LAPD consent decree dismissed, federal oversight ends
by Rick Orlov
Twelve years of federal oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department officially ended this week when a federal judge formally dismissed the consent decree that changed how the department handled public complaints, disciplined its officers and trained its cadets.
U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Feess, who oversaw the decree from its inception in 2000-01 and imposed tough deadlines on the LAPD to comply with its provisions, signed the final order dismissing the decree on Wednesday. He ordered it dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be reconsidered.
Mayor Antonio Villaraiogsa, Police Chief Charlie Beck and other LAPD officials hailed the court's action and what it represents for the city.
"With this ruling, Judge Feess has recognized the tremendous strides we have made in recognizing constitutional principles as a bedrock of the department," Villaraigosa said. "The entire department has made these reforms, their reforms."
Villaraigosa said the LAPD was "once an example of how not to police a major city" and has now become a model for big-city police agencies.
Beck said the department - one in which his father was a deputy chief and where his children now serve - has changed dramatically.
"This is a department I'm proud of and will turn over to my children," Beck said.
The consent decree was developed in negotiations with the Justice Department following the late-1990s corruption scandal in the Rampart Division, where anti-gang officers were accused of beating and framing gang members for crimes.
The consent decree involved a series of reforms meant to root out or prevent corruption, though its requirements were often criticized as burdensome by officers in the department. Its measures included a new computerized system to track complaints from the public against officers; new financial disclosure requirements by anti-gang officers; the appointing of an independent monitor over the department; and a series of new auditing requirements, among other measures.
Police Commission Vice Chairman John Mack, a longtime civil rights leader who clashed with police officials for years, said he took pride in how the department has changed.
"The LAPD used to be considered as an occupying force in certain parts of the city," Mack said. "That is no longer the case. Now they are seen as partners."
Commission President Andrea Ordin, a former U.S. attorney who worked on the Christopher Commission - formed to craft reforms after the 1991 Rodney King beating - said she was pleased to see civilian oversight of the department now institutionalized.
Former Chief Bill Bratton, who was given the initial responsibility to implement the decree said it was an historic moment for the LAPD.
"In some respects, it's like someone getting a college degree," Bratton said in a telephone interview. "It took a lot of hard work. This is something you hang on the wall to say you are no longer brutal, racist and corrupt.
"When I first came in and embraced the consent decree, what I used to tell the cops at roll call was that until it is complete, we would not be able to establish trust with the public. I think the consent decree is why the LAPD is so highly rated now for its integrity and improvements in race relations, particularly in the African-American community."
One of the decree's biggest tests came after the May Day melee in 2007 when police clashed with immigrant-rights demonstrators at MacArthur Park.
Bratton and Villaraigosa used the consent decree procedures as a way to calm public fears, investigate the incident and institute reforms.
"Up until then, we had been focused primarily on the African-American community," Bratton said. "May Day forced us to do more with the Latino community and include them in what we were doing."
Bratton said much of the consent decree provisions are now ingrained in the LAPD because of the support for it from Beck as well as the fact that so many new officers hired over the past 12 years have only worked under its provisions.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, whose office worked on the consent decree, said he is confident the "necessary policies and protocols have been put in place ... to ensure that our Police Department will continue to operate in keeping with the highest ethical, professional and constitutional standards."
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the dismissal means the LAPD is out from under federal control.
"It changed the way the department monitors, audits and evaluates our whole process," Izen said. "it is much more clear and transparent and, as a result, I think the public has gained more confidence in the department."
Izen said one of the last main issues was financial disclosure requirements for officers in certain assignments. It was resolved, he said, with a court case requiring disclosure for assignments to anti-gang and narcotics details.
Feess had indicated in 2009 that he was prepared to end the consent decree as long as the city continued to comply with its provisions.
Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, said his organization remains concerned about issues such as racial profiling and treatment of the homeless.
"But, overall Judge Feess and the consent decree have changed the LAPD," Rosenbaum said. "This is no longer your father's LAPD. The culture of the LAPD has changed because of the commitment of the mayor and the chiefs of police."
U.S. lost track of two with known or suspected terror ties
by Jake Tapper
Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Marshals Service lost track of two former participants in the federal Witness Security Program "identified as known or suspected terrorists," according to the public summary of an interim Justice Department Inspector General's report obtained by CNN.
The Marshals Service has concluded that "one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside of the United States," according to the summary.
A Justice Department official said in response to follow up questions about the matter by reporters on Thursday that the pair had left the program years ago and had been accounted for.
It was not clear when or for how long the Marshals Service lost track of them.
The report notes that while in the middle of an audit of the witness program, the inspector general notified the Justice Department of national security vulnerabilities.
The agency watchdog "developed the interim report to help ensure that the Justice Department promptly and sufficiently addressed the deficiencies we found."
After its audit, the inspector general's office reported that "the department did not definitively know how many known or suspected terrorists were admitted" into the witness program," among other "significant issues concerning national security."
As of March 2013, the Justice Department was reviewing more than 18,000 program case files to determine whether more known or suspected terrorists have been admitted, the summary notes. As such, the number of terrorists lost or unaccounted for "may not be complete and may continue to evolve."
The summary said that although the Marshals Service was giving known or suspected terrorists who participated in the witness program and their dependents new names and identity documents, the Justice Department "was not authorizing the disclosure to a federal center that operates a terrorist watch list that helps provide information to the Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly" database.
"Therefore it was possible for known or suspected terrorists to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States and evade one of the government's primary means of identifying and tracking terrorists' movements and actions," the summary said.
The inspector general's office notified the Justice Department of the problems and in the middle of remedying them, the Marshals Service discovered it could not account for the two missing people.
A Justice Department official who spoke to reporters about the matter said on Thursday that the agency knows the whereabouts of witness program participants.
"As for the two people you're talking about, we know they left the country years ago, they left the program years ago, they have been accounted for. There has been no information provided that they have ever returned to the United States," according to the official who spoke
The Justice Department said in an earlier statement that the FBI had "not identified a national security threat tied to the participation of terrorism-linked witnesses."
A Justice Department official also told CNN that the pair "completed their obligations to the U.S. government by cooperating against terrorists" and were not fugitives. The official added that "for obvious reasons, we cannot comment on the exact location of any current or former participant" in the program.
The development broke in the midst of a difficult week for the Obama administration, with revelations that the Justice Department secretly collected months of phone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press; renewed criticism and accusations of a cover-up over the White House's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, and revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
President Barack Obama did not respond when asked at the White House on Thursday about the inspector general's report.
Feds arrest Idaho man on terror charges
by Cheryl K. Chumley
Federal agents arrested an Uzbekistan man in Idaho on ties to terrorism, claiming he provided cash and support to a militant group in his country in order to carry out an attack on unspecified targets.
Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, was arrested at his Boise apartment on Thursday and is scheduled for his first appearance in U.S. District Court on Friday morning, The Associated Press reported.
His arrest came on the heels of a lengthy investigation, AP said. His charges, AP said: One count of conspiracy to give material support to a foreign terrorist group; one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; and one charge of possession of an unregistered explosive device.
Mr. Kurbanov also faces a charge in Utah related to distributing information about explosives and weapons of mass destruction, AP reported.
Wendy Olson, the U.S. attorney in Idaho, didn't release details of Mr. Kurbanov's alleged activities — and declined to say if the planned targets were on American soil.
The U.S. attorney's office did say Mr. Kurbanov was in the United States legally, though, AP said.
Third Sexual Assault Prevention Official Fired
A third military sexual assault prevention official was removed from his position Thursday after an Army lieutenant colonel was arrested in a domestic dispute, according to officials at Fort Campbell, Ky., the officer's home station.
Lt. Col. Darin Haas, the Fort Campbell Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention/Equal Opportunity program manager, turned himself in to police Wednesday on charges of violating an order of protection and stalking.
Haas is involved in a “contentious divorce” with his ex-wife, and both have mutual orders of protection against one another, according to a statement released by Fort Campbell. Army officials immediately removed Haas from his position as a sexual assault prevention official upon learning of the arrest, said Master Sgt. Pete Mayes, a Fort Campbell spokesman.
The Fort Campbell officer is the third sexual assault prevention official to be removed from his job since May 5, when the Air Force branch chief for the service's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office was arrested after allegedly groping a woman near a strip club a mile from the Pentagon.
The Army is also investigating Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, for sexual assault and allegations he forced at least one woman into a prostitution ring. He was immediately removed from his job.
The high-profile firings, investigations and arrests have occurred the same month the Pentagon published a report that estimated that 26,000 servicemembers were sexually assaulted in 2012. President Obama called Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey as well as the service secretaries, chiefs and enlisted advisors to a meeting at the White House Thursday to discuss sexual assault.
Dempsey called the growing number of sexual assaults a “crisis.” Obama called sexual assault a threat to national security on Thursday.
“So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be,” Obama said after the meeting with the military's top leaders.
Fort Campbell officials said Haas was close to retirement. His replacement will start the job immediately.
Haas' ex-wife reported to police that Haas had repeatedly contacted her despite the protective order, Clarksville Police Sgt. Chuck Gill told the Associated Press. Haas was held the required 12 hours and then released.
The Clarksville Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office have started an investigation on Haas “to determine whether or not he violated the actual provisions of the Order of Protection that applies to him,” Mayes said in a statement.
Judge Lets Ariz. Immigrant License Policy Stand
by JACQUES BILLEAUD
A judge on Thursday refused to halt Gov. Jan Brewer's order that denies driver's licenses for young immigrants in Arizona who have gotten work permits and avoided deportation under an Obama administration policy.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell denied a request from immigrant rights advocates for a preliminary injunction and threw out one of their arguments, but their lawsuit remains alive as they pursue arguments that the young immigrants are suffering from unequal treatment.
Arizona's refusal to view those in President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as legal residents has become the most visible challenge to his announcement in June that some young immigrants would be protected from deportation. The Department of Homeland Security has said immigrants with work permits issued under the policy are lawfully present in the U.S.
Campbell rejected the argument by immigrant rights advocates who said Brewer's policy was unconstitutional because it's trumped by federal law.
"This portion of the ruling is not only a victory for the state of Arizona — it is a victory for states' rights, the rule of law and the bedrock principles that guide our nation's legislative process and the division of power between the federal government and states," Brewer said in a statement.
But the judge said the immigrant rights advocates are likely to succeed in arguing that the state lets some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses but won't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit.
Cecillia Wang, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups representing the immigrants, said those who challenged Brewer's policy will examine their options in court for protecting the young immigrants.
"It's keeping people out on a limb," Wang said of the ruling.
Last summer, the Obama administration took administrative steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation. Applicants for the deferment program must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16, be younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, be in school or have graduated from high school or GED program, or have served in the military. They also were allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit.
Arizona's policy allows anyone with lawful immigration status to get a driver's license, and more than 500 immigrants with work permits have obtained Arizona driver's licenses in recent years. But Arizona officials have said they don't want to extend driver's licenses to those in the new program because they don't believe the youths will be able to stay in the country legally.
Brewer's lawyers argued that Obama's policy isn't federal law and the state has the authority to distinguish between immigrants with work permits who are on the path toward permanent residency and those benefiting from Obama's policy. The state's lawyers argued Arizona isn't violating its own policy by refusing to grant licenses to the immigrants in the program, because the youths haven't been granted legal protections by Congress.
Immigrant rights advocates filed their lawsuit in November on behalf of five young-adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. from Mexico as children. They were granted deferred-deportation protections under the Obama administration's policy but were denied driver's licenses in Arizona.
The lawsuit said Brewer's policy makes it difficult or impossible for such young immigrants to do essential things in their everyday life, such as going to school, going to the grocery store, and finding and holding down a job.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Michigan after officials there initially decided to deny young immigrants licenses, but the case was dropped when the state changed its policy last month. At least 38 states have agreed to give driver's licenses to immigrants benefiting from the Obama policy, but Nebraska and Ohio officials have also balked.
Brewer has clashed with the Obama administration in the past over illegal immigration, most notably in the challenge that the federal government filed in a bid to invalidate Arizona's 2010 immigration law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law's most contentious section, but threw out other sections.