(March 12, 2005) -- Using a strengthened anti-gang injunction that his office sought and obtained late last year, LB City Prosecutor Tom Reeves recently won a serious jail sentence against a WLB gang member: 360 days in County jail. The sentence was handed down in the LB courthouse on March 7 after the gangmember pleaded no contest to two violations of the WLB anti-gang injunction. Commissioner Olson imposed two maximum 180 day sentences to be served consecutively.
But despite the work of LBPD (serving the injunction, documenting the service, spotting the violation, making the arrest), the City Prosecutor's office (filing and prosecuting charges, spending the court time, getting a conviction) and the Court (hearing the case, imposing sentence), the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. (which runs the County jails) is applying a policy that could shrink the nearly one year in jail to roughly ten to twenty days.
The Sheriff's Dept. maintains an "early release" policy -- 10% of sentence for non-violent misdemeanors -- which as a practical matter could let the WLB gang member, and other gang members convicted under anti-gang injunctions, walk out of jail after serving just fractions of their sentences.
The policy is not a secret. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has previously cited overcrowding and budgetary factors as his reasons for implementing the policy. The Sheriff's Dept. confirms that violating LB's anti-gang injunctions -- viewed by some LB residents as a neighborhood-liberating tool -- is currently classified as a non-violent misdemeanor, eligible for the Sheriff's 10% jail time policy. After applying other deductions for time served, the 360 days could shrink to about 10-20 days. 30 days in jail would be commensurately less.
This leaves LB City Prosecutor Reeves fuming. "Running the County jails is a core function of the Sheriff's Dept. It's their duty," he said.
Prosecutor Reeves said Sheriff Lee Baca should better prioritize taxpayer money he's already given. And, Reeves notes, the County Board of Supervisors gave the Sheriff additional money after Prop A (a proposed County sales tax hike supported by Sheriff Baca) failed to get the 2/3 vote required on the Nov. 2004 ballot.
The L.A. County Sheriff is directly elected by the public, although the (separately elected) Board of Supervisors sets his budget.
At a recent unrelated press event, LBReport.com spotted LB City Prosecutor Reeves in conversation with L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe (whose district includes LB). We weren't privy to the conversation.
However LBReport.com has asked Supervisor Knabe for his reaction to the Sheriff's policy as applied to LB's anti-gang injunctions. His press aide indicates a response is pending.
L.A. County Sheriff Chief Charles Jackson, Supervisor of the Correctional Services Division, confirmed the basic operation of the "10% of sentence" policy applied to non-violent misdemeanors, currently deemed to include violation of LB's anti-gang injunctions. While noting that the Rutherford court decision gives the Sheriff the authority to manage the County jail population, Chief Jackson said (with evident frustration in his voice) "I've spent thirty years putting people in jail, and three years letting them out. It's not a comfortable feeling."
Chief Jackson acknowledged that in December 2004, the County Board of Supervisors gave an additional $9 million to the Sheriff's Dept. for the current fiscal year. He said this money is in fact being used to hire new deputy Sheriffs and new custody assistants, so the Dept. can start reopening some jails with staff graduating now. Chief Jackson indicated that between March 28 and April 1, all or parts of some jails that have been closed may be reopened.
But this won't likely change the early release policy for non-violent offenses. The additional money will provide about 1,000 more beds and likely affect which inmates are released, with those serving sentences for violent offenses held longer (some already are, serving 50% or more of sentences).
The LB City Prosecutor's office had begun enforcing the WLB anti-gang injunction (issued in Dec. 2004) before the recent shooting of a Cabrillo High student within walking distance of campus and the WLB police station.
The injunction lets LBPD officers arrest gang members who engage in a list of specified activities within the territory specified in the injunction. (For readers' reference, we have previously posted a copy of the WLB injunction). Once served (LBPD photographs it so there's no question), if officers see a gang member doing any of the things the injunction forbids within the injunction area (bordered by the 710 and Terminal Island freeways and Hill St. and PCH), officers can arrest that person (or have discretion to cite the person with a ticket requiring a court appeareance).
The charge: violating section 166(a)(4) of the CA Penal Code. Each violation carries up to six months jail time.
The WLB anti-gang injunction area includes the area where Demetrius Williams was fatally shot in a neighborhood near Cabrillo High, which is within the injunction area. LBPD is continuing to serve the injunction on gang members and the City Prosecutor's office is continuing to enforce the injunctions.
Since December, LBPD has served nearly 100 persons with the injunction. "If a gang member violates the injunction, they will be arrested and prosecuted," City Prosecutor Reeves says.
In the case that brought the 360 day sentence, a WLB gang member (an adult) pleaded no contest to violating the injunction by loitering with another gang member (a juvenile) within the injunction area.
LBPD spotted and confronted the pair, showed the adult gang member his name and photo ID'ing him as a gang member...and also showed him the name and photo of the juvenile gang member. The adult exclaimed "Why didn't you tell me you were on the [injunction] list?"
Prosecutor Reeves says the gang member's reaction "drives home the value of the injunction" by letting "gang bangers know that the police and the prosecutor's office are keeping a close eye on them."