Category: Legal Issues

California Has a High Rate of Police Shootings. Could a New Open-Records Law Change That?

LOS ANGELES — After her son, Eric, was killed by the police in Los Angeles two years ago when officers mistook a water pistol he was holding for a real gun, Valerie Rivera channeled her grief into activism. She joined Black Lives Matter and lobbied the State Legislature to open to the public California’s records on police shootings, which have long been hidden.

She wanted, she recently wrote in a court filing, to “understand what really happened, and to advocate for change so that officers do not kill civilians, and are held accountable when they do, so that other families do not have to suffer as mine has.”

Her efforts paid off. Under a new state law, Ms. Rivera and other members of the public can now request to see the investigative records, prying open for the first time California’s strict secrecy laws regarding police shootings and serious misconduct by officers.

But, just as activists and state lawmakers have sought to bring decades-old investigative records to light, police unions have tried to jam the door shut. While police departments have said they would comply, police unions up and down the state, including in Los Angeles, have filed lawsuits challenging the law, arguing that it shouldn’t be applied retroactively. The union lawsuits have succeeded in some jurisdictions in getting temporary stays from the court.

The debate has opened up old wounds in a state that has been plagued by a high rate of killings by police officers, and it has showed how contentious and complex criminal justice reform can be, even after reform measures are passed.

California may be one of the most liberal states in the nation — its politics have shifted substantially in recent decades amid sweeping demographic changes — but paradoxes abound, especially when it comes to police matters and criminal justice. The state has the largest death row in the country, and voters, in a ballot measure, have demanded that the state speed up executions.

It also has one of the highest rates of police shootings in the country. Though there is no central database to track police shootings nationally, an analysis of data from 2013 to 2017 by Mapping Police Violence, an advocacy group that maintains a database of police killings, ranked the Bakersfield Police Department as the fifth deadliest in the country.

Now, at least on paper, California has gone from one of the most secretive states on police shootings to one of the most open. New York, by contrast, strictly limits the amount of information on police shootings that is made public.

Some other states, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida, are more transparent than California, according to research by the American Civil Liberties Union. These states allow open access to a broad range of police files, including disciplinary records of individual officers, and not just those concerned with police shootings.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/us/california-police-records.html


Bullying, verbal abuse, a ‘culture of silence’: independent investigator makes first report on sexual harassment inside SFMTA

San Francisco’s transportation agency is a haven for bullying and verbal abuse — but there is hope for change.

Those are the conclusions of the first report from Mayor London Breed’s independent “ombudsperson” Dolores Blanding, who in October last year was assigned to investigate an alleged culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.

Blanding’s appointment by Breed on October 5, 2018 followed a series of stories by the San Francisco Examiner that exposed unresolved complaints from women who were groped by colleagues and, in at least one case, bullied into sex by a superior.

SEE RELATED: Harassment investigations at SFMTA go nowhere, employees allege

In her report to Breed on January 30, Blanding finally offered a path forward for the SFMTA after meeting with 55-65 of its employees, while also providing a scathing look inside the agency.

“A number of MTA employees and managers described bullying and verbally abusive behavior as being tolerated in the workplace,” she wrote to the Mayor. “It has been described as a culture of silence.”

At a high level, Blanding recommended more training on cultivating a culture of respect, structural changes in the human resource department, making human resources staff “more visible” to the rest of the agency, holding all employees “accountable” for a safe and productive work environment, and more consistent discipline for staff “up to, and including, termination.”

And perhaps her most startling recommendation, sources said, was to make her own job title permanent, and create an independent ombudsperson who could investigate the agency. She did not say that ombudsperson should be herself.

Blanding’s report received wide praise from all involved.

Since the culture of harassment and assault surfaced, more than 70 women inside the agency have banded together to form Muni’s own #MeToo movement, a group called “ChangeSFMTA.”

The women cut across ethnic and class boundaries, from engineers who redesign The City’s streets to bus drivers. In a statement sent to the San Francisco Examiner, the women hailed Blanding’s report and praised the call for a permanent ombudsperson.

“Her recommendations connect dots on some of the SFMTA’s major workplace issues,” the women wrote. They also were pleased that SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin widely shared Blanding’s findings with all SFMTA staff.

Breed herself said Blanding’s report is the “first step” in providing a better workplace for Muni employees, and also referenced her new legislation strengthening training requirements for city employees.

“Harassment and intimidation do not belong anywhere in our city,” she said in a statement.

The Transit Riders group praised Blanding’s report as a “step in the right direction” to fix the “poisonous” culture at SFMTA.

“Change is very much needed at SFMTA if the agency is going to deliver a world-class transportation system,” said Rachel Hyden, the transit riders’ executive director.

Blanding’s six-page report contained detailed recommendations to fix SFMTA’s culture of harassment.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental disconnects is between the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity division and Human Resources, the first of which investigates discrimination complaints and the latter of which handles other types of complaints. The two departments within SFMTA do not communicate effectively, Blanding determined, and she offered recommendations to shore up their work.

Blanding also recommended robust training from the top of SFMTA’s staff on down, including “respectful workplace” training for SFMTA managers and supervisors which began January 29.

But some of the issues she found were far more basic.

Employees Blanding interviewed were largely unaware of how to report issues to the human resources department in the first place, or thought — mistakenly — that they didn’t have human resources “reps” at all. Blanding recommended raising the human resource department’s profile, partly by holding outreach events within SFMTA itself and sending out newsletters, among other methods.

She also recommended human resources host office hours at one of SFMTA’s dozen-or-so Muni yards, which are far from SFMTA headquarters.

SEE RELATED: Muni chief steps down amid growing pressure over harassment allegations

“I believe it would help identify some workplace issues earlier, and knowing their HR office is onsite and seeing a representative increases visibility,” Blanding wrote.

SFMTA has already made some changes in high-level staff. Human Resources Director Don Ellison quietly stopped working at the agency last week, and in October last year SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley retired after he was sued for allegedly groping his assistant.

Untangling 21 Savage’s ICE Arrest: What Happened and What’s Next?

Image via Getty/Prince Williams

On Feb. 3, it was reported that 21 Savage had been arrested in Atlanta, along with his cousin and fellow rapper Young Nudy, and taken into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. ICE alleges that the father of three, who grew up in Atlanta, is a national of the United Kingdom. The agency claims his visa expired in July 2006, when he was 14 years old. According to ICE, Young Nudy “was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and participation in criminal gang activity,” as part of an operation targeting him and two other men, but not 21.

ICE was founded in 2003, with the purpose of “smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and trade.” The agency, along with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has faced heavy scrutiny over the last few months for its role in President Trump’s “family separation policy” at the U.S./Mexico border, which has resulted in the separation of at least 2,737 children from their parents, as well as the deaths of multiple children and adults in ICE detention centers. There is currently a backlog of 800,000 cases piled up in U.S. immigration courts.

The news of 21 Savage’s arrest has come as a shock to fans, most of whom were not aware that he was an immigrant. We’ve spoken with immigration attorneys about how this could have happened, and what the implications are for 21 Savage and other undocumented immigrants.

Image via Getty/Prince Williams

On Feb. 4, attorney Charles H. Kuck, who represents 21, released a statement revealing that the 26-year-old rapper’s family “overstayed their work visas, and he was left without legal status through no fault of his own.” Kuck also says that 21 currently has a pending application from 2017 for a U visa—a nonimmigrant visa for victims of crimes (and their immediate family members) who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse while in the United States, and agree to cooperate with government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. According to TMZ, 21 Savage was shot during a 2013 incident where his best friend was murdered, an event that Kuck says “severely affected” him, both physically and mentally. Being a victim of this crime could potentially put 21 Savage in a position for permanent residence.

READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/music/2019/02/21-savage-arrested-by-ice-what-comes-next/the-latest-on-21

International Pickpockets Ride New York’s Subway, Pilfering and Profiting The thieves are not known to the police, which helps them evade detection. They also move from city to city, trying to stay ahead of investigators.

In Manhattan alone, transit larcenies were up 15 percent in 2018, with 754 reported cases.

A man and woman walked out of a subway car at the 51st Street station in Manhattan and darted into the next one on the same train. A plainclothes police officer noticed.

It was rush hour on a Tuesday evening in September on the busy No. 6 line. The officer watched as the woman dipped her hand into a commuter’s purse while her partner stood in front of her, shielding her from view, according to the officer’s affidavit. The woman lifted out a wallet, and the officer and his partners closed in.

She threw the wallet to the ground, and the commuter quickly identified it as hers. The woman, Jenny Gomez Velandia, 27, and her accomplice, John Diaz-Albarracin, 31, were arrested, according to a criminal complaint. What seemed like a routine pickpocketing had been thwarted.

But the suspects were not routine. Unlike most pickpockets, they had no criminal history in New York City. They were not locals. They were from Colombia and had come to New York for the purpose of stealing wallets on subways, one of several international pickpocket rings to descend on the transit system in 2018, the police said. “They come, they do what they can do, then they move,” said Chief Edward Delatorre, who leads the Police Department’s transit bureau. The woman and man arrested in September were tied to nine other thefts in the subway, the police said.

Little is known about these international pickpocket crews outside of the narrow scope of their crimes, the police said. They tend to avoid detection longer than their local counterparts because they are new faces, and their lack of criminal histories in the city is to their advantage when they are caught. They move from city to city, trying to stay ahead of investigators.

A three-man ring from Chile worked the No. 7 train in Queens during the United States Open last summer, when the platforms were extremely crowded, the police said. The three were finally caught in Manhattan. On Aug. 28, a straphanger on an uptown No. 4 train “felt himself being jostled” by a man beside him wearing a black bag. He realized his wallet was gone, and he told officers at the 59th Street station, who arrested the man with the bag, Victor Diaz Jimenez, 33, according to a criminal complaint. He was carrying, among other things, three MetroCards and four phones.

“I’m used to this,” Mr. Jimenez later told the police, according to court documents. “Everywhere I go, every country kicks me out.”

He described his methods. “This is how I make my living,” he told a detective. “I open the purses, put my hands in and take the wallets out. I pick people who are distracted.” He recalled lifting a wallet from “a tourist on the green line.” He took stolen credit cards to Target to buy watches he sold on the street, he said, and if the card had already been reported stolen, he threw it away.

“I’ve only been here for two weeks,” he said.

The police also arrested two teenagers who worked with Mr. Jimenez, Michael Camilo Joya Pinzto and Jhon Quintero Santos, despite Mr. Jimenez’s claims that he did not involve them in his work.

That group, like the Colombians, was tied to other crimes: nine previous grand larcenies in Queens and Manhattan — and in Mr. Jimenez’s case, elsewhere in the country. The police discovered an open arrest warrant for Mr. Jimenez from Kansas City, Kan., where he was wanted for charges of larceny and identity theft, according to prosecutors there. Mr. Jimenez remains on Rikers Island, facing a possible extradition to Kansas, and he declined a request for an interview.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/27/nyregion/pickpockets-nyc-crime.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

How Radio Is Dealing With R. Kelly in 2019

In the aftermath of the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, listeners everywhere are rethinking their relationship with R. Kelly and his music. Music business institutions are also facing pressure to cut ties with the singer as he faces investigation and possible criminal charges for the alleged behavior outlined in the program.

Kelly’s label, RCA Records, still lists him as being on their roster, though they have not sent out a press release about him since October, 2016. The label has faced public pressure for years to drop Kelly—pressure that is only ratcheting up in recent days.

As important as his future with RCA is, equally crucial is the way some people still hear R. Kelly’s music in 2019: on the radio.

The amount of airplay Kelly has received has been in a free fall since Surviving R. Kelly began. According to Billboard, the number of all-format radio impressions of his music dropped nearly 85 percent between the first night the series aired and the Monday following its conclusion.

This is the continuation of a longer trend: his spins fell roughly 40 percent over the course of 2018. But Surviving R. Kelly seems to have given additional momentum to the movement to get him off of radio. Stations across the U.S., from Seattle to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Savannah to Dallas, have removed R. Kelly’s entire catalog from their playlists. And iHeartMedia, which owns over 850 stations, is the subject of a new campaign to remove Kelly’s music from all of them.

The #MuteRKelly movement, unsurprisingly, has heard plenty of similar stories from DJs—both the radio and live performance variety. “#MuteRKelly has received countless emails from DJs around the country who are joining us in boycotting R Kelly’s music,” they say in a statement to Complex. “Many shared their stories of having not played him in years, or arguing with clients about why they wouldn’t play R Kelly despite audience requests.

“What’s more impressive to us, however, are the stories from DJs about playing R Kelly in the club and immediately being booed until they turned it off. The masses are waking up, and it’s in MASS action that we see real and lasting change.”  

READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/music/2019/01/how-radio-is-dealing-with-r-kelly-2019

Facebook Data Breach — What To Do Next

Screen Shot 2018-09-29 at 8.18.02 PM

Yesterday, Facebook notified users of a massive data breach affecting over 50 million people. The breach had taken place three days earlier, on the afternoon of 25 September.

The social media giant says it doesn’t know exactly what kind of information has been compromised. However, in an updated statement yesterday, it did admit the hack affected those who use Facebook to log into other accounts.

How do you know if you’ve been impacted?

If you’ve been affected by the breach, Facebook logged you out of your account yesterday. The social network said it would also notify these people in a message on top of their News Feed about what happened.

However, an important thing to note: If you were logged out, you weren’t necessarily breached. Facebook has also logged out everyone who used the ‘View As’ feature since the vulnerability was introduced as a “precautionary measure”. The social network says this will require another 40 million people or more to log back into their accounts, adding: “We do not currently have any evidence that suggests these accounts have been compromised.”

Has the issue been fixed?

According to Facebook, yes. It believes it has fixed the security vulnerability, which enabled hackers to exploit a weakness in Facebook’s code to access the ‘View As’ privacy tool that allows users to see how their profile looks to other people.

Attackers would then be able to steal the access tokens that allow people to stay logged into their accounts. Then, Facebook admits, they could use these to take over people’s profiles.

Facebook is also temporarily turning off the ‘View As’ feature while it conducts a “thorough security review”.

What should you do if you’ve used Facebook to log in to other accounts/apps?

Facebook has admitted this could be an issue, but it can be hard to know what you’ve logged into using your account. This information can be found in your settings. First, go to ‘apps and websites’, then ‘logged in using Facebook’.

There you will be able to find all the apps you have used Facebook to log in to. It’s a good idea to remove these, even if you think you haven’t been impacted by the breach. If you have been affected, you’ll also need to change the passwords for those accounts, to be safe.

What can you do to secure your Facebook account?

Facebook says there’s no need for people to change their passwords. However, there is no harm in doing so – ensuring that your new password is secure and that you do not use it to log into other accounts. You could also log yourself out of Facebook, even if you don’t think you’ve been impacted, using the ‘security and login’ section in ‘settings’. This lists the places people are logged into Facebook with a one-click option to log out of all of them. People who’ve forgotten their passwords can access Facebook’s Help Center.

If you haven’t already, you should also enable two-factor authentication, which again can be found in Facebook settings.

Of course, you could also delete your Facebook account altogether.

Does this breach come under GDPR?

Many of the 50 million customers breached will reside in Europe, so their data does fall under the EU general update to data protection regulation (GDPR). We don’t know exactly what information has been impacted – fines are applicable for sensitive and personal data such as credit card details, which Facebook initially said has not been affected. However, if attackers have accessed personal messages, all kinds of sensitive information could have been breached.

As Facebook investigates the breach, it will be interesting to see the regulatory impact. The number of accounts impacted dwarfs that of British Airways at 50 million versus 380,000 but the nature of the information accessed is important.

For now, users need to ensure their own security is tight. Breaches are happening every day and it’s important to use strong passwords and two-factor authentication at a bare minimum.