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Is Orange County D.A. Candidate Sending Mixed Signals on Jail Phone Company’s Contract?

Todd Spitzer blasted Global Tel Link for recording attorney-client phone calls, but his campaign won’t call on a PAC supporting his candidacy to return the company’s lobbyist’s donation.

Orange County supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is running for district attorney.

Is Orange County D.A. Candidate Sending Mixed Signals on Jail Phone Company’s Contract?

Todd Spitzer blasted Global Tel Link for recording attorney-client phone calls, but his campaign won’t call on a PAC supporting his candidacy to return the company’s lobbyist’s donation.

In July, Global Tel Link, the jail phone contractor for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in California, disclosed that it had recorded over a thousand attorney-client phone calls between 2015 and 2018. These calls are supposed to be private to ensure that defendants have full access to the legal counsel guaranteed to them by the Sixth Amendment. In California, secretly listening in on these calls is a felony, yet over a dozen sheriff’s department employees reportedly did so. Orange County public defenders alleged that the company and the sheriff’s department knew about the recordings and have engaged in a cover-up.

In the wake of the scandal, Todd Spitzer, an Orange County supervisor and candidate for district attorney, called on the county to rescind its contract with Global Tel Link (GTL). “Spitzer Calls for Termination of Jail Phone Vendor after Eavesdropping Occurs,” his press release was titled. “Spitzer Doesn’t Buy ‘Human Error’ Excuse,” it proclaimed.

But roughly a month later, a PAC supporting Spitzer’s candidacy received a $5,000 donation from Townsend Public Affairs Inc., a lobbying firm that represents GTL.

While the donation went to an independent PAC rather than the campaign itself, at least one good-government expert questioned the PAC’s decision to accept a donation linked to a company whose contract its candidate presides over as supervisor. If Spitzer were to win the Orange County district attorney’s race next month, he could also choose to investigate GTL’s role in the improper recordings.

“People get that PACs organized to support candidates probably know what candidates want, and donors know that donating to them will get noticed,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen. If Spitzer’s team wants to be as “squeaky clean as possible,” she said, it would publicly call on the PAC to return the money.

John Thomas, a chief strategist for Spitzer, vehemently denied that the contribution to the PAC could pose any conflict of interest and declined to publicly call on the PAC to return the money. The campaign follows the rules, Thomas said in a phone call, and thus “has absolutely no connection” to the PAC, known as the Crime Survivors PAC Supporting Spitzer for District Attorney 2018. He also questioned whether the lobbying firm’s contribution was even connected to GTL, noting that the firm has many other clients.

But this isn’t the first time that Spitzer was linked to a questionable donation involving GTL. A few years ago, the Voice of OC reported that Spitzer and another supervisor, Shawn Nelson, suddenly tempered their criticisms of GTL’s costly prisoner phone calls after receiving campaign donations from GTL. According to that report, in 2014, GTL donated $1,900, the maximum possible, to Spitzer’s and Nelson’s reelection campaigns for supervisor.

Asked about these past donations, Thomas, told The Appeal, “No political contribution has ever, nor will it ever, affect Todd Spitzer’s policy-making decisions.”

In an email, GTL spokesperson James Lee declined to comment on its past direct contributions to Spitzer, and said that Townsend Public Affairs “has been active in Orange County campaigns long before GTL ever became a client.” Christopher Townsend did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the potential conflict of interest posed by the campaign cash.

Damian Fussel, campaign manager for Spitzer’s opponent, incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, blasted the Spitzer campaign’s “mealy-mouthed” response on the PAC contribution and said the money should be given back immediately. “Todd continues to double deal with Global Tech Link by saying negative things about them in public yet slyly pocketing their money,” Fussel said.

He noted that in August, Rackauckas’s campaign had immediately returned $2,000 that Townsend Public Affairs tried to donate on Aug. 23.

Global Tel Link is not the only company to be caught up in controversy over the recording of attorney-client phone calls. In 2015, The Intercept obtained a massive trove of prisoner phone calls, leaked by a hacker who felt that the prison phone company Securus was violating prisoners’ rights. In the data dump, The Intercept identified what appeared to be at least 14,000 recordings of conversations between prisoners and attorneys, suggesting that privileged information was being improperly recorded on a large scale.

A 1978 appeals court decision, United States v. Levy, held that “free two-way communication between client and attorney is essential” for the professional assistance guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment’s right to an attorney clause “to be meaningful.”

But not all prosecutors choose to respect this interpretation of the Sixth Amendment. In Orleans Parish, Louisiana, for example, the office of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has listened in on attorney-client jail calls for years. In 2017, Cannizzaro’s office allowed defense attorneys to register landline phone numbers, whose calls are not to be recorded, but continues to allow the recording of cell phone calls made by attorneys.  Such practices have pushed some defense attorneys there to stop communicating with clients on the phone altogether, forcing them to rely on in-person visits to prisoners, which take more time.

On Tuesday, Orange County’s Board of Supervisors will hold a meeting to discuss the future of Global Tel Link’s contract. An Orange County supervisor, who requested anonymity citing fears of professional reprisal, questioned the seeming discrepancies between Spitzer’s public rhetoric and the framing of his office’s agenda items on the issue, which seem to leave open the possibility of the company staying on. “It is odd that he was adamant about terminating the contract at first,” the supervisor noted, “yet now he’s put language with wiggle room to renegotiate.”

Asked why Spitzer seems to have softened on his call for contract termination since his original press release, Thomas said the press release was simply “calling for a deeper look at the situation.”

The community and care that people in prison offer one another

The community and care that people in prison offer one another

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Community behind the prison walls

  • At Angola Prison, ‘People are suffering. People are dying’

  • Cash bail yields a new casualty

  • Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from Florida prisons

  • Dangerous and illegal drug raids by Little Rock, Arkansas, police

  • Canadian pension fund’s investment in US private prison companies keeps growing

  • Autopsy of man killed by Nashville police shows shots to back and back of head

In the Spotlight

The community and care that people in prison offer one another

Before a temporary reprieve postponed his execution date by a few weeks, Ed Zagorski was scheduled to be put to death in Tennessee last Thursday. In the days leading up to that original execution date, before the reprieve was issued, Zagorski had busied himself sending messages to people who had helped him over the years. Because he cannot write, he dictated notes. He also, through a minister, conveyed a message for his fellow residents of death row. He had decided not to request the customary final meal. The reason, the Nashville Scene reported, was that the weekend before Zagorski was moved to death watch,  “more than a dozen of the men on death row pulled together whatever ingredients they could get their hands on and made pizzas to share in a last supper of sorts with [him].” The minister told the Scene: “That meant the world to him. He said, ‘that was my last meal.’” [Steven Hale / Nashville Scene]

Those of us who live outside prison walls are, almost by definition and certainly by design, cut off from what goes on inside them. Our system of mass arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment depends on the dehumanization of the people subjected to it. Yet this story about Zagorski, about the generosity and fellowship of men who live with death hanging over them, reminds us that death row and prison are, in this respect, like everywhere else—full of people creating community, offering care, and finding meaning under the most difficult of circumstances.

Anthony Graves, who spent 12 years on Texas’s death row, wrote of the fellowship that welcomed him when he got there. “[D]eath row inmates were a hospitable sort, I’d come to find,” he wrote. “They had exclusive knowledge of the terror I’d be facing in those first few weeks [and] would often send bags to newcomers, a collective housewarming gift.” Because they knew that a new arrival would have no money in their commissary account for a while, people would pool their money to buy “pens, paper, soap, stamps, and those damn shower shoes” for someone who had just arrived. In Graves’s case, the brown paper bag he received from the man locked in the cell below his actually contained a book—the autobiography of Angela Davis.  [Anthony Graves / Literary Hub]

On Alabama’s death row, Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 28 years there, eventually started a book club. As he and six others sat together in a locked room for their first meeting, he wrote, “[w]e weren’t the scum of the earth, the lowest of the low, the forgotten and abandoned men who were sitting in a dark corner of hell waiting for their turn to walk to the electric chair.” A discussion of James Baldwin led to talk of the sins of their fathers and then led to “five black men in the South trying to comfort the white man who would forever be known for doing the last lynching of a black boy.”

Hinton makes a promise to the others that day: “Someday, when I get out of here, you know what I’m going to do?”

“What you going to do, Ray?”

“I’m going to tell the world about how there was men in here that mattered. That cared about each other and the world. That were learning how to look at things differently.”

[Anthony Ray Hinton / Longreads]

In the 1980’s and 90’s, as the AIDS-related death toll mounted, people incarcerated in New York prisons created educational programs to combat the fear and stigma around them. Donna Hylton, who was incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in those years, told Victoria Law: “We let people know that it was okay to take care of a person with AIDS.” Mujahid Farid and David Gilbert received permission from prison officials to visit people who were in solitary confinement because of their HIV status. They “walked the track with others in the prison’s yard, sending the message that these men were protected.”  [The Body / Victoria Law]

Incarcerated people are on staff at the California Medical Unit, the state’s only licensed hospice inside a prison. As the casualties of the mass incarceration epidemic age, the hospice serves an increasingly elderly population. It is, in one patient’s language, another “death row.” The staff earns 15 to 32 cents an hour. Yet one hospice worker “keeps looking for small ways to make patients smile and … spends his wages on ice-cream cones and vending-machine snacks to pass around.” Workers “brush patients’ teeth, massage sore limbs, read books out loud, strip soiled mattresses and assist the medical staff.” And: “When patients are in their final hours, it is the workers who sit bedside, holding round-the-clock vigils. They pride themselves on their policy: No prisoner here dies alone.” [Suleika Jaouad / New York Times Magazine]

This month, Darnell Epps, a student at Cornell University, wrote of the guidance and support he received when he was in prison. He says that he and his brother, who is part of a program at Columbia University, are often treated as exceptional, emerging from prison unscathed. The truth, he writes, is that “[i]n prison, we shined because of, not despite, our circumstances, especially the presence of the ‘old-timers’ who helped guide us to our coming-of-age. We owe them tremendous credit.” But the “50-, 75- and 100-year minimum sentences” many of these men are serving mean that their contributions are confined within the prison walls. “When I hear of all the gun violence on Chicago’s South Side, for instance,” Epps writes, “I can’t help wondering what would happen if Illinois’s many reformed old-timers, who hail from those neighborhoods, were granted parole with a mission of working to reduce the violence.” People in prison who have so much to offer should be out instead, so that “there can be more stories like mine and Darryl’s, and fewer young people making the mistakes that get them sent to prison in the first place.” [Darnell Epps / New York Times]

Stories From The Appeal

msppmoore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Angola Prison, ‘People Are Suffering. People Are Dying.’ Trial begins in class action suit alleging medical neglect by Louisiana State Penitentiary. [Jessica Pishko]

Cash Bail Yields a New Casualty. A Texas jail suicide involving a woman who couldn’t make bail in a shoplifting case highlights of the plight of pretrial detainees with mental illness. [Lauren Gill]

Stories From Around the Country

Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from Florida prisons: The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Sunday that it evacuated nearly 3,000 incarcerated people from Panhandle prisons that suffered damage from Hurricane Michael. In the days before the hurricane hit, the department responded to calls for evacuations by saying that prisons were prepared to weather the storm. But in yesterday’s update it reported that one facility—Gulf Correctional—”sustained a direct hit from the storm,” according to the Miami Herald, and four prisons in total are closed “until further damage assessment can be completed.” The corrections department insists that “all inmates … had access to food and drinking water through the duration of the storm” but families of people in prisons affected by the storm report that the message at those facilities was quite different: Anyone drinking the tap water did so “at their own risk.” [Ben Conarck / Miami Herald]

Dangerous and illegal drug raids by Little Rock, Arkansas, police: One day last summer, 11 heavily armed police officers used explosives to blow off Roderick Talley’s door just before 6:30 a.m. in Little Rock, Arkansas. The officers were executing a warrant based on an informant’s statements that he had bought cocaine from Talley but a search of Talley’s apartment turned up no cocaine, only a small amount of marijuana. Radley Balko of the Washington Post interviewed Talley and nine other people who were the subjects of raids and reviewed 109 search warrants. Balko describes Talley’s case in detail and also concludes that Little Rock Police Department “narcotics cops and SWAT teams are routinely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of Little Rock residents.” The three main areas of concern are that police are requesting, and judges are signing, no-knock warrants without demonstrating the need for no-knock entry; the LRPD is serving warrants by using inappropriate and dangerous explosives on doors, including in two cases when children were reportedly in the home; and there is clear evidence that one informant has lied to police about his drug buys. [Radley Balko / Washington Post]

Canadian pension fund’s investment in US private prison companies keeps growing:  Between August 2017 and August 2018, a Canadian investment fund that manages the pension funds for roughly 20 million Canadian retirees grew its holdings in the two biggest U.S. private prison companies. Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) increased its investment in GEO Group almost thirteen-fold, according to the latest Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The increased investment was despite criticisms from Canadian politicians about the Trump administration’s immigration detention policies. CPPIB has said that the investments in the private prison companies represent only a tiny proportion of their fund and were not direct investments. However, some Canadian lawmakers have expressed concerns since the report came out. One told The Guardian: “Canadian taxpayers should not be inadvertently complicit in feeding the development of privatized for-profit prisons.” CPPIB is state-owned and ultimately answerable to the Canadian parliament. [Max Siegelbaum / Documented and Guardian US]

Autopsy of man killed by Nashville police shows shots to back and back of head: A medical examiner’s autopsy report shows that Daniel Hambrick died from “multiple gunshot wounds to his back and the back of his head,” according to The Tennessean. Metro Nashville Police Officer Andrew Delke shot Hambrick as Hambrick was running away from him. Delke was charged with criminal homicide last month, “an almost unprecedented move in Nashville’s history,” and one that went forward only after a judge reversed a magistrate’s unusual decision not to charge. The police department is now reviewing its foot pursuit policy, and the Nov. 6 ballot includes a referendum on the creation of a community oversight board for the department. [Mariah Timms / The Tennessean]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Secretive Campus Cops Patrol Already Overpoliced Neighborhoods

Campus police forces have become more professionalized, but critics say they operate behind a veil of secrecy and often exceed their jurisdiction.

A Temple University police officer.
Photo Illustration by Anagraph / Video still via Temple University Campus Safety

Secretive Campus Cops Patrol Already Overpoliced Neighborhoods

Campus police forces have become more professionalized, but critics say they operate behind a veil of secrecy and often exceed their jurisdiction.

In 2011, a police cruiser slammed into Walter Johnson on the edge of Drexel University’s West Philadelphia campus, crushing his legs against a retaining wall. Police were pursuing Johnson as a suspect in connection with an attempted burglary—but the men who had pinned Johnson against the wall were not city cops. They worked for the university.

Around the country, campus police forces have grown larger and more professionalized. Gone are the campus watchmen and rent-a-cops of days past, replaced with sworn officers drawn from state-accredited police academies and equipped with badges, guns, squad cars, tactical units, and arrest powers.

The growth of campus police is now encountering significant pushback. Earlier this year, Johns Hopkins University announced its support for legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow independent institutions in Baltimore to form their own police departments; the announcement was greeted by protesters who chanted “No justice /no peace /no private police.”

Student concerns are shared by public defenders in Philadelphia, a city with high crime and several large universities where campus police are a common sight. They say university cops often exceed their jurisdiction by patrolling already overpoliced, majority African American neighborhoods adjacent to urban campuses. And there is evidence that college cops serve up two different versions of justice—one for students and one for the residents next door.

Civil rights groups say these privately run departments operate behind a veil of secrecy, enjoying the benefits of police power with far less accountability to the public.

“These are police forces with the same powers of force and search and arrest as [city] cops,” said Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It is shocking that we give guns and those powers to police forces that have no obligation to be transparent.”

Temple University has the largest university police department in the country, with roughly 130 sworn officers, supervisors, and detectives patrolling an area spanning a little more than half of a square mile. For comparison, the entire city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, home to about 40,000 residents, employs just 77 officers.

With legal jurisdiction over residential blocks within 500 yards of campus, six police stations and mini-stations, its own police academy, and an emergency dispatch center, the Temple University Police Department resembles a department in a midsize city in more ways than one. But there is a key difference: Temple administrators have kept many departmental records secret, citing its status as a privately run institution.

It’s level of secrecy that exceeds the municipal police, who are far from transparent. In 2016, two former Temple police officers, Aaron Wright and Marquis Robinson, were arrested for cuffing and fatally torturing Wright’s girlfriend, Joyce Quaweay. Robinson was fired after his arrest, but Temple police officials had asked Wright to resign years earlier. A Temple spokesperson declined to provide The Appeal with an explanation for the department’s request for Wright’s resignation but insisted that misconduct complaints lodged against its police are “investigated and handled in accordance with departmental policy.” But the spokesperson would not say who investigated these incidents and refused to release any complaint or disciplinary records for any campus officers.

These private security forces have followed student populations into neighborhoods surrounding urban campuses as cities have gentrified and one public defender, who has not been authorized to speak on the record, said university police today regularly exceeded their legal jurisdictions with little consequence. The attorney said university cops treat students and non-students differently when it comes to low-level crime—that freshmen carrying drugs or drinking underage will often get a pass from campus cops, while teens from surrounding neighborhoods were more likely to get arrested.

“They treat non-students differently,” he said. “I think they perceive their role as protecting the kiddies and their tuition money from black criminality…I don’t know that a police report for a Temple student being arrested by Temple police has ever crossed my desk. The Temple Police are often hundreds of yards off campus but within their legal buffer zone making arrests that have no connection to the university.”

Michael Mellon, another attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, noted that university arrests were just a sliver of his office’s overall caseload. But he said the lack of transparency at these agencies meant it was hard to say for certain which incidents officers were being instructed to refer for prosecution and which they ignored.

“University police have made it very hard for us to know what internal paperwork they generate, like what their directives are, what training their officers get, and so on,” he said “I think there is an open question about what they hand over to the Philadelphia police and what they don’t.”

Although it’s difficult to prove who isn’t being arrested, some data, released by the universities themselves, suggests this may be the case.

While reporting requirements for these departments are minimal, federal legislation does require that campus police release baseline crime and arrest statistics. A review of Temple University records from 2015 through 2017 reveals that just 2.2 percent of alcohol and drug-related incidents that occured on campus or in student buildings resulted in arrests. The rest were referred to university officials for internal “disciplinary action.”

But on the streets surrounding the university, 50 percent of drug and alcohol incidents resulted in arrests by campus police.

Similar records from other large universities in Philadelphia—the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel—largely mirrored this pattern of policing. This means that drug and alcohol related offenses are effectively decriminalized for students but bring harsh consequences for non-student populations.

Although mostly occupied with arrests for minor thefts, University of Pennsylvania arrest summaries from the past three months also showed campus police making multiple arrests for probation or parole violations. Pennsylvania’s state supervision system has been criticized for disproportionately subjecting Black and Latinx people to arrests over minor violations, drawing increased public scrutiny after the jailing of rapper Meek Mill over a one such offense. A 2018 Columbia Justice Lab study found that the state had the highest number and rate of parole supervision in the country, and one of the highest rates of supervision in the world.

A 2004 report by the University of Pennsylvania administrators after a racist on-campus incident also showed that stops by campus police were far more likely to impact its Black neighbors than students enrolled at the Ivy League university. The report found that its police were most likely to stop, search, and arrest African Americans, compared to other groups. Just 8 percent of the student body is Black, while surrounding census tracts are anywhere from 30 to 80 percent African American.

Maureen Rush, the vice president for public safety at Penn, refused to answer any questions about the school’s policing protocols.

But incidents of campus cops exceeding their jurisdiction or engaging in broken windows style policing of neighbors represent a tiny sliver of all arrests in a big city, and go largely undocumented because of the lack of transparency or a real disciplinary process at their departments. Filing a lawsuit is often the only form of redress, as in the case of a driver fatally shot by University of Cincinnati police or the alleged baton beating of a suspect being chased by University of Pennsylvania officers.

In potentially criminal matters, like an officer-involved shooting death on Portland State University’s campus in June, grand juries have been just as loath to indict campus cops as their municipal counterparts.

Bob Levant, a lawyer who eventually won a court settlement over Walter Johnson being crushed by a Drexel University police car in 2011, said it was outrageous that private police forces were empowered to patrol public spaces with few avenues for accountability.

“Any time a municipality or a university is overseeing an armed police force, the discipline process and its results should be publicly available to assist in public oversight and transparency,” he said. “They’re patrolling city streets. The public has a right to know what their disciplinary process is and what discipline is meted out.”

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