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Crime

Why I Went to Jail on October 5

Sometimes friends have to hold friends accountable.

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Barbed Wire

Sometimes friends have to hold friends accountable. That’s why I got arrested outside the White House on October 5. I was there with other civil rights and religious leaders to call on President Joe Biden to do more to protect voting rights that are under attack.

We know that President Biden supports voting rights. He has called anti-voting laws being passed by Republican state legislators the biggest threat to our democracy since the Civil War. We need him to act like he truly believes those words.

We need a federal voting rights law passed this year. More states are enacting voter suppression. They are abusing the redistricting process to rig future elections and give Republicans more power than they would win in a fair system.

They want to shut Democrats out of power in 2022 and 2024. They want to stop progress that millions of Americans voted for when we put President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House—and mobilized to elect Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

We have seen this before.

When Black people and their allies won political power after the Civil War, white supremacists used violence and illegitimate power to reverse that progress. State-level voter suppression was a core tactic of Jim Crow. The solution then, and the solution today, is strong federal voting rights legislation that will override those state laws and prevent new ones from taking effect.

The good news is that the legislation has been written. It has passed the House of Representatives and it has the support of every Democratic senator. If it gets to the White House, President Biden will sign it.

The bad news is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues are using Senate filibuster rules to keep voting rights from coming up for a vote. This is 2021, not 1921. President Biden and Senate Democrats cannot let McConnell have the final word on voting rights in this country.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson did not choose between civil rights and his anti-poverty agenda.

He knew the country needed both and he used his mastery of the Senate to get both passed.

That’s what we need from President Biden, who has more experience in the Senate than any president since Johnson. The infrastructure bill is vitally important. So is the Build Back Better agenda.

But we need the White House to devote the same level of urgency to the infrastructure of our democracy. President Biden must lead Senate Democrats in passing voting rights this year—and getting rid of the filibuster if it stands in the way.

We need strong, effective moral leadership both inside and outside the White House at this moment. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a moral movement. It called on Americans to live up to their own ideals as well as to the promises in our founding documents.

It brought the public pressure that compelled LBJ to use the powers of his office to pass civil rights and voting rights legislation.

I was proud to stand outside the White House with so many religious leaders: a Catholic nun representing thousands of her sisters; a Jewish rabbi in whose organization’s office the original Voting Rights Act was drafted; Black Baptist and AME clergy taking their place in the Black church’s long legacy of working for justice. We were joined by representatives of secular social justice and voting rights organizations.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, who pastored in Martin Luther King’s church and who serves as the co-chair of People for the American Way, the organization I lead, led us in singing and prayer and brought powerful words of truth.

I choked up a bit with gratitude for their leadership, and with gratitude for all the members of the movement, including members of my own family, who risked their lives over the years to secure the right to vote for all Americans.

Before I was arrested and spent the night in jail, I delivered a message to President Biden: When the president of the League of Women Voters is willing to risk arrest, when pastors in Dr. King’s lineage are willing to risk arrest, when Catholic nuns are willing to risk arrest to call you to fulfill your promise to make voting rights a top priority, it is time to examine your moral conscience.

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Bay Area

No Charges to Be Filed in Death of Supervisor Wilma Chan

Chan was walking her dog when she was hit by a vehicle at 8:05 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2021, at Grand Street and Shore Line Drive in Alameda. Chan was a resident of the city for 27 years. “My Office reviewed the completed (police) reports,” O’Malley said. “To file criminal charges, we would have to find that the driver was criminally negligent, such as running a stop sign.” O’Malley said, “We did not find such negligence.”

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The late Wilma Chan, Alameda County Supervisor for District 3, including the cities of Alameda, San Leandro, a portion of Oakland, including Chinatown, Jack London, and Fruitvale, among others. (Office of Wilma Chan via Bay City News)
The late Wilma Chan, Alameda County Supervisor for District 3, including the cities of Alameda, San Leandro, a portion of Oakland, including Chinatown, Jack London, and Fruitvale, among others. (Office of Wilma Chan via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank | Bay City News

Criminal charges will not be filed against the driver of the vehicle that hit and killed Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan in November 2021, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said recently.

Chan was walking her dog when she was hit by a vehicle at 8:05 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2021, at Grand Street and Shore Line Drive in Alameda. Chan was a resident of the city for 27 years.

“My Office reviewed the completed (police) reports,” O’Malley said. “To file criminal charges, we would have to find that the driver was criminally negligent, such as running a stop sign.”

O’Malley said, “We did not find such negligence.”

Alameda officials declined to release details of the police investigation into the collision. O’Malley said officers made diagrams, took statements from witnesses, and analyzed the trajectory of the sun that morning.

“Supervisor Chan was a tireless advocate for seniors, children, and families, promoting programs that advance children’s health, and help lift people out of poverty, and so much more,” Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said in a statement the day that Chan died. “Her compassion, strong sense of community, and devotion to the people she served will be profoundly missed.”

In recognition of Chan’s work and contributions to the city, Alameda renamed a street after her on Nov. 16, when family, friends, city officials and colleagues unveiled Wilma Chan Way, which stretches from Webster Street to Lincoln Avenue replacing Constitution Way.

Drivers from Oakland via the Webster Street tube will first encounter Alameda by way of Wilma Chan Way.

“Wilma Chan was a wonderful leader for Alameda County,” O’Malley said. “She was a champion, for example, of All In Alameda County, which addresses food insecurity and address issues of poverty.”

Chan was responsible for “several projects that were quite personal and impactful to vulnerable individuals and other members of our community,” O’Malley added. “‘All In’ is one example of the vision and humanity Supervisor Chan brought to the Board of Supervisors.”

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Bay Area

Sheriff’s Office Says Phone Scammers Threaten Arrest to Get Money

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to warn people about this scam which has multiple versions. Scammers have also had listeners make payment over the phone through reloadable prepaid cards that could be purchased at a local store.”

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By Tony Hicks | Bay City News Foundation

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office is warning people about a scam involving phone calls from someone claiming to be from the sheriff’s office, saying there’s a warrant for their arrest and they will be arrested unless they pay them money.

The sheriff’s office says on its Facebook page “The Sheriff’s Office does not have people pay fines or fees through reloadable prepaid cards. Nor are citizens ever contacted in this way.”

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to warn people about this scam which has multiple versions. Scammers have also had listeners make payment over the phone through reloadable prepaid cards that could be purchased at a local store.”

Authorities say many people have already been taken by the scam and anyone getting such a call “should refuse to provide any personal information to the caller or simply hang up.”

“Please contact your local law enforcement agency and notify them of the incident to see if a report could be taken.”

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Activism

Mentally Ill Prisoners in California 3 Times More Likely to Get Shuffled Around

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners. The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population. 

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In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  
In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  

By Byrhonda Lyons, Jocelyn Wiener and Erica Yee | CalMatters

California state prisons transfer people with serious mental illness far more frequently than other prisoners — sometimes moving them dozens of times — a CalMatters analysis of newly acquired state data has found.

The findings underscore a CalMatters investigation from earlier this year which revealed the state’s practice of shuffling around mentally ill prisoners, which some advocates say can be disruptive and damaging to these vulnerable people.

The story focused on the case of Adam Collier, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder, among other mental illnesses.

Collier was serving a five-year sentence for exposing himself to women in public while high on meth. He was moved 39 times between 2016 and 2020 — bouncing among crisis units, state hospitals and seven different prisons — before he killed himself in Kern Valley State Prison in October 2020.

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners.

The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population.

One person, who was in and out of the mental health program, moved 75 times during the six-year period. The data does not identify any individuals.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Keramet Reiter, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine. “The seriously mentally ill people…bounce around a bit.”

CalMatters had requested the state’s transfers data on March 31, 2022; the department responded on Aug. 1 and Sept. 16. For its June story, CalMatters collected its own data about prison transfers for about a year, which generally mirrors the state’s records during the same timeframe.

“Transfers for an inmate are disruptive,” said Christopher Lisieski, the attorney representing Collier’s mother in a federal lawsuit against several prison employees. “Disrupting someone’s routine who’s severely mentally ill is additional stress and strain and can worsen mental health symptoms.”

Advocates, prisoners, and family members contend that, in cases like Collier’s, a steady stream of transfers reflects a system that too often fails to adequately care for people in mental health crises. These incarcerated people might bounce between prisons and short-term crisis beds without ever stabilizing enough to get better, they say.

In California, mental health care in state prisons is designed so that incarcerated people transfer to appropriate levels of care as their needs change. Treatments range from outpatient therapy in the general prisoner population to long-term hospitalization in treatment facilities within the correctional system.

Prisoners needing the highest level of care could be sent to state hospitals, which are separate facilities that also house people who are not in the criminal justice system.

But the system doesn’t always work perfectly. In several investigations, the Inspector General has determined that people who need it sometimes aren’t referred to a higher level of care.

In other cases, experts say, multiple transfers can mean the system is working and people are getting the care they need.

Department spokesperson Dana Simas wrote in an emailed statement that the state transfers prisoners for a variety of reasons, including court hearings, medical treatment, mental health treatment, changes in security level, patient safety, staff conflicts, misconduct allegations or parole.

In California, prison mental health treatment policies are governed by a federal class-action lawsuit — known as Coleman — on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness.

In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.

“The department works closely with the Coleman special master and others on these matters, and always strives for what is in the best interest of the patient’s individual needs,” Simas wrote in an email to CalMatters.

Special master Matthew A. Lopes Jr. did not respond to CalMatters’ request for comment.

In Collier’s case, he moved so frequently that his mother, Susan Ottele of McMinnville, Ore., started “every single, solitary day” checking online to see which prison was holding Collier and why.

When the pandemic hit, the prisons went on lockdown, and Collier sat inside Kern Valley State Prison for seven months. It was his longest stay at any prison since 2016.

“With all these transfers, I’m fucking dizzy,” Collier wrote in a letter to Ottele in March 2020. Months later, at age 43, Collier killed himself.

The Office of the Inspector General investigated Collier’s suicide and found that the department had “poorly handled” Collier’s case. The inspector general’s March 2021 report described an array of internal problems, including clinicians improperly delaying Collier’s referral to a higher level of care and failing to adequately document his history of self-harm.

Earlier this year, Ottele filed a wrongful death complaint in federal court, alleging that prison guards failed to monitor her son and acted with deliberate indifference.

In court documents, state attorneys deny these claims, saying the guards were not aware of Collier’s history of suicide attempts. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. Lisieski, Ottele’s attorney, said the case likely won’t be resolved for years.

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