Al menos 18 miembros activos y retirados del Departamento del Alguacil de Los Ángeles fueron acusados el lunes de abuso de autoridad y corrupción, entre ellos al menos tres hispanos, según informaron las autoridades.
Los agentes, acusados en cinco casos diferentes, se desempeñaron en la Cárcel Central de Varones (MCJ, en inglés) y en las Torres Gemelas en Los Ángeles, y entre los detenidos figuran un ex sargento y dos de sus ayudantes, estos tres últimos hispanos.
“Los cinco casos alegan un amplio espectro de conducta ilegal”, declaró el fiscal André Birotte Jr, quien explicó que esta investigación “comenzó enfocándose en irregularidades en las cárceles del condado y descubrimos ejemplos de violaciones a los derechos civiles incluyendo uso excesivo de fuerza y arrestos ilegales”.
Uno de los casos investigados por el FBI y denunciados por la fiscalía hace referencia al sargento Eric González y a su equipo de cuatro agentes, Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge y Noel Womack.
Los cargos contra González y su equipo incluyen el arresto o detención de cinco víctimas, incluido el cónsul general de Austria, cuando llegaron a visitar presos de la MCJ en el 2010 y el 2011.
Según la fiscalía, el acusado principal en este caso, el sargento González, entonces supervisor en ese momento de la MCJ, “promovió y toleró abusos a la ley, incluyendo el uso de fuerza injustificada y requisas y decomisos irrazonables por los alguaciles que él supervisaba”.
De los 18 miembros acusados, los agentes del FBI detuvieron el lunes por la mañana a 16 de ellos. Entre los cargos presentados figuran golpizas ilegales a los detenidos y maltrato a los visitantes, así como conspiración para obstruir una investigación federal.
“Los acusados en estos casos enfrentan serias denuncias incluida la violación de la confianza pública que ellos juraron defender”, anotó Bill Lewis, director asistente a cargo de la oficina del FBI de Los Ángeles.
“Es igualmente importante señalar que estos cargos no deben reflejarse en los miles de hombres y mujeres del Departamento del Alguacil que orgullosamente sirven a los ciudadanos del Condado de Los Ángeles y que colaboran con el FBI en (la investigación de) una variedad de áreas de delitos”, agregó Lewis.
Social workers who walked off the job last week were back at work yesterday as contract talks were set to resume.
After a raucous day of protests highlighted by the arrests of seven people, the six-day old work stoppage by Los Angeles County social workers came to an end Tuesday.
Social workers who walked off the job last Thursday returned to work Wednesday under an arrangement worked out with the help of a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.
“… I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county,” said Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721.
Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police that the permit for the rally had expired.
Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.
“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.
About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.
The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.
Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.
Though the two sides seem to be headed in the same direction, negotiations broke down and about 4,000 DCFS social workers struck last Thursday. Union members say they want to see the county’s hiring commitments in writing.
A county spokesman said management’s unwillingness to agree to a retroactive raise was the real reason the union walked away from the bargaining table.
The union and county have tentatively agreed on a 6 percent pay boost — 2 percent in each of the three contract years — along with bonuses and a hike in county contributions to employee health care costs in 2014 and 2015.
But SEIU 721 is asking for one of the 2 percent increases to take effect two months earlier than the date of the contract. That retroactive wage hike would be unfair to other county bargaining units and a violation of county bargaining practices, county spokesman David Sommers said.
“We’ve never done it and we’re not going to start doing it now,” he said Monday, referring to retroactive raises.
But a union rep said the earlier start date was to make up for what the SEIU contends are stalling tactics by the county. SEIU leaders, meanwhile, continued to place the focus on child safety
and work conditions.
“When the strike started last week, some observers suggested that it couldn’t be really about child safety, it must be about money,” SEIU Regional Director Michael Green said. “Your employees have sacrificed hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own families’ income in order to finally stand up for the most vulnerable children in Los Angeles County.”
The arrests Tuesday of current and former Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies by the FBI on charges of beating inmates and jail visitors is a sad and probably frightening revelation for most county residents.
Rumors had circulated among media and law enforcement agencies for years about an ongoing probe of prisoner mistreatment in the county jail system, with most expecting for the investigation to blow wide open at any time.
“Any time,” however, took much longer than most had expected.
And while the unsealing of the 18 indictments and charges of crimes including corruption, obstruction of justice and abuse were not a surprise, many were stunned by the revelation that county jail visitors had also been victims of violence by jail personnel.
It seems that any behavior interpreted as “rude” by some deputies was viewed as a sign of disrespect and warranted a harsh response.
This is pure arrogance and a betrayal of the deputies’ oath to uphold the law and to protect and serve the public.
How they were able to allegedly go as far as changing a prisoner’s name and falsifying records in order to circumvent the investigation is beyond us. But if the charges are proven to be true, we have to believe a serious breakdown in oversight by department supervisors and Sheriff Baca himself are ultimately responsible.
The fact that FBI officials felt it was necessary to conduct the investigation without first informing and consulting with Baca is particularly telling not to mention alarming.
The federal law enforcement agency’s assertion this week that the types of practices revealed in their investigation and outlined in the indictments are “institutionalized” in the department, and that members of the Sheriff’s Department felt they were “above the law” should disturb every one of us.
This is not the first lapse of serious accountability in the County Sheriff’s Department. But it should be the last.
If Baca really cares as he says he does, he must be willing to take on the task of holding everyone’s feet to the fire and weed out all the bad apples.
The Board of Supervisors must also move forward as swiftly and strongly as possible to hold Sheriff Baca’s accountable for the problems in his department.
While supervisors have no authority to remove him from office since he is elected by the people, they can tie conditions to getting his budget approved.
They can also make sure that former Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman who was recently hired to the newly created position of inspector general has all the resources of the county at his disposal to lead a thorough top to bottom investigation of the Sheriff’s Department.
When I was a little boy, fresh from the long train ride from Mexico City to El Paso, then to Los Angeles and San Diego on a train bursting with young men in uniform going to war against the Empire of the Sun, I was told I had a cousin who played baseball but that he too was on his way to fight in the war. I was a little kid of three and didn’t know what baseball was.
Two years after the war I was a six-year-old fervent baseball fan and bragged to all that I had a cousin who had played for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League and who was now playing for the Boston Red Sox. His name was Ted Williams. His mother was a Mexican woman who was the cousin of my great aunt and grandfather, I was told. Thus, as is the case in Mexican culture, one drop of family makes one family, no matter how distant. Sociologists call that extended family.
When I went out for football in high school I practiced on the same field Ted Williams played baseball on and my coach was the catcher on Williams’ high school baseball team. Coach picked me up one day after practice while I was hitchhiking home. He asked me if I knew the Williams family, I said no, but that we were distant cousins, I was told. He told me that Ted’s mother made the best tacos he had ever eaten, that he had eaten them by the ton because Ted Williams was his best friend. Did my mother make good tacos, he asked. I said no, my mother couldn’t make a tortilla to save her life, but I could.
Ted Williams might have been the best hitter of modern baseball. He was arguably the first Hispanic superstar in baseball, except no one knew it outside close friends and distant relatives like me.
The story is covered in depth in the new book, “The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams,” by former Boston Globe Editor Ben Bradlee Jr. Williams did everything he could to hide the fact that he was half-Mexican. After his spectacular debut in the Major Leagues in 1939, Bradlee tells us, he came home to San Diego on the train and was aghast when he looked out and every Mexican relative of his from both sides of the border was there to welcome him home, the first Mexican American baseball hero. He high-tailed it off the train through another car. He was not proud of being what he was and he was afraid that bigotry would hinder his career.
There are relatives of mine who still feel the same way, now in 2013.
Funny, the day I met Williams, the day we kicked off construction of San Diego’s new baseball park, Petco Park, I greeted him with “Semper Fi” because we both shared our U.S. Marine experiences (he was a hero pilot in both WWII and Korea). I asked him if he remembered my Aunt Thelma. He looked at me and said he hadn’t heard that name of his mom’s friend in 50 years. Sure, he said, I remember her. He died a couple of years later, never admitting publicly that he was the first Hispanic, Mexican American baseball superstar. That’s a shame, but he was a product of his time.
One recalls that World War I Medal of Honor awardee David B. Barkeley told no one his mother was Mexican because the U.S. Army had just invaded Mexico twice and was filled with anti-Mexican bigots from corporal up to General Pershing.
It is 2013 and there are now millions of Mexican Americans. Almost seven in ten American Hispanics are of Mexican origin. Unlike when Ted Williams was a young man, we, like him, have served the country at all levels from private to general/admiral, to members of congress, U.S. Senators, governors, mayors, baseball and football players (Jim Plunkett, Tom Flores of the Raiders), lawyers, teachers, CEOs, Ambassadors and every occupation one can think of including astronauts and Nobel Prize winners for Literature and Chemistry.
If Ted Williams was 18 years old today, he would be proud of being Mexican American. The times and the country have changed since the 20s and 30s when he grew up in San Diego where one in three people today are of Mexican origin. A Mexican American is even running for mayor in a Special Election. San Diego has never had a Mexican American mayor since it became an American city in 1850. It never elected a Mexican American city councilman until 1992 (without being appointed first).
Proudly, I can declare that my distant relative Ted Williams was the first Hispanic baseball superstar, Marine hero and perhaps the greatest hitter in the history of the game.
I do so with a grin on my face because I know that the Mexican-haters among us who double as Minutemen will choke on this declaration. It’s a big grin.
Contreras’ books are available at amazon.com.
I grew up in Commerce surrounded by family who moved here from rural Jalisco, Mexico in the 1970s. We’ve always been an active family in the community – we go to local events, see the Fourth of July fireworks, and take part in the city’s summer reading programs. And that’s how it is for many families here – we come to Commerce, and we stay here for generations. This is our home.
What often isn’t obvious, in our blue-collar community with many families, is the low air quality and exposure to toxins that affect residents every day. We’re exposed to these toxins at parks, in schools, and in our homes. The toxins come from sources like the 710 freeway and local industrial pollution.
I’m a local community organizer, and the longer I’ve worked in our community to encourage our elected officials to keep our environment clean – to plant more trees, and discourage industrial infrastructure in residential neighborhoods – the clearer it’s become: a clean environment is a public health issue.
Through the course of my work, I often visit schools in the area. We talk to the students about health and our environment, and we often ask the students to raise their hand if they have a family member with cancer or asthma. Many days we’ll see almost every hand in the classroom go up. That’s just not right to see so many kids affected by terrible diseases because of where they live. The World Health Organization is now linking air pollution to cancer – it’s time we do something about the problem in our community.
My own niece was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer when she was three years old. We watched her go through chemo treatments, surgeries, and countless hospital visits. Watching her struggle to be healthy solidified the reasons I do this work. Our community has air quality issues and environmental issues that we must address. Every family deserves to live in a clean environment and breathe air and drink water that won’t make them sick.
That’s why I’m looking to local legislators like Assemblymember Cristina Garcia to help lead us. We must work on quality of life issues like clean air for our residents. After all, the quality of your environment determines your health outcomes. Every resident in our community – children, parents, seniors – they all deserve to live healthy lives without the feat of cancer or the inability to take a deep breath.
I worked for East Yard Community for Environmental Justice for six years. In that time we prevented a local power plant from opening in a neighborhood close to schools and day care centers. We fought to reduce air pollution from industrial facilities like local rail yards. I’ve walked door-to-door, talking to families one at a time and urging them to take a stand for their neighborhood and their families. We know that we can get this work done. Now, I’m going back to graduate school at UCLA to learn more about how I can fight for environmental justice for our community.
Assemblymember Garcia grew up in Bell Gardens and taught in local schools. She knows the kinds of struggles we’re facing. She understands the challenges our students deal with and the worry that local parents have about their kids. That’s why I urge her to be a true leader on the issue of environmental justice and raise her voice for clean air, water and a healthy environment for our community. We will stand with her for a better future, and together our voices will be strong.
Isella Ramirez is a community organizer and community health advocate who lives in Commerce, CA.
Salesian High School’s game plan was the same, only this time the Mustangs executed it to perfection as they overwhelmed Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo, 34-0 Saturday to capture the CIF Southern Section Northeast football championship.
On a chilly and crisp night before a standing-room-only crowd at Salesian’s Br. Tom Keegan Memorial Field, a 60-yard run by Felipe Meza provided a spark that ignited a 27-point Salesian scoring onslaught in the second quarter.
The Mustangs, who were making their first appearance in the finals, never looked back, leaving no doubts in rolling to their first CIF football title.
“We made history for our school and it’s great to be part of it,” Salesian quarterback Blaise Booth said.
Booth was a big part of it, as the senior quarterback threw four touchdown passes, including two to Chris Pryor. He also hooked up with Jeremy Kelly on a 53-yard scoring play and closed out the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Ware.
Making the victory even sweeter for Booth and his fellow Mustangs was that they avenged last year’s semifinal loss to Mission Prep.
“They embarrassed us last year,” Salesian Coach Angelo Jackson said in recalling last year’s 54-26 loss. “We came out here tonight and avoided making the mistakes that we made last year. The game plan was the same. We just fixed what we did wrong.”
The Mustangs wanted to play physical and they dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Booth completed 9 of 11 passes for 179 yards and Meza rushed for 149 yards on 23 carries thanks to the play up front of tackles Adam Sanchez, Damyen Davis and Sergio Guevara, guards Eduardo Lopez, Enrique Chavez and Jonathan Carrillo and center Arnulfo Robles.
On the defensive side, Salesian’s Ryan Matthews, Keanu Garcia, Manuel Najera, Jesus Moreno and Joshua Costantino and linebackers Jamardre Cobb, Kyahva Tezino and Ware spent much of the night in the Mission Prep backfield keeping the run-oriented Royals from gaining any yardage.
“We played our hearts out and kept them down, and held them to zero,” Cobb said.
They shut down Mission Prep’s talented running back Patrick Laird, limiting the 3,000-yard back to a season-low 43 yards. Laird, one of the state’s rushing leaders, played despite twisting his ankle early in the game.
“He’s a good back, but we took him away and that’s their strength,” Jackson said. “Our strength is that we’re multiple and once we get ahead, it’s hard to play against us.”
Passing isn’t the Royals’ forte and sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller completed only 3 of 11 passes for 70 yards and had two passes intercepted. Salesian’s secondary was led by Rodney Carr, Marcus Crosby and Nicholas Perez.
Carr, Cobb and Ware are headed to the University of Arizona next season.
Attempting to avoid getting shut out, Mission Prep reached the Salesian 5-yard line late in the game only to lose the ball on downs which made the long bus ride back to San Luis Obispo even longer. The Royals lost in the finals for the second consecutive year and finished 11-3.
Salesian, winners of 11 straight, raised its record to 12-2.
Bell’s former assistant city administrator was convicted Monday of 11 felonies for conspiring to misappropriate public funds and looting the working-class city’s coffers through exorbitant salaries and personal loans of taxpayer money.
Angela Spaccia, 55, showed no emotion as the verdicts reached by the eight-woman, four-man jury were announced, following deliberations that stretched over all or a portion of roughly 10 days. Jurors began deliberating Nov. 22 after hearing about 4 1/2 weeks of testimony and a day-and-a-half of closing arguments.
Spaccia was convicted of conspiracy to misappropriate public funds, four counts of conflict of interest, one count of secretion of an official record and five counts of misappropriation of public funds.
The misappropriation charges stemmed from her salary and those of former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and police Chief Randy Adams, along with a pair of six-figure loans of taxpayer money she received in 2009 and 2010. The conflict-of-interest charges involved the handling of her pension plan and the writing of her own employment contracts in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
She was acquitted of a single count of secretion of a public record as it pertained to Adams’ employment contract. Jurors deadlocked on one count of misappropriation of public funds pertaining to an alleged $75,500 loan of taxpayer money in 2003, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial on that count.
The jury foreman said the panel was deadlocked 6-6 on that count.
Despite arguments from defense attorney Harland Braun, Kennedy ordered that Spaccia be taken into custody, and she was handcuffed in court.
“I do think she has had ample time to prepare for this,” Kennedy said.
Her family members wept in court as she was led out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies.
Relatives declined to comment outside court.
Sentencing was tentatively set for Jan. 22. She faces up to roughly 17 years in prison, according to prosecutors.
Rizzo, who was charged along with Spaccia, pleaded no contest on Oct. 3 to 69 felony counts, including misappropriation of public funds, less than a week before their trial was set to begin. He was not called to the stand during Spaccia’s trial and is awaiting sentencing in March.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett told jurors that “Rizzo stole millions of dollars from the city of Bell and Angela Spaccia helped him every step of the way.” He alleged Spaccia also took public funds for herself “every chance she got” and was involved in crafting secret agreements to pay out unlawful pay raises.
Rizzo is expected to be sentenced in March to 10 to 12 years. Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett was asked following the verdicts whether Spaccia might end up serving more time than her former boss.
“I imagine their sentences will be comparable,” Hassett said. He pointed out that Rizzo fully cooperated with prosecutors, while “Ms. Spaccia was unrepentant and refused to accept any responsibility for her actions.”
District Attorney Jackie Lacey called the outcome ”a bittersweet victory for the citizens of Bell.
“I’m pleased the jury viewed this extremely complex case precisely for what it was: grand theft paycheck,” Lacey said. “Bell’s top two former administrators, Angela Spaccia and Robert Rizzo, stole more than $6 million in public money. Their reign of fraud left the working-class city of 35,000 nearly bankrupt. Their unbridled greed also forced Bell’s hardworking residents to pay higher tax rates than residents of Beverly Hills.”
Spaccia was making a base salary of $370,000 that rose to $564,000 annually with vacation and sick pay by 2010, while Rizzo was taking in more than $1 million a year for their work in “a tiny city,” Hassett said during trial.
In his closing argument, Braun acknowledged that Spaccia had been paid too much, but maintained that she was not guilty of any criminal conduct.
“The evidence is only that she was overpaid” but “she never thought anything was illegal,” Braun said.
One juror, a 29-year-old man, said the deliberations took so long because the case “was very, very complicated.”
“We wanted to be very thorough and go through all the information,” he said.
Another juror, who also asked that his name not be used, acknowledged Rizzo’s involvement in the case, saying he did not believe Spaccia would have wound up behind bars without his actions.
Calling her “a good person,” the man said Spaccia “had a family like everyone else but she was under the influence of Rizzo.”
Outside court, Braun said Rizzo was “clearly more responsible than she (Spaccia) is.” He said he was surprised that his client was handcuffed and taken into custody, but suggested Kennedy “has some prejudice against Angela.”
“She wants to make an example of her,” Braun said.
The attorney said his client realizes “she should have questioned it when she started getting the extra money.”
Spaccia now “has just got to get through the rest of her life,” he said.
In a separate trial, five former Bell elected city officials were convicted March 20 of misappropriation of public funds. Lacey called the Bell case “the most significant public corruption case” ever prosecuted by her office’s Public Integrity Division.
“To the residents of Bell, I have this message,” Lacey said. “You have suffered one of the worst betrayals by public servants in the history of public corruption. I commend the progress that you’ve made in reforming and restoring your city government.”
Monday Lacey said she would be swearing in new members of the Artesia City Council and that the jury’s message should be clear to public officials everywhere.
“Don’t think you’re invincible because you’re a public official,” Lacey said.
Bell Mayor Violeta Alvarez said Spaccia “deserves to go to jail for many years.”
“We have worked tirelessly to rebuild the city from the corruption that Spaccia helped to create and we will not rest until we have fully recovered,” Alvarez said.
As families prepare for the holidays, Southern California Edison today reminded people to use common-sense precautions with decorative lights to prevent shocks and fire hazards.
“The joy that festive decorations bring can lead people to overlook their potential dangers,” said Bill Messner, the utility’s health and safety manager. “It is vital that families follow instructions, inspect decorations and practice safety to minimize the risk of electric shock, fires or injuries.”
Firefighters nationwide respond to an average of 230 home fires annually that start with Christmas trees, resulting in an average of six deaths, 22 injuries and $18.3 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
About 5,800 people are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for falls associated with holiday decorations, with more than half of them falling from ladders or roofs while decorating outdoors, the fire association said.
SCE recommended these safety tips for the holidays:
—never place lights closer than 10 feet from outdoor power lines, and always be aware of the power lines;
—use wooden or fiberglass ladders when decorating outdoors because metal ladders conduct electricity;
—always inspect your ladder to ensure it is safe;
—be sure that electrical cords are not plugged in an angle or a positioned where they can be pinched, such as in windows;
—use zip cords instead of metal staples, tack or nails to hang lights;
—use no more than three strands of lights per extension cord because overloads can cause fires or lines to short-circuit;
—keep lights away from carpeting, furniture, drapes and other flammable materials;
—use decorations bearing the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL) labels; and
—always unplug decorative lights when leaving home or before going to bed.
More safety tips are available at www.sce.com/holidaylighting.
A severe cold spell across the United States is straining natural gas supplies, prompting a local utility company to call on its customers to take steps now to conserve usage in order to ensure adequate natural gas supplies during in the months ahead.
“We know a typical home’s natural gas use for heating increases, sometimes up to three times more during colder months. SoCalGas is asking our customers to conserve energy to help ensure we have enough natural gas supply to get us through this cold weather,” said Rodger Schwecke, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas.
SoCalGas advises the following energy conservation tips:
Use extra blankets and sweaters to stay warm and lower your furnace thermostat by three to five degrees (health permitting).
SoCalGas also recommends limiting use of non-essential gas appliances, fireplaces and spas, and reducing the temperature and amount of hot water you use. They advise that you turn down the water heater thermostat or insulate your water heater.
Following these tips can also save you up to 30 percent on heating costs, according to a SoCalGas press release.
The company states, however, that consumers should take care not substitute natural gas usage for more dangerous forms of heating, such as heating your home by leaving on the oven, bringing an outdoor grill inside because these appliances are not designed for this purpose and can emit dangerous carbon monoxide, which can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and death.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can include unexplained nausea, headaches, drowsiness, mental confusion and flu-like symptoms. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from CO poisoning, call 911 immediately, advises the utility company. They also recommend installing a CO detector or changing the batteries in your CO detectors.
For additional conservation tips, visit SoCalGas.com
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department circulated Wednesday a photo of a 17-year-old Pico Rivera boy who’s been missing since Nov. 27 and who is both bipolar and schizophrenic.
Tyler James Wilson went with his mother to the Northgate Market at 9101 Telegraph Road and became upset and left. He hasn’t been seen since. The teen has run away in the past, but never for this long, according to sheriff’s investigators.
Wilson is white, 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighs 170 pounds. He has brown hair, hazel eyes and a scar on his left arm. He was wearing black jeans, black Converse shoes and a light blue T-shirt with a “Texas” logo on it.
He requires medication for his conditions.
Anyone with information about his whereabouts was asked to call Detective LaBella at the Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station at (562) 949-2421.