Monday Morning Memo for May 15, 2017

Prosecution
23-year-old pleads not guilty to felony
A Los Angeles man on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to three felony charges for a fatal crash in Venice last month, officials said. Benjamin Albert Seider, 23, was allegedly drunk when he ran a red light at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Ocean Avenue on April 10, striking the vehicle of three firemen from Marietta, Georgia, who were on vacation. 
AB 359: A quietly lurking threat to prosecutors throughout California
Some threats to public safety are obvious, such as Prop. 47 and Prop. 57. They were high-profile initiatives that received plenty of public attention and debate. Other efforts to change the criminal justice system appear to be well meaning, but contain consequences that reveal both a misunderstanding of how the system operates and are ill considered in their scope. Take, for example, Assembly Bill 359.
Don’t jail crime victims for not testifying
It’s been almost four years since I was shot in the stomach at a New Orleans parade on Mother’s Day. When two young men shot into the crowd, 18 others were also injured. I am a local journalist and was covering the parade for a New Orleans paper. The bullet landed in my stomach and tore through internal organs. However, when it came time for me to talk to the prosecution, I was reluctant for several reasons.
Conviction & Sentencing
Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca sentenced to 3 years in jail abuse scandal
In what some called the end of a chapter in local civil rights abuse and jailhouse corruption, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who once led the largest department of its kind in the nation, was sentenced to three years in federal prison Friday. Dressed in a blue suit, Baca showed little emotion as U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson handed down the sentence at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
The warning signs L.A. County missed when voters reelected Sheriff Lee Baca
Lee Baca was sentenced Friday morning for lying to federal officials and conspiring to obstruct an FBI investigation into the corruption and brutality that plagued the agency he presided over as Los Angeles County sheriff. For 15 years, Baca headed the largest sheriff’s department in the world. It polices 40 cities and 90 unincorporated communities in 4,057 square miles of Southern California, and it oversees 18,000 inmates in the county’s seven jails.
Hooker for off-duty sheriff’s deputy: 30 days behind bars
A man who was employed as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy when he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days in jail. Raymond Edward Bernasconi, 56, pleaded no contest April 10 to one misdemeanor count of soliciting a prostitute, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Bernasconi made arrangements online to meet a prostitute at a Claremont motel last Oct. 12, prosecutors said.
Domestic violence plea to let CEO avoid deportation
A victim of domestic violence says a plea deal reached by her estranged husband, a Silicon Valley CEO, is too lenient and that justice is being thwarted by efforts to ensure he isn’t removed from the country. Abhishek Gattani, co-founder of customer analytics startup Cuberon and a native of India, had been charged with felony domestic violence after his wife said he beat her.
Life without parole for botched drug deal, murder
The District Attorney’s Office announced yesterday’s ruling of life sentence without the possibility of parole for Mark Cooper (28) due to a killing during a 2013 drug transaction at a Long Beach mobile home park. Cooper was one of four robbers who arrived during Jose Vidal’s January 19th drug deal. The fourth armed assailant forced a neighbor into the home. Vidal (24) and a female friend were at the home.
Spy conviction upheld for Bay Area businessman 
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld most of a Bay Area businessman’s economic espionage convictions for selling DuPont technology to China for the production of a valuable white pigment. Walter Liew, 59, of Orinda was convicted in 2014 of 10 felony charges of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness and evidence, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $28 million fine.
Slain pregnant Hawthorne woman’s boyfriend, hitman found guilty in her 2001 death
More than 15 years after a pregnant woman was shot dead in her Hawthorne apartment, her boyfriend and the hitman he hired were both convicted in the killing on Monday, officials said. Derek Paul Smyer – the woman’s boyfriend at the time of her death – was found guilty of one count each of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of murder for financial gain and multiple murders, second-degree murder and conspiracy and two counts of solicitation of murder, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Government
LA County health plan that administers Medi-Cal, Obamacare spending on perks
Monique Andrade, 21, of Chatsworth has cerebral palsy, is a quadriplegic and gets fed through a tube in her stomach. Her mother Claudia says she consumes four and a half cans of Ensure a day, the only food that keeps her alive. Monique is on Medi-Cal and the supplies are supposed to be delivered once a month through L.A. Care, a public health plan that gets hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
Firing of FBI director concerns, confuses Dem, GOP lawmakers
President Trump’s decision Tuesday to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey comes off as another example of the political clumsiness that continues to plague the young administration. The late afternoon dismissal instantly hijacked the nation’s airwaves, completely eclipsing any bump Trump received from successfully pushing his health care plan through the House last week.
New effort underway to add more seats to LA County Board of Supervisors
A state effort to expand the number of seats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has resurfaced, but this time the renewed attempt has bipartisan support. State Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, recently submitted a constitutional amendment that would increase the number of members on California’s county boards of supervisors from five to seven in areas with 2 million or more resi­dents.
Child deaths up in latest Los Angeles County report on abuse
The number of children killed at the hands of a parent, relative or caregiver in Los Angeles County rose to 18 in 2015, up from 15 the previous year, while suicides among kids and teens more than doubled, according to reports released Wednesday. The reports on child abuse and child deaths also found that the number of children referred to authorities for suspected abuse or neglect decreased slightly in 2015, and auto-pedestrian collisions caused the most accidental child deaths that year.
Prison & Jail
Cut the potentially deadly prison cell phone connection
At 5:30 AM, on March 5, 2010, one day before my birthday, a man broke down the front door of my home. He shot me six times in the chest and stomach, and left me to die. It was an attempted contract killing, orchestrated via a contraband cell phone that had been smuggled into the prison where I worked as a corrections officer. At the time of the attack, I was working at Lee Correctional Institution, a prison about 50 miles east of Columbia, South Carolina.
California prison smuggling: Meth in soap, heroin on stamps
The $15 million spent by California to thwart prison drug smuggling has generated mixed results, researchers found, as increasingly creative smugglers turned to tricks like concealing methamphetamine in a bar of soap or heroin under postage stamps. Drug use in the three prisons with the most intensive programs dropped by nearly a quarter after corrections officials increased their use of airport-style scanners, surveillance cameras, urine tests and drug-sniffing dogs three years ago.
CA prison spending soars to all time high in Governor’s May budget revise
This morning, Governor Brown released California’s 2017-18 revised budget – a budget that increases total funding on corrections to $11.4 billion (2017-18), up from $10.6 billion last year (2016-17). Brown’s increase in corrections spending falls out of step with the will of the people of California. The budget projects a decline of the adult prison population by .7% due to voter mandated criminal justice reforms like Proposition 57, yet, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget continues to soar at an all time high this year.
Immigration
Here’s why some immigrant activists say not even criminals should be deported
As President Trump continues to vow to come down hard on illegal immigration, supporters of immigrants find themselves at odds over how much to fight for those whose criminal history is fodder for advocates of harsher and broader crackdowns. L.A. County became an early flashpoint in the debate after officials – in response to fears of mass deportations – unveiled a $10-million fund to hire lawyers to defend local immigrants without legal status.
Communist workers won’t be fired by state? Immigrant OC supervisors outraged
It may sound like something from 1953, but it’s happening right now. Outraged Orange County supervisors are taking a stance against a proposed law in Sacramento that would prohibit the firing of state employees for belonging to the Communist Party. The bill by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, AB 22, was narrowly approved by the Assembly Tuesday.
Law Enforcement
On law enforcement, California has already seceded
In mid-April, the leader of CalExit, a movement to have California secede from the United States and become an independent nation, announced that he was dropping the effort and moving to Russia. But by their words and actions, California’s political leaders have made it clear that on matters of law enforcement the state has already seceded.
Cal State Fullerton crime stats show decrease in drug arrests since 2013
Arrests for drug crimes are steadily decreasing on the Cal State Fullerton campus. In 2013, there were 139 University Police drug-related arrests, according to UPD crime stats. In 2014, those numbers went down to 75 and and in 2015, down to 34. There were no arrest statistics available for 2016 or 2017. California passed Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduced the personal possession of most illegal drugs to misdemeanor.
Amazon – The perfect marketplace for counterfeits
Counterfeit products are replicas of real products, designed to take advantage and profit from the superior value and reputation of the authentic product. Amazon is proving to be an ideal platform facilitate distribution of some $1.7 trillion in global counterfeit goods, which are expected to top $2 trillion in 2022. Counterfeiting is profitable, difficult to track and widely unpunished.
eBay – The perfect marketplace for fakes
Counterfeit products are replicas of real products, designed to take advantage and profit from the superior value and reputation of the authentic product. eBay is proving to be an ideal platform to facilitate distribution of some $1.7 trillion in global counterfeit goods, which are expected to reach $2.8 trillion by 2022. Counterfeiting is profitable, difficult to track and widely unpunished.
Why are California’s traffic tickets so outrageously priced?
A new report on California’s outrageously priced traffic tickets pretty much tells us what we already know: The fines disproportionately affect the poor who, lacking the ability to shell out nearly $500 for a red-light camera ticket, can end up in a spiral of consequences that include job loss because they’re not licensed to drive. They also hit minorities hard, because they are more likely to be stopped by cops.
ABC7 Investigation: Self-proclaimed psychics bilk thousands from vulnerable clients
She was homesick, depressed and looking for answers in love and life when the young aspiring actress crossed paths with self-proclaimed psychic Melissa Lee. “I am that stereotypical girl who moved from the small town to the big city and got ripped off,” the 25-year old told Eyewitness News. “Before I could blink an eye, I woke up one day – oh, my gosh – I’ve been scammed,” the actress said of the thousands of dollars allegedly swindled from her by Lee.
You get the police you ask for
We, as a profession, are not without sin. We have a sordid past on many levels. We have seen massive corruption, lying, scandals, thievery and abuses that include terrifying the weak, drug dealing, murders, torture and framing the innocent. Those aforementioned abuses and wrongdoings cannot be denied. What also can’t be denied is that when those crimes are committed they are perpetrated by an incredibly small percentage of our more than 700,000 members.
A ‘backroom deal’? Groups that pushed crackdown on police misconduct were left out of talks between Garcetti and the LAPD union
For much of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first term, advocacy groups have demanded greater accountability at the Los Angeles Police Department, saying officers who engage in major misconduct should face serious punishment. Activists with Black Lives Matter confronted Garcetti at his home and spent part of last summer camped outside City Hall.
SF supes approve labor arbitrator for Police Commission
The Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday the mayor’s nomination of a longtime mediator and labor arbitrator to the Police Commission, filling a seat that has been vacant since January. Robert Hirsch was appointed 10 to 1, and is scheduled to be sworn in before Wednesday’s meeting. Hirsch runs his own firm specializing in employment, civil rights, real estate and commercial matters, and serves as a mediator and arbitrator for the federal courts.
Cops cleared of wrongdoing in 4 separate SoCal shootings
Prosecutors determined that Los Angeles police and sheriff’s deputies acted lawfully in four shootings in which suspects were killed, including one involving a man wanted for allegedly killing his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend and trying to kidnap her, documents released Wednesday show. The District Attorney’s Office found that LAPD Officer Richard Alba “used reasonable force in self-defense, defense of others, and to apprehend a dangerous fleeing felon” when he fatally shot Tien Hua in Rosemead on Dec. 29, 2015.
District Attorney
Sexting, naked pics: OC District Attorney’s Office embroiled in tryst, lawsuit?
The former head of the investigations unit at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has signaled his intent to sue by filing a claim against his former employer with a state agency, a state official confirmed Wednesday. Craig Hunter, who was placed on leave last month, filed a “right to sue” claim against the D.A.’s office on April 28 with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, according to agency spokesman Fahizah Alim.
Ballot Initiatives
Montebello council votes to declare fiscal emergency, ask voters to approve sales tax
Voters on Nov. 7 will decide on whether they’re willing to pay one penny more in sales tax for each dollar spent. The City Council voted unanimously – including Councilman Bill Molinari, previously the lone hold out – following a raucous debate that included verbal blows between Mayor Vivian Romero and Councilman Art Barajas over whether to put the sales tax increase on the ballot this November.
Death Penalty
ACLU death penalty challenge faces skeptical court
ACLU attorneys faced a tough fight Thursday in asking the state judge who dismissed its case challenging California’s execution procedures to reconsider the tentative ruling she issued in March. Alameda County Court Judge Kimberly Colwell tentatively dismissed the Eighth Amendment lawsuit on March 30 without leave to amend.
Courts
Scotus will not hear fatal Anaheim police shooting case
On Monday, the US Supreme Court chose not to hear a case involving a controversial fatal officer-involved shooting that sparked a week protests in Anaheim. In 2012, Anaheim police officer Nick Bennallack shot and killed 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, who was unarmed. When Bennallack approached Diaz, the young man was talking with two people in an alley. When Diaz saw officers coming toward him, he ran away.
Judge unlikely to dismiss hospital’s claim against Kamala Harris
A federal judge said he’s unlikely to dismiss a lawsuit against Sen. Kamala Harris for conditions she placed on a hospital acquisition bid while she was California’s attorney general. Prime Healthcare Services claims Attorney General Harris nuked the deal as a favor to the Service Employees International Union.
California high court rules on workweek issues
Californians can be required to work more than six consecutive days without overtime as long as they don’t work more than six days in a single week, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The unanimous ruling was the court’s first interpretation of California’s long-standing “day of rest” law. The law was originally drafted by a state labor commission in 1919 as a wage order against requiring women and minors to work more than six days in a week, or eight hours in a day.
California DMV accused of violating federal voter registration law
Voting-rights advocates accused the state Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday of violating the federal “motor voter” law by requiring the more than 1 million Californians who renew their driver’s licenses by mail each year to fill out a separate form to register to vote. In a federal court lawsuit in San Francisco, the League of Women Voters and other organizations said the 1993 National Voter Registration Act requires states to include voter registration opportunities in their applications to obtain or renew a driver’s license or a state identification card.
San Diego authorities ordered to return $100,000 seized from medical marijuana distributor, family
San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis has been ordered to return more than $100,000 seized from a medical marijuana businessman and his family, 15 months after drug agents raided the company and didn’t charge anyone with a crime. Superior Court Judge Tamila E. Ipema issued the order late Friday, almost six weeks after lawyers representing James Slatic argued that the money must be returned.
California resident who outed FBI informants in refuge takeover appears before federal judge
A federal judge Tuesday directed prosecutors to lay out their case in writing to support their argument that California resident Gary Hunt knowingly violated a court protective order by posting the names of informants who helped the FBI during the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Pensions
Pensions are a problem in the heart of Silicon Valley
Under a plan put forward by the city’s finance team, Mountain View would draw about half that amount ($6 million) from its reserve fund, a pool of money normally set aside for emergencies. But by doing so, they warned, the city would need to tweak its longstanding policy to keep at least 25 percent of its general fund in reserves, which could threaten the city’s AAA bond rating.