The Crime Report – Fear and Loathing in the LAPD (September 23, 2015)

“The transformation of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) over the past two decades from a once-feared “occupation” force into a community-conscious law enforcement agency is one of the country’s most riveting stories.

Award-winning author Joe Domanick’s critically acclaimed new book, Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, raises the question of whether the reforms begun by Chief Bill Bratton, and continued by his successor Charlie Beck, have changed the behavior of rank-and-file cops—and whether LA’s experience offers lessons for other police forces in today’s troubled law enforcement landscape…”


Sal Rodriguez — “How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms.” CounterPunch, 03 Sept. 2015.


“Contrary to the state’s official narrative, it was prisoner activism, along with a class-action lawsuit, that set in motion the sweeping changes to the state’s solitary confinement policies that were announced this week.

Years of hunger strikes and litigation culminated on Tuesday with the announcement that California prison officials had reached a settlement with attorneys representing prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement.

“Today is a historic day,” declared Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, chief counsel the plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown, a federal class-action lawsuit seeking to end the prolonged isolation of California prisoners.

Under the terms of the agreement, California will review and release to the general population all individuals in the state’s Security Housing Units (SHUs), which essentially serve as supermax units, who haven’t committed behavior-based violations. The agreement is expected to affect up to 2,000 prisoners.

The plaintiffs in the Ashker case are incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, held for ten or more years in the SHU. At the time the lawsuit was filed in 2012, over 500 people in the Pelican Bay SHU had been there for at least a decade, including some who had been there over twenty years.

The Pelican Bay SHU, built in 1988 as the state’s most secure supermax facility, holds over 1,000 people, most of them in solitary confinement. The few who do have a cellmate are crammed together into cells designed for one. In the small, windowless cells of the SHU, prisoners stay in their cells for 22 and a half hours a day, with limited access to programming or stimuli of any kind.

Historically, California used the SHU to house not only individuals who broke prison rules, but also prison gang affiliates, who were identified on often tenuous grounds, such as possession of Black Nationalist literature or artwork deemed proof of involvement in black, white or Hispanic prison gangs. Worse, SHU sentences were indeterminate rather than finite, and the only way to get out was summed up by the saying, “Parole, snitch, or die.”

The ease of placement and retention in the SHU prompted the construction of additional SHUs at other prisons across the state. There are now three SHUs in addition to the one at Pelican Bay, at California State Prison in Sacramento, California State Prison, Corcoran and California Correctional Institution.

The prolonged terms in the SHU and difficulty of being released to the general population prompted the plaintiffs in the Ashker case to lead three statewide hunger strikes. The first began in July 2011, the second in September 2011 and the third in July 2013. The hunger strikes prompted multiple state legislative hearings and spurred a grassroots movement around reforming California’s use of solitary confinement.

In light of the lawsuit’s settlement, an important question remains: How influential were the three hunger strikes held by California prisoners in spurring the sweeping changes to solitary confinement policies that were announced Tuesday?

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has repeatedly stated that they were already planning to reform long-term solitary confinement before the hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013. But internal documents obtained by Solitary Watch dispute that narrative, showing the hunger strikes did in fact directly spark the first movements toward reform.

In a Tuesday morning conference call announcing the settlement of Ashker v. Brown, CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard told reporters that the settlement was only made possible by the department’s proactive efforts to reform segregation policies. Beard explained that the department began looking into reforms of solitary confinement in 2007 and later worked to create a Step Down Program to help transition inmates out of the SHU and back into the general population. Without that program, Beard said, the settlement would not have been resolved.

CDCR spokesperson Jeffrey Callison later clarified Beard’s remarks as saying that “the effect of the hunger strikes and the Ashker lawsuit may well have influenced some of the details of today’s settlement, but that the general direction had already started.”

It is understandable that corrections officials want to avoid giving too much credit to the hunger strike leaders, who were also the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as doing so might empower future actions against perceived ills.

In downplaying the power of the prisoner protests, the CDCR has proclaimed that they were already working to reform solitary confinement before the July 2011 hunger strike, which was subsequently followed by another in September-October of that year and a third, massive strike in the summer of 2013.

In a press release put out by the department in August 2013, at the conclusion of the last hunger strike, CDCR issued a public response to the demands of hunger strikers. “In May 2011, prior to two hunger strikes that year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) began revising its gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) confinement policies and procedures,” the statement read.

In October 2013, CDCR released a fact sheet providing background information on the hunger strikes which explained that the July 2011 hunger strike ended “after Pelican Bay strike leaders better understood the…plans already in progress to review and change policies regarding SHU confinement and gang management.”

Most recently, this narrative surfaced in response to a July 1 piece on Solitary Watch, when CDCR sent an email requesting a correction. They said that the Warden’s Advisory Group which proposed reforms to the SHU and prison gang management, was formed two months before the July 2011 hunger strike, not afterwards, as we reported.

The truth, however, is that the first hunger strike directly served as a catalyst for change, and CDCRs own documents verify that.

In a special review dated October 17, 2011, the Office of the Inspector General informed State Sen. Darrell Steinberg of its findings reviewing CDCR’s response to the July hunger strike. “As a result of the July 2011 hunger strike, the department formed a Warden’s Advisory Group (WAG) to review the current gang management program and to develop recommendations for improvement,” the OIG reported. An internal CDCR memo further clarifies that the WAG was formed in October 2011.

In other words, the WAG wasn’t formed before the July 2011 hunger strike, but “as a result” of it.

In September 2011, the hunger strike leaders issued a statement clarifying why the July hunger strike ended, and why they were set to resume strike activity. According to the strike leaders, CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Scott Kernan repeatedly promised the department intended to address their demands. While there was “vague” talk of a step-down program, nothing concrete was presented, prompting an additional hunger strike.

As it turned out, the objectives of the WAG closely mirrored the demands of the hunger strikers: “On October 11 and 12, 2011, the group met to begin development of an improved, meaningful gang management strategy that is consistent with national standards, including: a review of validation and debriefing policies; SHU inmate programming; criteria for SHU placement, retention and release; and the improvement of inmates’ due process protections in relation to gang validation and SHU placement.”

Presented with this evidence, CDCR responded by email to Solitary Watch a brief statement reading, “The OIG’s characterization is accurate.

As explained in a previous post, in 2007 CDCR did commission a report by staff from California State University, Sacramento to review segregation policies in other states and jurisdictions. But the report went unused until the formation of the WAG. The WAG ended up bringing the “vague” talk of a step-down program into reality, and led to the ongoing process of case-by-case reviews of all individuals in the SHU to determine the appropriateness of their isolation.

The stance by CDCR that the hunger strikes did not directly influence the department’s actions doesn’t surprise Taeva Shefler of California Prison Focus, a group working to end long-term isolation in California prisons.

“For them to acknowledge in any form that they did something because interracial, interfaith people from the deepest depths called for changes and 30,000 people responded…that shows there’s still power from within and any admission would be a sign of weakness,” said Shefler.

“On the outside, in tandem with what seems to be a developing movement against mass incarceration, we see a greater focus on torture,” Shefler continued. “You see a lot of groups getting increasingly involved. You see media being created by independent groups. You see legislators taking interest.”

While it may be true that, in the years before the hunger strikes, CDCR did invest some resources in considering SHU alternatives, it is also true that CDCR did not actually do anything with this information until after the hunger strikes began. What this means for dynamics between prison officials and prisoners is an interesting question, but it remains the case that the hunger strikes are what prompted reforms, not the unforced will of CDCR.”

Sal Rodriguez is a contributing writer at Solitary Watch. He writes frequently on criminal justice reform and can be reached

California’s New Website Shows Numbers of People Killed by Police, and Their Race. By Matt Novak, GIZMODO. September 2, 2015.

“The California Department of Justice [has] launched a new website that publishes data about police interactions with the public, including the number of people who die at the hands of police.

Called Open Justice, the initiative is being billed as the first of its kind to provide detailed data to the public on a variety of crime statistics, including the number of officers killed and assaulted while on duty. The California DOJ says that the effort is a step towards more transparency amidst America’s ongoing debate about citizens dying both in police custody and by cops on the street.

Open Justice has two components: the first being the more public-facing website called Dashboard which includes graphs and more easily digestible stats. The second is the Open Data Portal which includes the raw data on criminal justice in California.”

San Jose jail death: Sheriff condemns 3 correctional officers booked on murder in fatal beating
By Robert Salonga, Tracey Kaplan and Julia Prodis Sulek
Mercury News
POSTED: 09/03/2015

“…The three guards at Santa Clara County Main Jail were only supposed to be conducting a routine search of Michael Tyree’s cell, looking for extra clothing or toiletries that inmates often try to hoard. Instead, the correctional officers did something “violent and cowardly,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said Thursday, that left the 31-year-old mentally ill man lying naked on the floor, covered in lacerations and bruises and bleeding to death internally. During a news conference Thursday, flanked by 18 uniformed members of her command staff, Smith announced the arrest of the three correctional officers on suspicion of murder, just a week after Tyree’s severely beaten body was found in jail wing 6B.

“The disappointment and disgust I feel cannot be overstated,” she said. “His life had value.”

The murder allegations against correctional officers 28-year-old Jereh Lubrin, and 27-year-olds Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, unprecedented in the 165-year history of the Sheriff’s Office, have put the jail it runs under a harsh spotlight and drawn attention to the difficult plight and placement of the mentally ill.

Smith said she spoke privately with Tyree’s family, just hours after the arrests.

“I want to express my profound sorrow over the loss of Mr. Tyree,” Smith said, accusing her officers of losing their “moral compass.”

“This violent and cowardly act that took Mr. Tyree’s life is not indicative of the values we expect and honor with the men and women of this department.

When he died, Tyree was being held on the sixth floor of the Main Jail on West Hedding Street for a probation violation stemming from a minor drug-related arrest from a year ago. He agreed to enter a residential treatment program for substance abuse and was waiting for a slot to open up so he could be transferred to a facility.

“Our client was slated to be released to a mental health bed but no bed was available, thus the reason he was still in jail,” Santa Clara County public defender Molly O’Neal said Thursday. “This tragedy underscores the need for a greater number of mental health beds so that clients with acute mental health needs do not sit in custodial facilities which are not therapeutic when they have been ordered released.”

The sheriff announced that the FBI is looking into Tyree’s death at her request and that she has given the agency full access and welcomes their assessment. However, it appears based on interviews that the FBI was first called by the mother of an inmate, who was housed in a cell near Tyree and witnessed the guards entering his cell and then heard him screaming for help.

In a highly unusual sign of cooperation, the sheriff yielded the podium in the assembly room of her own agency to Paula Canny, the attorney representing Tyree’s family, who may well sue the county. Canny noted the tragic irony of what had been a consensus decision among law enforcement, social workers and Tyree’s own representative to keep him in custody until he could be moved to a mental facility.

“Everyone believed he was safer in a jail than to be released on the streets,” she said.

“The family and friends of Michael Tyree are heartbroken by the cause of Michael’s death. They are grateful for the efforts of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and her command staff to swiftly bring to justice the rogue correctional officers who, so sadly, betrayed their oath to protect and serve,” Canny said.

Under state law, the District Attorney’s Office has until Tuesday to file charges against the three officers.

Smith said that the night of Aug. 26, Lubrin and Farris were conducting a routine clothing search of inmates’ cells, and were joined by Rodriguez. During the search, inmates were locked in their cells and the three officers were the only jail staff in the wing.

Tyree was in a single-person cell when he was searched, Smith said. After about 20 minutes, the three officers left the wing, and no one else entered.

An hour later, into the early morning of Aug. 27, Lubrin re-entered the wing to conduct a routine welfare check and soon after issued a “man down” call on his radio after reportedly discovering the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Tyree on his cell floor naked, covered in feces and vomit, and unresponsive.

Smith said Rodriguez helped Lubrin pull Tyree out of the cell and perform CPR. Medical personnel soon followed, but they pronounced him dead about 12:35 a.m.

That was the entirety of the official narrative, and there is no known video of the interaction inside the cell. But several inmates who were also housed in the 6th floor wing reported seeing the three correctional officers go into his cell and then hearing him scream, “don’t,” “please, stop,” “help,” and “I’m sorry,” before falling silent after the officers left, according to a relative of one of the inmates.

It was only after Tyree’s body was discovered that the officers reported they used force to restrain Tyree because he refused to take his medication, according to a source familiar with the investigation. That was a breach of protocol, which requires that officers must immediately report any use of force and request medical care for the inmate.

At the Thursday news conference, county medical examiner Dr. Joseph O’Hara said Tyree suffered multiple blunt force injuries, including severe cuts to his liver and spleen.

“In short, he bled to death internally,” O’Hara said, ruling the death a homicide.

Smith made no mention of the correctional officers’ purported claim that they were trying to make Tyree take his medication. Even taken at face value, that would have also been a violation of protocol. Officers can physically compel an inmate to take his medication, but such interventions are expected to proceed in stages, and require a doctor’s approval, with a nurse administering the medication while officers hold the inmate down.

O’Neal, the public defender, criticized the officers’ conduct, noting the relatively short time they had been on the job.

“Having three very young, inexperienced C.O.’s dealing with clients like these is ill-advised,” she said. “Ideally, you’d have young C.O.’. s work with a senior C.O. and all of them would have training in dealing with mentally ill inmates.”

Canny dismissed the idea that more experience or better guard training could have prevented Tyree’s death.

“How much training does it take not to beat someone to death whether he was being given medication or not?” Canny asked. A source said Lubrin had at least two force complaints filed against him, one of them made recently.

Tyree’s death has elicited outcry from community groups, evoking parallels to the April in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore that sparked widespread civil unrest and charges against six police officers tasked with transporting Gray.

Raj Jayadev of the social-justice collective Silicon Valley De-Bug said a broad investigation of the jails and the officers working there is needed.

“Logic would dictate that there very well could be other incidents,” he said, “and it would be negligent on behalf of the county to not do a full, comprehensive investigation of our entire jail system.”


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