| NEWS of the Day - January 11, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From Los Angeles Times
An anguished search for his daughter's killer
Donglei Shi was found dead in an Alhambra park nearly two years ago. No witnesses and little evidence were found. Her father, George, has tirelessly pursued his quest and is offering a $200,000 reward.
by Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2012
The rain had washed away his daughter's smile by the time George Shi reached the parking lot.
Gently, he glued a new flier over the old one, smoothing each crease, until her photo and his message again shone clear:
REWARD: $200,000 to anyone who helps find her killer.
It is all Shi can do, nearly two years after his daughter, Donglei Shi, was strangled and her body dumped in an Alhambra park, leaving behind a case with no witnesses and little evidence.
Donglei, also known as Kyral, was Shi's only daughter, the older of two children. She had become her father's right hand after the family emigrated from China. At 31, the graphic designer helped him manage his acupuncture business, took him for long walks in the park, even bought his ties, his glasses, his belts and his razors.
"She was my warm cotton coat," Shi said in Chinese, through an interpreter. "My heart."
When her body was discovered beside a wash at Story Park in April 2010, Shi at first refused to believe it.
"I heard the words," he said. "They invaded my body, they invaded my space. They made me feel like my head was going to explode."
Authorities have been guarded in discussing the investigation, releasing few details.
"Detectives are working diligently," said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "They have people of interest that they've talked to, but they can't prove anything yet."
Shi, 61, talks with homicide detectives every so often, but simply waiting is impossible for him. His life revolves around finding Donglei's killer.
The acupuncturist sat in his San Gabriel apartment recently, his face somber, his detective work stacked on the worn-out carpet — notebooks filled with his interviews of Donglei's friends and co-workers, her phone records, legal documents and photos.
He's written letters, pleading for help, to the district attorney's office, to members of Congress and President Obama, to China's ambassador to the U.S., to the Chinese Consulate and to every justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. (Only the district attorney's office answered, but it couldn't offer much help.)
He prints notices in Chinese and Vietnamese newspapers and posts fliers on trees and walls around Alhambra. He's hired lawyers and a personal assistant to help.
Every morning before work, he wakes up early to review his findings, scouring his notes for any clue, any detail he may have overlooked.
Little is known about what happened April 9, the day Donglei was killed.
She left her job at REM Eyewear in Sun Valley around 5:30 p.m. Shi believes his daughter was scheduled to meet someone.
A few hours later, her brother, Will, tried to call her several times, but she did not answer her cellphone.
The next morning, a man walking his dog spotted Donglei's body in a grassy patch near the sidewalk.
Police dogs found her Toyota Prius around the corner, parked on a quiet street lined with trees and quaint homes.
No one, apparently, had seen Donglei or spotted anything out of the ordinary that evening.
Shi believes Donglei's life insurance may provide a major clue.
A few weeks before his daughter died, he said, the main beneficiary of her $890,000 policy was changed from her mother, Linda, to her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Duong. A second policy for $1 million was also taken out with Duong as the recipient. The couple had broken up about two years before.
Duong and Donglei sold life insurance together, and Shi believes Duong could have altered the plan without Donglei's permission.
After Donglei's death, Shi filed a civil lawsuit against Duong to keep him from collecting the $890,000 from one insurance company. They settled in November, with the Shis and Duong each getting about half.
The second insurer has so far declined to pay because the case is under investigation.
Recently, Shi filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Duong and another man, Aaron Lee, who was Donglei's boyfriend at the time she was killed. He is asking for $5 million.
Duong and Lee both have been questioned by detectives. Neither returned repeated calls requesting comment, although Duong answered the phone initially and said he could not hear the caller.
His connection with Donglei went back nearly a decade, her family said. They described him as driven and savvy and said he introduced Donglei to things and places she'd hadn't explored as an immigrant.
They believed, however, that the year the couple dated was also filled with disagreements. But the Shis didn't want to pry.
"My daughter looked tired all the time," Shi said. "She was sad and more moody than usual."
After the couple broke up in 2007, they continued to sell life insurance together.
Between running the family business and the children's jobs, the Shis had always stayed busy.
Longing for political and economic freedom, Shi came to Los Angeles on a visa from China's Shandong province in 1996. His wife and children joined him three years later.
"We thought everything would be great here," Linda Shi said, smiling. "The sun would be bigger, the moon would be brighter, and we could say whatever we wanted."
When the family reunited, 21-year-old Donglei focused on her studies. She mastered English and graduated with honors in studio art from Cal State Long Beach.
Her sketchbooks and art projects fill the family's two-bedroom apartment: the entryway, on the walls and on the bookshelves. Seeing the work is so painful that her mother has begun to throw some of it away.
"All we wanted for Donglei was a good life, a good, stable job and family," George Shi said.
The slaying stunned the Chinese community in San Gabriel and Alhambra; killings involving Asians are rare there.
For a time, Asian-language reporters came knocking on Shi's door, but he turned them all away, advised by police to keep a low profile.
Now he has no idea how the community perceives his family. And it matters little. He mostly leans on a close circle of friends, fellow Chinese acupuncturists and doctors. They often ask him: What's new with the case? When will police solve it? Why has it taken this long?
Most painful of all is when Shi speaks to relatives in China. They have no idea Donglei is dead. The Shis are too ashamed to tell them.
"What will they say?" Shi said. "They think we are in the best place on Earth. They think we are in heaven. But here, in America, we lost our daughter. She was killed, and I haven't been able to catch the murderer."
So they tell brothers and sisters back home: Donglei is working. Donglei is doing well.
Outside Shi's business, the advertisements Donglei crafted still decorate the storefront. Shi walks in each morning and hears her voice as he runs through her to-do list for opening the shop.
One: Open the curtains. Two: turn on the computer. Three: check the messages.
Without her, nothing feels the same.
The day before she died, she came by for a quick visit. They spoke in the parking lot, then she drove off on an errand.
Shi plays the moment — her pink skirt, her white sweater, her quick smile — over and over in his mind.
"I cherish it," he says, between deep sighs. "I only wish it had lasted longer."
With her insurance money, Shi hopes to motivate witnesses to come forward.
"We're looking for anyone who may have seen her or seen anything at all on April 8, 9 or on any day before that," Shi said.
On a recent evening, he paced around the spot where her body was found, leaves crunching beneath his feet. A few yards away at the park's senior center, silver-haired ladies stretched their bodies in yoga positions.
He walked, fliers in hand, to post another announcement on a pine tree, stapling it firmly to the trunk. Then he drove around the block to post two more fliers on the trees.
"All around this street, the dogs picked up her scent," he said, following the trail with a hint of hope.
"Somebody, I'm sure, had to have seen something."
L. A. County jailers more likely to use force on mentally ill inmates
Mentally ill inmates make up about 15% of the Los Angeles County jail population but are involved in about a third of use-of-force incidents by deputies.
by Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
January 11, 2012
Los Angeles County jailers are more likely to use force against mentally ill inmates than other prisoners, according to a new Sheriff's Department report that acknowledges the lockups need specially trained staff to reduce the violence.
Roughly a third of the 582 deputy use-of-force cases in the jail system last year involved inmates with mental health histories, according to an analysis released Tuesday. About 15% of the jail's 15,000 inmates are classified as mentally ill.
The numbers provide a more detailed picture of the confrontations between deputies and inmates, an issue that has sparked intense scrutiny over the last few months and prompted a heated debate Tuesday between Sheriff Lee Baca and some L.A. County supervisors.
Baca presented the report to county supervisors in response to their concerns about conditions in the jails, which are the subject of an FBI investigation. Federal authorities are investigating several specific allegations of deputy misconduct and excessive force and last year even smuggled a cellphone into the jail as part of the probe.
But the disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates involved in altercations with deputies is a new element in the jail controversy. The Times reported in October that a Los Angeles County sheriff's rookie resigned after only a few weeks on the job, alleging that a supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill inmate.
Baca said he had added more deputies who are trained in resolving tensions with mentally ill inmates without resorting to violence and announced that he wanted to increase the number of mental health staff members.
The problems were particularly acute at night and early in the morning when specially trained staff were not at work, sheriff's officials said in a report to the Board of Supervisors. The confrontations often involve inmates who become disruptive when jailers move them out of housing areas set aside for the mentally ill and into general population rows inside Men's Central Jail, Baca said.
"I don't want to have to use force to get them back to housing. I think that's inappropriate," Baca told the Board of Supervisors during a contentious meeting.
David Bennett, a criminal justice consultant who has been hired by jails across the country, said mentally ill inmates pose unique problems for jail managers. Many don't belong in jail, he said, but wind up incarcerated as a result of behavior linked to their illnesses. Once in jail, mentally ill inmates are more prone to act out in a way that could lead jailers to use force, he said.
"We need to make sure that staff is trained to handle these inmates in a way that minimizes the use of force," Bennett said.
Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, accused the department of failing to provide sufficient training to deputies throughout the jails on how to deal with the mentally ill. Deputies without such an education can easily mistake erratic behavior for signs of aggression, he said.
"You have to be on guard that some of them behave differently and they often do things that if they didn't have mental illness, it would be a real true sign of aggression," he said. "But if you're sensitive that this is an inmate with mental illness, you realize it's not a deliberate attempt to incite."
Eliasberg said the department also has vastly underestimated the percentage of its jail population that suffers from mental illness.
The sheriff told openly skeptical supervisors that he needed more money to prevent force against mentally ill inmates as his department deals with allegations of deputy brutality. The funds would help pay for six deputies trained to deal with mentally ill inmates during the evenings and additional clinicians from the county's Department of Mental Health.
Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Baca of failing to adequately explain a number of jail issues, including why mentally ill inmates who act disruptively would be housed with the general jail population. She described the sheriff's report as "garbage" and "gobbledygook."
"I don't think you're taking us very seriously," she said.
"On the contrary, supervisor. I don't think you're taking what we're saying very seriously," Baca shot back during one testy exchange.
Baca cited a significant drop in force incidents over the last year as evidence that the department is making headway.
The most noteworthy decline has come in the last three months, coinciding with intense public scrutiny of how the sheriff manages the nation's largest jail system. From October through December, sheriff's figures show, jailers used force 107 times, compared with 155 times the previous three months.
Baca told The Times that media scrutiny and complaints made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California had spurred valuable reforms and raised questions about when force should be used on inmates.
"It is more clear to deputies after recent events … you've really got to be on solid footing when you engage in force," Baca said, "and not just do it because someone's giving you a hard time."
Meanwhile Tuesday, sheriff's officials confirmed that jails Chief Dennis Burns would be retiring from his post.
Capt. Mike Parker said the decision by Burns, a 38-year veteran, had nothing to do with recent allegations of misconduct inside the jails. Alarms were raised about abuse in the jails during Burns' watch, with internal audits discovering excessive force and shoddy investigations.
One retired sheriff's commander told The Times recently that he expressed concerns about jailer behavior to Burns but was told the jail's culture could not be changed. Burns denied making the comment.
Also on Tuesday, a lawyer for several sheriff's deputies held a news conference alleging that his clients had witnessed other deputies planting evidence and falsifying reports.
Attorney Leo Terrell said his clients had made the allegations in sworn depositions, but he did not make those statements available. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department hopes to interview the deputies and investigate the allegations.
Appeals court affirms order blocking Oklahoma sharia law ban
A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocked the implementation of an Oklahoma law barring judges from considering international or Islamic law in their decisions.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Tuesday, affirmed an order by a district court judge in 2010 that halted the law from taking effect. The ruling also allows a Muslim community leader in Oklahoma City to continue his legal challenge of the law's constitutionality.
The measure, known as State Question 755, was approved with 70% of the vote in 2010.
The law is an amendment to the state constitution and bars courts from considering the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. “Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or sharia law,” the law reads.
The appellate court opinion pointed out that proponents of the law admitted to not knowing of a single instance in which an Oklahoma court applied Sharia law or the legal precepts of other countries.
“This serves as a reminder that these anti-Sharia laws are unconstitutional and that if politicians use fear-mongering and bigotry, the courts won't allow it to last for long,” said Muneer Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma.
Awad sued to block the law, contending that it infringed on his 1st Amendment rights. He argued that the law would stigmatize those who practice Islam and deny him rights available to those practicing other religions. For instance, he argued that the law would affect the execution of his will after his death because it instructs the judge to use Sharia law if his wishes are not clear.
Proponents of the law argued that it was intended to ban courts from considering all religious laws and that sharia was simply used as an example. The appeals court, however, disagreed.
“That argument conflicts with the amendment's plain language, which mentions sharia law in two places,” the court opinion read.
The court ruled that Awad made a “strong showing” that he is likely to succeed in his challenge of the law. The ruling keeps the injunction in place as Awad's lawsuit continues.
The appeals court took up the case after the Oklahoma attorney general's office appealed the injunction order. “My office will continue to defend the state in this matter and proceed with the merits of the case,” Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
Sharia — which translates roughly as “path” in Arabic — is intended to guide Muslims to connect with God and is rooted in mercy and compassion, said Salam Al-Marayati, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. It governs many common activities, including fasting and daily prayer.
Al-Marayati argues that campaigns to ban sharia present a distorted view of Islamic law. “They equate it with unjust and abusive practices originated by tyrannical regimes in the Middle East,” he said. “They use misconceptions about Muslims to misinform the American public.”
From Google News
Detroit police stations cut hours
Strapped city looks to avoid takeover
by John D. Stoll, Reuters
January 11, 2012
DETROIT — Detroit, which has one of the highest crime rates among large American cities, is now closing its police stations to the public for 16 hours a day — including overnight — as the cash-strapped city struggles to slash expenses.
Public desks at the eight stations that represent the eight precincts or districts of the Detroit Police Department began closing this week at 4 p.m. daily and reopening the next morning at 8. It means residents could have a harder time quickly finding face-to-face help from police during many hours.
The moves are expected to lead to "virtual precincts" as desk officers are redeployed to the streets during the affected hours.
The administration of Mayor Dave Bing is under intense pressure to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. The city estimates it could run out of money within a few months if immediate action is not taken. The state is conducting a financial review that could result in a takeover.
"I think it is the right thing to do," said Steve Dolunt, commanding officer of the Eastern District, noting that most people needing help from police use the phone instead of coming into a station.
The department plans to create online tools so residents can use the Web to seek help as well, he said.
There were 173 homicides in Detroit from January through June last year, up 14 percent from the year-earlier period and roughly equivalent to 1 per 4,120 residents, according to the most recent FBI statistics. Violent crime overall dropped during that period but remains significantly higher than most similar-size cities. Detroit had 713,000 residents as of 2010.
Detroit's police department, along with other critical services, have shouldered considerable cuts in recent years. The city has scrambled to reduce costs in the face of a shrinking population, escalating legacy costs and lower revenues. Bing recently laid out a plan to cut $258million over the next 18 months.
During the hours the precincts and districts are closed to the public, they will each remain staffed by a supervisor and another person, as well as those handling prisoners, officials said. The city employs nearly 3,000 police officers, compared with about 5,500 in 2001, according to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
LANSING, Mich. — Detroit is on track to run out of money in May instead of April after spending changes by city officials, Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon said Tuesday.
A 10-member team is looking at Detroit's financial picture and trying to assess whether the city needs an emergency manager to take over operations.