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Last Thursday I got up at 7:00 a.m. and drove NASCAR-style to make it in time to my arraignment hearing at the Central Arraignment Court in sunny downtown Los Angeles 8:30 a.m.–only to find out that I’d wasted my time.

After waiting around for twenty minutes outside a courtroom with a bunch of other people arrested during the November 30 LAPD raid on Occupy LA, including Family Guy writer Patrick Meighan and a few other guys I spent two nights in jail with, I learned that the City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, had decided to postpone arraignment for most of us. We weren’t given a new date, just a cryptic message stamped on our bail/release slips: NO CHARGES FILED / WILL NOTIFY BY MAIL.

Some took it to mean that the charges against them were being dropped, and at first so did I. So a bit of excitement rippled through the crowd. But we shouldn’t be counting our chickens before they hatch. According to my attorney, “no charges filed” was shorthand for “no charges filed today.” Which means that there is no reason that charges couldn’t—and wouldn’t—be filed a little while later, like next week or next month. And judging by the threatening letter I received from the City Attorney’s office, that looks like a definite possibility. But more on that later…

NO CHARGES FILED…TODAY

I don’t have the exact stats on this, but it seemed like the few dozen of Occupy LA arrestees in court that day got their arraignment postponed. But definitely not everyone. There was a small number of folks that day who were arraigned as scheduled, most notably Family Guy writer Patrick Meighan. I spoke to him on the phone later that evening, and he told me that he entered a plea of not guilty and had his pretrial date set for late February. (Check out Patrick’s account of his Occupy LA arrest.)

Why was arraignment postponed for some and not others? It’s still not clear. I talked to Patrick Meighan about it, and he had no idea why he was deserving of such an honor. Could it be because he was the most famous person to be arrested that night, and had his file prepared first by a nosy and curious clerk? Nobody knows.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been told that the whole postponement thing is, in all likelihood, a matter of routine bureaucratic overload and/or incompetence. Courthouse clerks are known to whip out their “no charges filed / will notify by mail” stamps when the City Attorney’s office is swamped with cases and/or doesn’t have its shit together. And right now it seems like it’s dealing with both.

As of late last week, prosecutors have pressed charges against 50 November 30 arrestees. Out of the 26 cases filed in court so far, prosecutors have obtained guilty verdicts in just two cases: Jason Brodsky, 35, was sentenced to 20 days of community service and 18 months probation for failing to disperse, while Justin Fragosa, 19, was found guilty of the same “crime” as Brodsky and was scheduled to be sentenced today. (Update: Justin got $1,000 fine and a year probation.)

But aside from those two victories, city prosecutors have been getting thrashed in court.

Here’s what LA Weekly reported last week:

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wants to teach Occupy L.A. a lesson about the First Amendment. But as the first wave of failure-to-disperse cases goes to court, the Occupiers are teaching him about the Sixth Amendment.

That’s the one that guarantees a speedy trial, as well as the right to confront witnesses. The Occupiers are refusing to waive those rights, which has led to a slew of dismissals.

So far, 11 cases have been thrown out — mostly due to insufficient evidence. Occupy court-watchers say that prosecutors are having a hard time tracking down their witnesses and getting their paperwork together in time to proceed with jury trials.

In the wake of the Nov. 30 raid on the Occupy L.A. camp, Trutanich filed 50 misdemeanor cases. Most of those demonstrators wanted to be arrested, so the cases should be relatively easy to prove.

But so far, according to the City Attorney’s Office, Trutanich’s prosecutors have obtained three convictions, all via plea deals. Another two cases were deferred for six months. At the same time, seven cases were dismissed for lack of evidence, and another four were dropped in exchange for pleas to probation violations. The rest are pending.

According to the LA Weekly, a judge threw out the city’s case against a guy named Lawrence Ziese, a legal observer who was arrested and kept in jail for 10 whole days, because the only evidence the prosecution could dig up against him came in the form of a bunch of photos of park hours signs. To clarify: the photo evidence showed just the signs–not the accused in front of the signs, or anywhere near the signs. Another big problem in the city’s trumped-up case against Ziese was that he was arrested a block away from the Occupy LA camp–which meant that he was outside the park. (According to one of my cellmates, Ziese was the vegan guy from our cell block whom I previously wrote about, and who hadn’t been fed for two full days by the time I was bailed out of jail.)

They locked up Ziese for ten days, and couldn’t even come up with a good reason for why he was arrested? What a joke! No wonder the City Attorney is stalling the process…

Meanwhile, I still have a misdemeanor charge of “failure to disperse” hanging over my head. But that can change at any moment, and not necessarily for the better. As I understand it, the city can add, subtract and/or substitute any charge the City Attorney damn well feels like—as long he thinks the charges can be made to stick.

Whatever they end up charging me with, I’m grateful as hell that I got a great defense attorney and we plan on fighting it all the way.

A quick background re-hash on my story: I was arrested on the night of November 30 while covering the military-style police raid on Occupy LA. The reason I was arrested: I was not part of the “official press pool,” which the LAPD had assembled in virtual secrecy the day before the raid, selecting a handful of local mainstream news organizations that could be counted on not to rock their boat. The LAPD was clear on this: non-approved journalists would be stripped of their journalist identity if they remained in the camp to report on the police raid. As a result, I was arrested along with nearly 300 Occupy LA protesters, and kept in jail for two nights on outrageously unprecedented high bail for the crime of reporting on a protest legally sanctioned by the US Constitution.

There’s just no way in hell I can sit around and let the City of Los Angeles trample our rights like that. The 1st Amendment doesn’t just guarantee our right to peacefully assemble and protest, it also guarantees freedom of the press. And there can’t be much press freedom when a police department with a long history of violence and corruption like Los Angeles’ is given the power to decide who is and who isn’t a journalist–especially when the journalists are there to observe the police.

This video of photojournalist Tyson Heder being violently attacked by a pack of LA cops shows just how well journalists who were granted access to report on the LAPD raid did their jobs: At about the 8-second mark you can hear a KCAL/CBS TV correspondant tell his camera operator to turn off the camera light, just as a handful of riot troopers move in to violently take Heder down. This is the same news station that switched off its helicopter video feed of an LAPD staging area in the run-up to the raid because, as a KCAL/CBS rep explained, “We made an agreement with LAPD to not give away their tactics.” Indeed.

The City Attorney does not want me or anyone else to fight the charges in jury trail, and is trying to scare Occupy LA arrestees who haven’t yet been arraigned into accepting a pre-plea bargain deal that would mete out punishment cheaper and off-book through an Alternative Prosecution Program, aka a political reeducation class, administered by a shady private company called American Justice Associates. In exchange for a $375 course—which includes a self-paced DVD learning program and a real live lecture on the 1st Amendment—the city is willing to drop criminal charges. (I’m in the process of taking a closer look at American Justice Associates, so if you have any info or tips, send them to levine@exiledonline.com. As always, anonymity is guaranteed.)

My offer came in the mail on December 30, just in time to qualify as a New Year’s gift:

Please be advised that a law enforcement agency has submitted a report to this office charging you with committing a violation of the law on November 30, 2011.

We have reviewed your case and conclude that we have sufficient evidence to file a criminal complaint against you.

However, we also conclude that you are eligible to avoid criminal prosecution by participating in an educational program that the American Justice Associates conducts under an agreement with this office. If you complete this program, and do not commit any further offenses, we will not file charges against you.

We are advising American Justice Associates that you are eligible for their program and they will contact you soon in a letter. This program is called the Alternative Prosecution Programs (APPS). Participation in the program is voluntary. If you want to participate in this program, you must enroll with American Justice Associates by January 09, 2012. If you do not enroll by this date, or do not complete the program once you have enrolled, your case will be returned to our office for the filing of criminal charges.

You should be aware that once a criminal case is filed, this program is no longer available to you.

As you can see, the deadline to enroll in the class was yesterday…

UPDATE I: Just got an email saying that a third N30 Occupy LA arrestee, Danny Johnson, was found guilty. Here’s the email:

At 10:45 am today, the jury delivered a guilty verdict of failure to disperse against Danny Johnson. The prosecutor asked for bail pending sentencing, but the judge said no she was not going to remand because it was a nonviolent offense and he had shown up for court every day. All sides agreed to sentencing on Feb 2nd at 8:30 am. The public defender, Miss Aisha Singh, said she wanted to find out when the jury left the courtroom if they had not understood the defense’s case, but they went out through the back, so, no opportunity to talk to them. She also said she would look into a stay of sentence pending appeal.

***

Want to know more? Read Yasha Levine’s account of LAPD’s appalling treatment of detained Occupy LA protesters…His other Occupy LA coverage…And LA Weekly’s writeup of his arrest.

Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.


 

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24 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Adam  |  January 10th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Smoke these fools, Levine. Need more cash? We’ll heed the call.

    After all, you are mankind’s only alternative. What would we do without you!

  • 2. Dtd  |  January 10th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Keep us posted. . .
    They done fucked up now.

  • 3. Jie Ke  |  January 10th, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    they dun goofed!

  • 4. deweyite  |  January 10th, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Great read, fight the good fight.

  • 5. Dtd  |  January 10th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Also, I am damn near out of my crushing student debt so I can help out a little bit if you guys need it for legal fees and shit.

    If you are really hurtin for money though you could always start Koch-Sucking. It seems to pay well enough.

    THE AEC REPLIES:
    Go undercover with the Kochites. Blend in. Learn the Koch Cartel ways. Adopt to the Koch Cartel customs. Mate with the Koch Cartel womenfolk–and eventually, our differences will become trivial.

    Or work for the Kochs, collect cash, and spill the beans in The eXiled.

    Either way, it’s a win-win-lose for Kochs-you-America.

    [Sorry, this is the AEC's less-talented middle brother, the AEC will return soon]

  • 6. Hick  |  January 10th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Just like in the 1960s, going to jail for this kind of shit should be a badge of honor.

    If you come up with some kind of anonymous address, or something, you’d be surprised how many $20 bills may come in from little guys.

    Are you open to emails from “the masses”? Individuals among “the masses” may want to help you out.

    THE AEC REPLIES:
    Anonymous mail drop for check/money order/cash can be found here (as always: anonymity guaranteed/no return address required):

    The eXiled
    171 Pier Avenue #379
    Santa Monica, CA 90405-5363

  • 7. Marcus McSpartacus  |  January 10th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I, a gutless, useless bottom comment troll, was promised to get $20 per every bundle of 10,000 troll comment. But my boss at New Media Strategies told me that they’d subtract $1.75 for every comment that got “improved”…Please, dear AEC censor, stop improving my comments. How’s a regular bottom troll like me supposed to make an honest living? Hell, I was in the red last month to the tune of $500 because of your wise comment improving ways. I love what you do, but I can’t take it financially anymore. Problem is I signed a contract with Koch Troll Contracting LLC that says I can’t declare bankruptcy on my troll comment debts. A contract is sacred after all.

  • 8. Marcus McSpartacus  |  January 10th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    No Free Speech For MERSA Meet Eaters! Damn you AEC, that’s $1.75 more I owe to Koch Troll Contracting LLC!

  • 9. Soj  |  January 10th, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    An Extremely Brief Summary of the American Legal System

    Please understand that some of this varies by county/state and this is not some official legal thing, in other words I’m not a lawyer so don’t treat this like it’s set in stone. But you seem a little iffy on the whole system and how it works so here you go.

    1) Police can “detain” you without arresting you for a variety of reasons, largely subjective. Detaining can be as little as “stand over there” to throwing handcuffs on you or putting you in a police car, etc.

    2) Police arrest you when they file paperwork on you. It does not mean you are handcuffed and taken to jail. Technically even a speeding ticket is an “arrest”. What makes it an official arrest is that paperwork is generated saying that you have broken some law (technically “violated a code” in California).

    3A) One option for those who are arrested is to receive a citation or “ticket”. This means the arrested person is free to go on their merry way but are now obligated to appear in court at a future date to answer to the charges. Again this is speeding ticket type stuff but can also be other offenses.

    3B) The arrested person is physically incarcerated aka “real” arrest. Within a legally defined time limit (usually 2-3 days) the arrested person must appear before some kind of judge in what’s called either a “hearing” or more often the “arraignment” or sometimes there are other names. The purpose of this is for the government to show/inform the judging authority (sometimes a magistrate, sometimes other names) that charges X were filed against you.

    If no charges are filed (or are mislaid or etc), you get to go home and this was just a long “detention” for you. If charges are filed, the next step is your response. Essentially you say “yep I did it” and if so we go to 4A and if you deny it, then we go to 4B, which is further court processes to eventually determine your guilt, etc. Under more serious charges this means your “trial”.

    What’s important here is how the state determines you will appear at these future court appearances. If the jail is crowded, the charges are minor, the judge likes you, whatever, your “word is your bond” and all you have to do is promise you will return. This is often called ROR or other names involving the word “recognizance”. If your charges are heinous or the judge hates you or it’s your unlucky day, you are sentenced to remain in jail until your future court processes are completed. This is known as “remand”.

    The middle option between these is often called “bail” but is more accurately a bond. You pay the government a lot of cash to prove you will return for your future court processes.

    4A) Up to the day where your adjudication process (“the trial”) begins, you always have an option of telling the government that you accept your guilt. This can be “taking a plea” or other names but it means the state doesn’t have to prove anything because you’re admitting wrongdoing.

    Unless your charges are extremely heinous (serial killer, etc) you will always, always, always get an offer from the prosecutor’s office to try to induce you to take this route of self-admitting guilt. It saves them a hell of a lot of time and money. Usually how they will frame this inducement is “admit to X and you’ll receive a lighter punishment than if you take the risk of going the 4B route and lose”. The punishment you agree on might be jail time or it might be a class or it might be hours of community service work, etc.

    4B) This is the full-bore route where you appear (perhaps multiple times) before a judge or a jury or a panel of judges (depending on what the charges are) and there are lots of lawyers and fancy verbiage and this is your “trial” where the government must prove the charges against you.

    If you are found guilty, there is (usually) a separate procedure to determine what your punishment is, known as “sentencing”. Whether it is return property or pay money or serve time in a jail/prison, you receive your punishment and the whole thing is over.

    Now what’s very important to understand is there is a gigantic gap between steps 2 and 3. The police can arrest you (in either sense) for just about anything. All they really have to do is make sure they generate the paperwork.

    Afterwards however, the police become nothing more than a kind of witness. The charges are now handled by the prosecutor’s office, sometimes called the “State’s Attorney”, sometimes called the county attorney, sometimes the district attorney (DA). The prosecutor can add, reduce, change or remove (dismiss) charges any way they see fit.

    The rules they must follow are complicated (talk to a real lawyer about that) but they have enormous leeway on how they can handle those charges. For instance in some jurisdictions they have up to seven years to file (drop) a charge on you. It is perfectly legal (although odd) to be involved in a bar fight, get arrested on the spot, taken to jail, have the charges dropped (dismissed) and then re-filed against you six years later.

    Other charges, more minor ones, have a smaller time window in which they can be manipulated. More serious charges (usually murder) have an infinite time window. Each jurisdiction has different rules (statutes) on these limitations.

    Again though, it’s extremely important to remember that while the police do the arresting (whether seizing you and taking you to jail or issuing you a citation), the charges against you are handled entirely by the prosecutor’s office. They can be modified, added or changed in any way by him/her and is completely independent of anything the police did (or want). The prosecutor is usually an elected official (although sometimes appointed) and is therefore making most of their decisions based on political reasons. This is true in all cases. Remember that.

    Hope this helps you and perhaps some others. I’ve skipped over all the Miranda stuff since it isn’t applicable here. I have never been to Los Angeles in my life so I have no detailed info about how the judicial system works there but again this is just a rough guide.

    Long story short, they can dismiss and then file (or re-file) charges against you at any time as long as it is within their (specified by statute/law) time limit.

  • 10. Mike C  |  January 11th, 2012 at 3:14 am

    @9

    We know. Our moronic city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has a year to rattle his indignant little saber about park ordinances and imaginary safety concerns even the health department won’t back up.

    If he really wants to save Los Angeles from pork and waste, he’ll relinquish his seat.

  • 11. Trevor  |  January 11th, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Expect alot more stories like this. All the local and state budget cuts across this country make prosecuting masses of people difficult to damn near impossible. Fun times!

  • 12. Cum  |  January 11th, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Too bad I filled up my facebook wall with links to Exile articles, otherwise I’d try to get a job as a Koch troll and forward any relevant emails to the Exile :)

  • 13. franc black  |  January 11th, 2012 at 7:30 am

    @Soj
    Thanks for taking the time to share and educate. The value of this learning compels me to make a donation, and I will do so.

  • 14. Tristan  |  January 11th, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I can’t speak for LA or California specifically, but postponements are a pretty typical part of being in the system. You show up and show up and show up, taking off work each day, spending money you don’t have on gas, only to find each time that things have been cancelled and no one bothered to call you. Like, how hard it is it to set up a robodial or send out an email? But if you miss just one court date, though, that’s its, you’re fucked, the judge will give you a patronizing lecture on respect and responsibility before throwing you in lockup.

    Yahsa’s lucky enough to have a flexible work schedule and decent financial means. If he were poor and tied to a timeclock, like most people in the system, this type of bullshit could mean the difference between employment and unemployment. This shitty callousness is intentional, part of the immense cruelty which pervades every little aspect of the American criminal justice system.

  • 15. dogbane  |  January 11th, 2012 at 11:17 am

    My own digging into AJA has already given me a case of the heebie-jeebies, and I’m only on the first page of the google results, including AJA’s home page.

    I was surprised to see that it is essentially a two-person operation (that wants to “expand…nationally”).

  • 16. Everybody Gets Ice Cream  |  January 11th, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Is there a comedy and pizza version of the political re-education class? Watch out traffic school, you got competition.

  • 17. Con O'Rourke  |  January 11th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I know facebook are cunts but you guys need a facebook button on your stories: use facebook, don’t let those cunts use you. I know where your coming from though, as I feel dirty everytime i log into my (fake) a/c but i use it to publicise shit to a lot of people, plus it pushes up your google presence, use new media cunt tactics to fight the cunts. Jail sucks but it gives you cred: Solzhenitsen, biiitches.

  • 18. Marcus McSpartacus  |  January 11th, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I don’t deny I’m a troll. But I resent the insinuation I get paid so much.

  • 19. Marcus McSpartacus  |  January 12th, 2012 at 5:31 am

    First, they came for the Unitarians, but I did not speak up, because I hated Family Guy;
    Then, they came for the Vegans, but I did not speak up, because I mean… come on, for fuck’s sake!
    Then they came for Yasha Levine, and I thought: alright, already – I’ll make a goddam donation to the eXile.

  • 20. Jason Brodsky  |  January 13th, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Visit Occupy & LA for 3Days =

    170 Fine + Court Fees
    18Months Probation
    17Hours Community Service

    .

  • 21. Census Louie  |  January 14th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    That dude was held in jail for 10 days and they couldn’t come up with any charges against him? Am I reading that right? Isn’t the maximum detainment without charges somewhere around 2-3 days?

    And yeah, a lot of people don’t realize how this system is ridiculously stacked against poor people and those just scraping by. Folks living paycheck to paycheck can NOT afford to take off work for this constantly (especially hourly pay), let alone any legal fees.

    It is super common to go through all the trouble and time off work to show up only to be told your court date is getting postponed. Like the other comment said, how fricking hard is it to set up robodial or e-mail notices? Either “your case is far enough up the queue that there’s a good chance we’ll get to you today” or “no way in hell are we going to get to you today. In the latter case, it is extremely easy to tell the day before if things are so backed up they’re not going to get to you.

  • 22. Mike C  |  January 15th, 2012 at 1:24 am

    @ 21. Census Louie

    Once you’re in the legal meat grinder, it’s pretty clear you’re no longer human. All that fluff about guilty until proven innocent hasn’t reached the jails and prisons, where the most genteel response from guards regarding complaints of inhumane treatment is, “This is jail.”

    That tautology is the true principle of the American legal system. If you aren’t guilty, why are we treating you like criminal scum? So anyone they decide to treat like garbage is guilty, and anyone guilty is dead to rights and subject to being treated like garbage.

    With a full 1% of the American population incarcerated–the highest in the world–we, of all people, must be insane to turn and ignore the treatment of prisoners. There are millions of nonviolent offenders incarcerated–the vast majority are nonviolent. But who gives a shit if they’re beaten, raped, infected with HIV, and generally dehumanized, right? Being in jail/prison means there is no treatment too extreme, or too far outside the bounds of judicial regulation or accountability.

    Arbitrary junk laws, parcel to election year barking, have set the bar so low on incarceration, and granted the prosecution and judges so much leeway, that whether you’re allowed to bring up new DNA evidence, or otherwise be exonerated, is subject to the whims of a few jerk-off authorities, who might be having a bad day, and decide to make an example of you.

    The cops are shambling clowns, desperately trying to keep their careers looking good on paper (at your expense), who’ll resort to lies, fabrications, torture, planted evidence, and cronyism to bust not the right person in terms of priority, but rather the person they have in custody. I’m generalizing, but there are a lot of cops I wouldn’t trust with a dustpan, let alone a Glock and legal authority.

    With the weakening of laws protecting privacy, human rights, due process, etc., we’ve inverted “justice” into something that arbitrarily happens to a person, after which a justification is fabricated.

    We’ve freed people whose only goal is closing cases and racking up numbers to abandon the idea that investigative rigor is any prerequisite to establishing the guilt of an actual person.

    Everything is geared toward keeping this machine going, for the sake of politicians and private contractors, and it has to keep chewing up the public to work. So they set the bar so low on what constitutes a felony, or stretch the limits of what a misdemeanor can be punished with, and have made America safer by traumatizing potheads in a concrete shit hole, because of their third strike on possession with “intent to distribute.”

  • 23. Robert  |  February 15th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I am trying to come to grips with a legal system that can come up with “no charges filed today”. So they arrested you for, hmm, they haven’t decided yet and the crime they claim you committed was, there not sure but hell you might yet be guilty of something.
    A grossly absurd abuse of the law and, institutionalised injustice.
    Look at it this, those same types of arse holes in the early twentieth century just straight up opened fire and tried to kill protesters. The protestors of those days truly risked their lives so now you can repeat efforts but you mainly just risk a fine and short term incarceration.

  • 24. alisa  |  January 21st, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Never plea. Don’t do their phony American Justice nonsense either. It is all a sham and Trutanich is a GOON. I was a victim of their games and general wickedness for years. I beat them but what a battle and much justice denied. Stay strong, and don’t give in to them.


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