Last Thursday, about 20 young men, most with shaved heads, an occasional tattoo peeking out from under a collar or a sleeve, sat listlessly in a Santa Monica courtroom awaiting the scheduled 3 p.m. start of The People of California vs. the Culver City Boys. They were there to take part in what turned out to be a rather one-sided hearing on an injunction that would prohibit them from, among other things, gathering in public, going out after 10 p.m., or possessing a pager or Magic Marker in an area demarcated as a “safety zone” (a cutesy recasting of the more martial rhetoric of past injunctions, which ominously laid out “target areas”).
These civil injunctions, despite their questionable effectiveness, have become a favorite toy of District Attorney Gil Garcetti and City Attorney James Hahn. Targeting nests of gang activity — thus far exclusively in black and Latino neighborhoods — the suits have outraged civil libertarians, who claim they place young men and women under martial law because of little more than the company they keep.
Four TV cameramen loitered expectantly outside for the Garcetti-sponsored gala, but it wasn’t much of a show. Over the next half-hour, another 20 or so bald-pated young men trickled in, politely excusing themselves as they shuffled down the rows of benches. Except for some small talk between reporters, and cop banter, no one said a word. The alleged gangsters sat tensely, their faces frozen with macho stoicism. (According to Deputy City Attorney Brooke White, 30 to 35 of the 75 men named in the suit were spotted in court by police officers.)
As the minutes clicked by, whispered jokes began to travel the benches. But by 3:50, when the court was at last called to order and nine incarcerated young men (also injunctees) in shackles and county jump suits were escorted in, the easy laughter had long been replaced with heavy silence.
Within 15 minutes it was over. Before signing the preliminary injunction, Judge Patricia Collins asked all those present who were named in the lawsuit to stand and identify themselves. About 20 guys looked nervously around, but only two stood. (A trial of sorts will follow for a permanent injunction, but little opposition and only a cursory presentation of evidence are expected. A similar court order will be unleashed June 24 against the Culver City Boys’ Venice-based rivals, the Shoreline Crips.)
“Does anyone want to be heard at all?” Collins asked. One of the nine prisoners sheepishly raised a chained hand, but when, after a couple seconds, no one had noticed it, he returned it to his lap. “It is hereby ordered,” the judge announced, “that the defendants, the Culver City Boys, are enjoined from engaging in any of the following activities in the safety zone . . .”
A scarcely audible snicker followed the judge’s admonishment against “standing, sitting, walking, driving or otherwise appearing anywhere in public view.” Another snort escaped when the defendants heard that they were allowed to be together while inside the LAPD’s Pacific Division station — presumably so they can’t be rearrested for getting thrown into the same cell. Otherwise, silence reigned. As soon as the Sheriff’s deputies began to escort the prisoners out of the courtroom, the rest of the audience spilled out, grinning like kids who’ve heard the recess bell. “So that’s it?” one defendant exclaimed. “We’re guilty just like that?”
WHAT MEDICAL MARIJUANA INITIATIVE?
When two cop cars from the Rancho Cucamonga Police Department showed up at Tim Weltz’s house in Alta Loma on Wednesday, June 2, the 38-year-old terminal-lymphoma cancer patient was hooked up to an intravenous morphine drip. Weltz showed the officers a letter from his oncologist approving his use of medical pot. But agents of the Marijuana Eradication Task Force of San Bernardino County were unimpressed. They uprooted 23 ready-to-harvest plants.
After a similar raid last year, drug-possession charges against Weltz were dismissed “in the interest of justice.” Then why the repeat visit? “San Bernardino has a reputation for being a cowboy county,” says Dale Gieringer, California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “They’ve tried to pretend that Prop. 215 doesn’t apply to them.” Activist and ordained minister Gene Weeks (spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease) was arrested last year in Adelanto despite having a pot recommendation from his Veterans Administration doctor. Greg Richey (rheumatoid arthritis) and his wife, Kellie (epilepsy), have been busted for marijuana in the high desert five times. Their doctors’ letters were ignored by law enforcement.
While cities from West Hollywood to Oakland to Arcata have developed protocols to help law enforcement discern medical tokers from recreational ones, no municipality in San Berdoo has bothered. Detective Michael Wirz, who oversees the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department anti-reefer task force, says, “These cases are forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office, and the district attorney determines whether they fall under the exemption of 215. We’re not able to interpret or allow release of a person that violates a law based on him giving us a note saying it’s okay.” (OffBeat might point out to Detective Wirz that California law reads that pot puffers “upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.”)
Weltz and Weeks have filed suit for punitive damages and the return of their medicine, but for Weltz it may be a moot point: “They tell me if I make it to Christmas, I’m a lucky man.”
Public defenders and district attorneys rarely find themselves on the same side of the law. But that’s what happened when the criminal-justice bar united in opposition to the California Legislature’s unanimous passage last month of the Sherrice Iverson Child Protection Act.
The act, which requires every citizen to report “as soon as reasonably possible” the rape or murder of a child 14 or under, stemmed from witness David Cash’s role in the 1997 Nevada casino murder of 7-year-old Iverson. Cash stood by while his friend Jeremy Strohmeyer trapped the Los Angeles girl in a bathroom stall before raping and strangling her. Strohmeyer is serving a life sentence in the case, but Cash got off scot-free.
By almost any standard, Cash’s behavior was repugnant; after escaping charges, he bragged that his notoriety was helping him “score” with women. But opponents, including California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the California Public Defenders Association and the California District Attorney Association, say the bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Hayden, is likely to backfire. People with belated information will demand immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. And prosecutors will give it to them, rather than lose a murder conviction — even if they are cads like Cash, says David LaBahn of the D.A. Association. The defense will then use the immunity grant to make witnesses look like rats trying to avoid the clinker.
LaBahn and Steven Meinrath of the Association for Criminal Justice Lawyers forecast that when word of the statute hits the streets, decent citizens will keep silent, and potentially good cases will be ruined. The final score, as it so often is when the courts collide with the Legislature: Politicians 1, Justice 0.
I DIDN’T DO IT, AND IF I DID . . .
Representative Maxine Waters may have found a way to topple the wall of plausible deniability the CIA has erected around its ties to international drug dealing. Last month, the House of Representatives passed her amendment to the intelligence authorization bill, outlawing drug trafficking by the CIA or its agents and mandating reporting of any narcotics activity to appropriate authorities.
Absurd? Unnecessary? Think again. Ever since San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb’s landmark series detailing the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra connection to L.A. crack sales, the agency, in lockstep with the mass media, has gone through contortions to stonewall exposure of mounting evidence that its friends and relations were funded by narcotics trafficking. An internal report only raised new questions about the CIA’s knowledge of drug trafficking; much of the material remains classified.
Last year, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz revealed a secret 1982 agreement between the late U.S. Attorney General William French Smith and the equally late Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey authorizing CIA officers to overlook drug-trafficking allegations against their agents, assets and non-staff employees. Hence, Waters’ amendment.
“All they [the CIA] can do is kind of look at me. They say they don’t do it. They say they’re not involved in it,” Waters explained at the recent Los Angeles Citizens’ Fact-Finding Commission on U.S. Drug Policy, held at USC. “. . . Except that these people would not be doing anything if they [the CIA] were not connected to them.”
Based on its shoddy record, the CIA will hardly volunteer evidence of its own perfidy. Exposure will come, if at all, from outside. But count out the mainstream media, which — embarrassed by Webb’s scoop and incredulous of CIA malfeasance — produced frantic reams of copy attempting to undermine Webb’s credibility.
“What if they had put in that same amount of time and money in investigating the work of the intelligence community and the explosion of crack cocaine in South-Central?” Waters asked. But that might cut off the flow of portentous-sounding but ultimately empty foreign-policy leaks from the boys at Langley, Maxine. And those leaks are how you claw your way to the top of the corporate-journalism heap.