a dark sedan.

Weston died at the scene on the 1100 block of West 90th Street in Athens-Westmont. He was 20.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department urged anyone with information about his murder to contact Homicide Detective Robert Gray at (323) 890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

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Yolanda Williams urges the public to come forward with information on her son’s 2009 murder

 

Good Samaritans Honored

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Shakinna Smith, Briana Bolden and Chantae Miller receive scrolls from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. (Photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, together with Sheriff Jim McDonnell, honored three women for coming to the aid of a deputy who suffered a heart attack while on duty in Compton.

Briana Bolden, Shakinna Smith and Chantae Miller rushed to help Sgt. Al Lopez, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), after he collapsed in his patrol car on October 24.

“During these tenuous times, where law enforcement and community relations are frayed, your example shows us all what it means to be a engaged member of the community, a caring neighbor and a selfless human being,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said while presenting each woman with a scroll lauding their heroism.

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Sheriff Jim McDonnell speaks as Brianna Bolden looks on. (Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors)

Sheriff McDonnell also presented scrolls to the women, expressing the gratitude of the LASD. “These three women took it upon themselves to do what they could to render aid and help try to save (Sgt. Lopez’) life,” he said. “We are very, very, thankful for that.”

Bolden graciously accepted the award on behalf of the group, and explained that when they tried to help Sgt. Lopez that day – which happened to be her 21st birthday – “We did what we had to do.”

Bolden had been driving with Smith and Miller near Willowbrook Avenue and Myrrh Street when she observed an LASD patrol car roll slowly through the intersection against a red light, then hit a fence before coming to a stop. Finding Sgt. Lopez unconscious behind the wheel, Miller ran a quarter of a mile to the nearby Compton Sheriff’s Station to alert his fellow deputies. Smith tried to open the patrol car to render aid, and Bolden flagged down a radio car to report the emergency.

Responding deputies administered first aid and rushed Sgt. Lopez to St. Francis Hospital, but he did not recover. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas offered condolences to his family.

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The Board of Supervisors and Sheriff with Shakinna Smith, Briana Bolden and Chantae Miller. (Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors)

 

Fighting Hate Crimes

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Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in Support of Board Chair Hilda Solis’ Motion Addressing Hate Crimes

“According to the Commission on Human Relations’ most recent hate crimes report, the number of hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County rose 24 percent from 2014 to 2015, breaking a seven-year general downward trend. The number of hate crimes statewide also increased – by 10 percent in 2015.

“The rise in hate crimes was across all the major categories — not just race, ethnicity, national origin, but also sexual orientation, religion and gender identity.

“Los Angeles experienced the highest rate of violence for homophobic crimes since 2003. African-Americans were grossly over-represented as victims, even in hate crimes that were not motivated by race. Disturbingly, many hate crimes in 2015 occurred in public places – on public transportation, on the sidewalk, and in plain view of others.

“We know that after triggering events, there is an increase in hate crimes and incidents. For example, anti-Muslim crimes increased after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Four such crimes were reported after the Paris attacks on Nov. 13. Nine followed the Dec. 2 mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

“The November 8th election is turning out to be another triggering event. This board has stood up to hate on several occasions – most recently the May 2016 motion supporting the ban on travel for county business to North Carolina until HB2 is lifted and the December 2015 motion on violence and acts of hate.

“We will continue to say ‘not on my watch’ when it comes to acts of hate.

“I support this motion, I thank the Chair for putting a spotlight on this issue and l look forward to hearing back from the departments.”