Monday Morning Memo for August 14, 2017
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Suspect in Twin Peaks killing released from jail days earlier
One of two people accused of killing a 71-year-old film scout and photographer on San Francisco’s Twin Peaks last month had been arrested days earlier in the city for allegedly being a felon in possession of a gun, but was released from jail through a pretrial diversion program, records show. City officials are now questioning the release of Lamonte Mims, a 19-year-old former resident of Patterson (Stanislaus County), who was on probation for burglarizing cars on Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks killing raises questions about algorithm that helped free suspect
A computer program that assigns risk scores to San Francisco criminal defendants is itself under scrutiny after it helped free a 19-year-old man who, just days later, allegedly gunned down a 71-year-old stranger on Twin Peaks. But in the aftermath of the slaying of Edward French, a photographer and film scout who was killed in a robbery, both the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office are expressing caution – saying that while use of the tool may need to be studied and refined, one tragedy doesn’t necessarily render it broken.
Violent repeat offenders released to streets without posting bond in New Mexico
Recently-implemented bail reform policies in New Mexico have resulted in violent, repeat offenders returning to the streets to await trial without any requirement to post a bond. Local media describe some courtrooms as “revolving doors of criminals” where nearly every suspect arrested is being let go unless prosecutors make special arrangements before the pretrial release hearing.
Prop 47, Prop 57, parole, probation could be evaluated by county public safety committee
Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced she’s introducing a motion, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, at the August 15 board meeting, which will establish a Blue-Ribbon Commission on Public Safety to explore innovative solutions to criminal justice challenges resulting from statewide reforms, according to officials.
Proposition 57 is freeing violent felons from prison. Don’t make it worse
Re “Let nonviolent third-strikers seek parole” (Viewpoints, Aug. 1): Tania Vargas-Edmond and Richard Edmond Vargas raised dubious points in their op-ed, including claiming an inmate is serving a three-strikes life sentence for credit card fraud. In 2012, Proposition 36 allowed for the imposition of life sentences under three strikes only when the newest felony conviction was for a serious or violent offense.
Prosecutors want teen suspect in Merced homicide charged as an adult
Merced County prosecutors will ask a judge to consider allowing them to charge a 16-year-old homicide suspect as an adult, a new process established in the justice system after voters passed Proposition 57 last year. The teen is suspected of fatally shooting 34-year-old Jose Mireles of Merced on April 28 following an argument at Mireles’ home. Witnesses told police three people fled on foot after the shooting.
Landmark Prop. 47 saved millions. But is it just ‘a drop in the bucket’?
Nearly three years after voters passed a state law intended to save money by keeping low-level offenders out of jail, $103 million in savings has been accumulated and will be distributed to two dozen California cities and counties for related programs. But as local leaders prepare to spend their share of the money, some say Proposition 47 destroyed law and order. Others say in time, the law will help people.
Mendocino County district attorney releases list of inmates up for early release
The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office has released a list of eight inmates sentenced in Mendocino County who are up for early release under Proposition 57, which voters passed in November. Spearheaded by Gov. Jerry Brown, Prop. 57 claimed it would enhance public safety at the same time as moving up parole hearings for nonviolent offenders based on good behavior, after they have served a full sentence for their primary offense, but District Attorney David Eyster disagrees.
Man charged with murdering brother of L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in 1981
Authorities have arrested and charged a man accused of killing the brother of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas 36 years ago in South L.A., officials said. Michael Anthony Locklin, 61, was charged last week with the 1981 murder of Michael Thomas, according to a felony complaint filed in court. The complaint alleges Locklin killed Thomas during a robbery.
Suge Knight: Prosecutors accuse rap mogul, lawyer of witness bribery
Suge Knight and his attorney Matthew Fletcher are accused of attempting to orchestrate witness bribery ahead of the rap mogul’s murder trial, prosecutors revealed Wednesday. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office based the allegations on a series of prison phone calls between Knight and his lawyer.
Tears, pain fill courtroom as 72-year-old woman sent to prison for killing MMA fighter’s son in Hawthorne
A 72-year-old woman pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter Thursday and was sentenced to six years in state prison for driving through a crosswalk while drunk in Hawthorne last year and killing the 15-month-old son of MMA fighter Marcus Kowal as he was pushed in his stroller.
During an emotional hearing at the Airport courthouse, Donna Marie Higgins was handcuffed and taken away to begin serving her sentence immediately for the September 3, 2016, crash that killed Liam Kowal.
Jurors acquit two LAPD officers charged with conspiracy, deadlock on one charge for one officer
Two Los Angeles police officers were acquitted Monday of conspiring to obstruct justice after prosecutors accused them of failing to arrest a drunk driving suspect and writing false reports so that they could wrap up their shift and go home. After three days of deliberating, jurors also found Officer Irene Gomez not guilty of filing a false report and deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal on the same charge for Officer Rene Ponce, the defense attorneys said.
Tanaka contends questions about deputy sheriffs gang led to unfair trial
Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s attorney argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday that prosecutors’ questions about a deputy sheriffs gang was irrelevant, unfounded and prejudicial to his client. Tanaka is appealing his 2016 conviction for obstruction of justice and conspiracy stemming from his role in an attempt to block an FBI investigation into abuse in the jails.
Lancaster man convicted of murder for killing dog owner
A 29-year-old Lancaster resident who ran over a poodle then gunned down the dog’s owner, who had asked the assailant to cover the animal’s medical costs, is facing 50 years to life in prison when he is sentenced next month for first-degree murder. Demonte Antone Thomas was convicted of murder Thursday, and his sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 14 in Lancaster.
Volkswagen executive pleads guilty in U.S. emissions cheating case
Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit in connection with a massive diesel emissions scandal that has cost the German automaker as much as $25 billion. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt will face up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws. Schmidt will be sentenced on Dec. 6.
‘Grizzly,’ Mexican Mafia shot caller, gets 13 years: Ramona Gardens terrorized
The second-in-command of a Mexican Mafia-linked East Los Angeles street gang that federal authorities say terrorized residents of the Ramona Gardens housing complex in Boyle Heights for decades has been sentenced to nearly 13 years behind bars. He’ll be immediately deported to Mexico after his release.
Wells Fargo accused of denying loans to immigrants in DACA program
A federal judge in San Francisco has refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Wells Fargo bank of denying loans to immigrants who came to the U.S. as youngsters and have been allowed to remain here. Denial of loans based on citizenship status violates a federal law, passed in 1870, and a California civil rights law, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney said Thursday in rejecting the bank’s attempt to dismiss the proposed nationwide class-action suit.
Former sheriff’s deputies sentenced to probation for conspiring to sell drugs they stole
Two former Kern County sheriff’s deputies, Logan August and Derrick Penney, who conspired with another law enforcement officer to sell drugs they stole from evidence lockers, were sentenced here Monday morning to probation. They will do no prison time. The disgraced officers, who both admitted to besmirching the badge and betraying their fellow officers, their families and the community, had faced maximum sentences of five years.
Wife of celebrity stylist and lover charged with conspiring his murder
The wife of a prominent hairdresser and her reputed lover — who are already charged with capital murder for her husband’s stabbing death at his Woodland Hills home — were charged Monday with conspiring to kill him. Monica Sementilli, 45, and Robert Louis Baker, 55, pleaded not guilty before a Superior Court judge in Van Nuys to a felony count of conspiracy to commit a crime in connection with the Jan. 23 killing of Fabio Sementilli, 49.
Skid Row drug kingpin, found with $600,000 in $1 bills, is sentenced to 11 years in prison
A Cerritos man whose Skid Row drug-selling operation with another dealer consisted of $1.6 million in cash and more than 15 pounds of cocaine was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said. Derrick Turner, 49, was arrested in April 2016 for a drug-dealing operation that prosecutors say preyed on the vulnerable homeless population of Skid Row.
COC chef instructor charged with embezzlement
A chef instructor at College of the Canyons charged with more than a dozen counts including misappropriation of funds, embezzlement of public funds and conflict of interest, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the charges on which he was arraigned. David Glenn Binkle, 55, identified by prosecutors as the former director of food services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, appeared in court Tuesday at the Foltz Criminal Justice Center where he was formally charged with committing several crimes.
Filmmaker sues L.A. County and State officials claiming “false imprisonment”
A filmmaker who had been accused of a $21 million Ponzi scheme in raising money for an independent movie is suing a slew of state agencies and officials claiming they are responsible for destroying his reputation and his career when they “falsely” imprisoned him for months while demanding an unreasonably high bail before setting him free.
Drivers hit by big traffic fines get a break under legal settlement
Advocates for California motorists who face mounting fees for traffic tickets have reached a legal settlement under which those who can’t pay their fines will be offered alternatives. The settlement with Solano County Superior Court, which advocacy groups described as a model for other counties, requires the court to notify drivers of affordable alternatives to traffic fines. Depending on their income, drivers could ask to pay the fine in installments, seek a lower fine or perform community service.
Court rules that medical marijuana card holders can’t buy firearms
If you have a medical marijuana card, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says that you can’t buy a gun. The court ruled 3-0 on Wednesday that a ban preventing medical marijuana card holders from purchasing firearms is not in violation of the Second Amendment, the Associated Press reports. There are nine western states under the appeals court’s jurisdiction, including Nevada, where the case originated.
Judge inclined to order return of Snopes’ ad revenue
The battle over who owns fact-checking website Snopes.com took an ugly turn at a Friday afternoon court hearing, as attorneys sparred over salaries, intellectual property rights and advertising money which is in limbo. An ownership spat broke out between Proper Media and Snopes’ parent company Bardav Inc. this spring when Snopes gave Proper Media a 60-day notice of termination of contract.
LA leader to Feds: ‘We’ll have to sue’ if you don’t clarify new sanctuary rules
Los Angeles could be barred from receiving an annual federal grant that goes toward fighting gang crime because of new Justice Department requirements on illegal immigration, with City Attorney Mike Feuer saying Monday the city might file a lawsuit if those requirements aren’t clarified by the end of the week.
California’s ‘sanctuary state’ bill will just protect criminals
The duty of law enforcement is to protect the public safety. Our protection extends to everyone in our communities, but we must not provide sanctuary to criminals. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 54 does just that. It gives cover to lawbreakers and will result in recycling criminals through our justice system. Sheriffs oppose SB 54 because it will impede our ability to protect the public, including immigrant communities.
‘Sanctuary state’ bill shields Californians from Trump deportation machine
The federal government’s relentless push to involve local law enforcement with deportations is further undermining confidence in law enforcement across California. In Los Angeles, reports of domestic violence and sexual assault have dropped precipitously among Latino residents. In Fresno County, a mom driving to church had to go into hiding after police called immigration agents during a traffic stop.
DOJ fires back at Chicago’s sanctuary-city lawsuit threat
The Department of Justice on Sunday fired back at Chicago’s plans to sue the feds for threatening to withhold crime-fighting money to sanctuary cities. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formally announced Sunday that his city would file a lawsuit Monday against the Trump administration for vowing to block federal grants to cities that don’t comply with federal immigration law.
California sheriffs and Gov. Jerry Brown in talks over possible changes to ‘sanctuary state’ legislation
Members of the California State Sheriffs Assn. say they have been in discussions with Gov. Jerry Brown in hopes of amending a state Senate bill that seeks to keep local and state law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws. On a Tuesday conference call, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, president of the sheriffs association, said his organization wants to ensure that the legislation does not prevent local law enforcement officers from notifying federal immigration agents about the release of dangerous people from their jails.
Welcome Walmart shoppers – Walmart now sells counterfeits
Walmart would like consumers to believe that Walmart is a safe place to buy name-brand goods, but that is not true. Walmart is enabling and allowing the sale of counterfeit products. Unknown to many consumers, Walmart allows outside third-party sellers to list and sell products on Walmart’s website – walmart.com. Alarmingly, counterfeit products can appear right next to authentic items conveying Walmart’s endorsement and the illusion they are from Walmart.
Amazon and eBay – The Perfect Marketplace for Counterfeits
Amazon and eBay are proving to be ideal platforms to enable and facilitate distribution of some $1.7 trillion in global counterfeit goods, expected to grow to $2.8 trillion by 2022. Counterfeiting is profitable, difficult to track and widely unpunished. These benefits are drawing an avalanche of counterfeit listings from both U.S. and global sellers on e-commerce websites. Selling counterfeits is illegal and prohibited on Amazon and eBay.
Court: No First Amendment right to videorecord police unless you are challenging the police at the time
In recent years, lower federal courts have generally held that the First Amendment protects a right to videorecord (and photograph) in public places, especially when one is recording public servants such as the police. Because recording events that you observe in public places is important to be able to speak effectively about what you observe, courts held, the First Amendment protects such recording.
Law would nix cops’ bogus “don’t walk” tickets
If you think police are wasting valuable taxpayer resources by issuing tickets to people who started walking across a street after the “don’t walk” sign’s numeric countdown has begun, you’re not alone. Los Angeles-area state Assemblyman Miguel Santiago is proposing a law, AB 390, that would stop this madness. Advocates have been lobbying for the legislation because, they argue, those tickets disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.
Sacramento Report: Police data collection will require some guesswork
The latest draft spelling out how California law enforcement officers will go about collecting data on people they stop is out. The regulations are part of the implementation of AB 953, a law passed by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber in 2015 requiring all California law enforcement agencies to collect data on who is being stopped by police.
The attempt to find systemic police bias has come to this: the difference between an officer saying “uh” and saying “that, that’s.” According to Stanford University researchers, police officers in Oakland, California, use one of those verbal tics more often with white drivers and the other more often with black drivers. If you can guess which tic conveys “respect” and which “disrespect,” you may have a career ahead of you in the exploding field of bias psychology.
State’s prisons struggling to overhaul gender-identity policies
As President Trump calls for reinstatement of a ban on transgender military service – a ban his predecessor repealed a year ago – another large institution, the California prison system, is going through a court-supervised overhaul of policies on gender identity. Having complied with a federal judge’s order to allow the nation’s first sex-reassignment operation for a prisoner, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is now struggling to implement new rules for hundreds of transgender inmates – the clothing they are issued, the medical care they receive and the prisons to which they are assigned.
Police: Pot raid highlights growing problem
A major marijuana bust went down Thursday in the City of Industry. The raid uncovered a massive marijuana grow operation – nearly 20,000 plants valued at more than $50 million inside a warehouse on Fullerton Road. Eight men were arrested during the raid. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies say they began investigating the warehouse two months ago, based on a tip of possible illegal activity.
ATF sends alert to SoCal gun store owners about firearm burglaries
Federal officials warned gun stores in three Southern California counties this week about recent burglaries that resulted in the theft of firearms. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Friday it sent an alert the previous day to federal firearms licensees in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. “There has recently been several burglaries that resulted in the theft of firearms,” the ATF said.
Understaffed leads to rise in crime
We have passed the mid-point of 2017 and two trends continue: a rising crime rate and an understaffed Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. As we have pointed out multiple times, passage of Prop 47 in 2014 ushered in a crime wave that continues unabated. Preliminary statistics for the first six months of 2017 in areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department shows an increase in Part I crimes compared to the same six months of 2016, with double digit increases in patrol areas such as Altadena, Cerritos, Malibu/Lost Hills, and Norwalk.
Does legal marijuana mean more impaired drivers?
As more states legalize marijuana, there is a growing concern that more people will drive while high. In addition to the newness of the legalization, testing for marijuana intoxication is notoriously difficult – a problem a California state lawmaker wants to address through the research and development of new tests. Experts, however, say that traffic crash and fatality patterns are influenced by many factors other than intoxication.
America’s leading provider of state-specific policies and verifiable policy training for public safety organizations
In many jurisdictions across the nation, prosecutors are taking a more aggressive stance on Brady/Giglio lists. These lists include the names of officers who are deemed tainted in the prosecutors’ opinion. In many cases, prosecutors may refuse to file charges where the listed officers are witnesses. Being placed on a Brady/Giglio list is certainly damaging to an officer’s reputation and may even be a death knell to a career, or at the very least, to promotion.
Advocates focus on conference committee after JJDPA reauthorization passes Senate
Juvenile justice reform advocates are turning their attention to a House and Senate conference committee after a key bill, a decade-plus in the making, passed yet another legislative hurdle. The Senate passed a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (S 860) on Tuesday by a voice vote. The act hadn’t been reauthorized since 2002 and was badly in need of an update, juvenile justice advocates have long argued.
California ammo maker closes shop, blaming new laws
A small California ammo manufacturer has closed its doors, placing the blame on a combination of industry factors and harsh new requirements. The Cartridge Family has pulled its website and said goodbyes on social media, bowing out of the ammo game. Among the nails in the shop’s coffin after more than three years of business were “lurking new laws here in California” and “the influx of foreign ammunition marketed at very low prices” over the past several months.
GOVERNMENT / POLITICS / PUBLIC SAFETY
Hotel that reimbursed workers for campaign contributions faces $310,000 state fine
A luxury Santa Monica hotel has agreed to pay a $310,000 fine from California’s campaign watchdog for illegally funneling money to city council candidates in hopes of preserving the property’s Pacific Ocean views. The California Fair Political Practices Commission says it’s the second largest fine in the agency’s history.
Mixing law firm business and politics? There’s a $10K fine for that.
The assistant general manager of Santa Monica’s posh Huntley Hotel needed help. Manju Raman wanted to raise big money for a campaign to stop a rival hotel’s expansion, and she needed it to look like the contributions stemmed from grass roots support. Raman, a political novice, was falling short of her goals. So she turned to a friend, Nimish Patel, the Huntley’s longtime business counsel.
A proposed state law would let Fresno County open clinics for ‘safer’ illegal drug use
A bill currently making its way through the California Legislature would let eight counties, including Fresno, open “safer” places for people to take illegal drugs – without any legal repercussions – under the supervision of a health professional, who would also monitor the addict for signs of overdose. The new facilities would let a heroin user, for example, bring his drugs into a facility where he would be given a clean syringe and needle.
Will L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell lose his re-election bid
Jim McDonnell successfully ran for L.A. County Sheriff in 2014. At the time, McDonnell was named in multiple lawsuits from his then subordinates in the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD). A handful of the lawsuits were successful. McDonnell received endorsements from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, Los Angeles Police Protective League, the Long Beach Police Officers Association, the L.A. County Professional Peace Officer Association and the L.A. County Deputy Probation Officers – AFSCME Local 685, along with dozens of other law enforcement organizations.
Leaving California? After slowing, the trend intensifies
Given its iconic hold on the American imagination, the idea that more Americans are leaving California than coming breaches our own sense of uniqueness and promise. Yet, even as the economy has recovered, notably in the Bay Area and in pockets along the coast, the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that domestic migrants continue to leave the state more rapidly than they enter it.
They sued for Clinton’s emails. Now they want information on California voters
California’s top elections officer and 11 county registrars have been asked to hand over detailed voter registration records or face a federal lawsuit, a request that centers on new accusations that the records are inaccurate. The effort by the conservative-leaning organization Judicial Watch seeks an explanation for what its attorneys contend are official records that don’t match the group’s estimates of the legally eligible voting population in the counties, including Los Angeles County.
LA county leaders green-light construction of new mental health center in Valley
A $14.5 million project that will expand mental health services in the San Fernando Valley was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. A shuttered courthouse at 919 1st Street and Brand Boulevard in the City of San Fernando will be razed and a new center, 15,600-square-foot center will be built in its place.
Barger announces proposal to establish Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety
Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced today that she will introduce a motion, co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, at the August 15th board meeting which will establish a “Blue-Ribbon Commission on Public Safety” to explore innovative solutions to criminal justice challenges resulting from statewide reforms.
Prosecutor files $5M claim, alleges career retaliation for running for O.C. judge
A veteran prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office today filed a $5 million claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleging she is being “punished” because of her unsuccessful campaign last year to unseat Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner. Karen Schatzle, 52, alleged in her claim that she was admonished not to run against Steiner because Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has an “unwritten policy” discouraging employees from running against incumbent judges.
Weed scene elated as city appears to embrace pot shop permits
In a proposal that was widely panned by pot shops and legalization advocates, the city in June revealed possible regulations for Los Angeles cannabis businesses that would have continued the problematic policy of treating even the most legit enterprises with “limited legal immunity.” Many cannabis folks were up in arms. Voters in March approved Proposition M, which was pitched as an initiative that would finally grant licenses to weed sellers and producers.
It’s California Vs. Sessions on police seizures of cash, property
There’s a new battle between California and the federal government. This time, it’s over a new U.S. Justice Department policy on police seizures of cash and property – and it could affect a new California law that took effect this year. We’re talking about a practice called “civil asset forfeiture” – when police seize money or property after a raid or an arrest. California only lets state and local law enforcement agencies keep what they seize if the owner is found guilty.
LA is stoked for the Olympics, but it may be a risky business
The business, civic and political elites of Los Angeles are understandably stoked that their city was chosen last week to host the 2028 Olympic Games. They see nothing but upside from having hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world come to Los Angeles and spend money on hotels, meals and personal services, and from basking in global media attention.
Change L.A. County’s government? We, not state, should decide: Guest commentary
California state Senators Tony Mendoza, Ricardo Lara, Ed Hernandez, Bob Hertzberg and Ben Allen collectively represent nearly 5 million Los Angeles County constituents. They and others are working to place a statewide constitutional measure on the ballot, Senate Constitutional Amendment 12, that would expand the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors by two and create an elected countywide executive officer.
Lingering leak woes: ‘An extraordinary number of lawsuits’ for SoCal Gas
The state decision clearing Southern California Gas Co. to resume limited operations at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field was touted Friday as good news during the company’s quarterly earnings call. But the legal and regulatory challenges from the massive gas leak at the facility are not over and could drag on for years.
California speaker recall effort reflects Democratic tension
Democrats control every lever of power in California state government, and free from worrying about major losses to Republicans, they’re training fire instead on each other. The latest example is a recall effort against Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a strong progressive now targeted by party activists upset that he derailed a bill seeking government-funded health care for all.
How a small newspaper became a big weapon
One of the biggest financial fraud cases in the history of Los Angeles County government was first uncovered by a little community newspaper based in Cerritos, a city of 49,000 tucked away in the southeast corner of the county, best known regionally for its massive auto center – “the world’s largest selection of new and pre-owned vehicles,” or so they say.