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Law Enforcement Takes Unearned Victory Lap for Capture of One of Their Own — The Golden State Killer

Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert announces the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo.
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Law Enforcement Takes Unearned Victory Lap for Capture of One of Their Own — The Golden State Killer

It has been over a week since California law enforcement announced what many have waited to hear for more than 40 years — that they identified and captured the man they believe to be the Golden State Killer, thought to be responsible for at least 12 murders and nearly 50 rapes between northern and southern California from the mid-1970s to 1986.

On April 24, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, where six of the crimes occurred. He was formally charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in three counties.

“The answer was always in Sacramento,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a press conference the day after DeAngelo’s capture. But Schubert and her colleagues, including Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas offered few answers about the DNA testing methods used to identify DeAngelo. Instead, they used much of their time at the podium to repeatedly praise the “dedication,” “persistence,” “dogged determination,” “visionary and innovative leadership,” and “unrelenting efforts” of police and prosecutors — the very same people who have been stumped by the case for decades.

“At a time when law enforcement is unfortunately under so much criticism, I want the public to know that the work on this case reflects the very best, the very highest standards in the noble and dedicated and courageous police profession,” said Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten.

It wasn’t until the end of the nearly hour-long press conference, when reporters were permitted to ask questions, that officials acknowledged what many already knew, thanks to social media — that DeAngelo himself was once a law enforcement officer. Employed by the Auburn Police Department from 1976 to 1979, DeAngelo was employed as a police officer during the same time frame when the Golden State Killer, then known as the East Area Rapist, attacked women and couples in their Northern California homes. DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a drugstore in Citrus Heights.

A few months later, on December 30, DeAngelo allegedly shot to death Robert Offerman, a doctor, and Alexandra Manning, a clinical psychologist, in their home of Goleta, a suburb of Santa Barbara. Offerman and Manning were allegedly the Golden State Killer’s first victims in Southern California.

“Very possibly he was committing the crimes during the time he was employed as a peace officer,” said Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, “and obviously we’ll be looking into whether it was actually on the job.” He also noted that from 1973 to 1976, DeAngelo was employed by the Exeter Police Department, just 30 minutes from where a series of break-ins were committed—crimes also believed to be the Golden State Killer’s work. And yet, investigators said, DeAngelo was never on their radar, despite years of speculation that the offender had a police or military background.

But a failure to bring justice in the long unsolved serial murder case did not stop District Attorney Schubert from using DeAngelo’s arrest to promote her re-election campaign. On May 1, Schubert’s campaign debuted a new 30-second spot hailing her as a “groundbreaking DNA expert who led the investigation that solved the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist case.” The tagline? “She protects us.”

Tell that to the family of Stephon Clark, the unarmed Black man who was shot to death by Sacramento police officers while he was standing in his grandparents’ backyard in March. Clark’s family and activists from around the country have urged Schubert to file charges against the officers, or issue a statement about it, but she has declined to take action. On April 20, Schubert responded to four weeks of protests outside her office by erecting a 10-foot cyclone fence in front of her office and around the employee parking lot.

Schubert had already been criticized for her refusal to pursue criminal charges against the police — since taking office in 2015, according to theSacramento News & Review, she “has declined to file charges in 21 shootings involving police and also in 13 cases of death of people in police custody.” Late last year, Schubert also refused a state auditor’s request that she charge Sheriff Jones with a misdemeanor for “deliberately releasing information that he was specifically told he could not release, despite multiple verbal and written warnings.” A recent investigation by the Intercept revealed that one-third of the funds Schubert has raised for her two campaigns for DA (in 2015 and now, as she runs for re-election) came from law enforcement sources.

Schubert isn’t the only law enforcement official taking victory laps over the apparent resolution of the Golden State Killer case who is facing accusations of protecting the police. Between 2010 and 2015, Orange County DA Rackauckas accepted $23,500 from individual police officers and police PACs, contributions that came against the backdrop of his office’s history of declining to prosecute police killings, including the 2008 shooting death of a 20-year-old man by the Anaheim Police Department which led to a $1.5 million settlement with his widow. And just weeks before Rackauckas appeared on the HLN network to laud law enforcement’s work in the Golden State Killer case, his office was sued by the ACLU over its network of jailhouse informants which was allegedly used to win “countless convictions based on unreliable information.”

As Schubert and Rackauckas ride the tidal wave of positive publicity from the Golden State Killer’s arrest, there is growing criticism of law enforcement exuberance around the case, as if DeAngelo wasn’t one of their own — especially in Sacramento, where the community is already up in arms over a more recent death at the hands of a police officer.

As Schubert noted, the answer to the Golden State Killer case was likely always in Sacramento. But to find what she called “a needle in a haystack,” investigators turned to advanced DNA testing. In the late April presser, law enforcement officers were vague about the methods used to finally identify DeAngelo, even as they ebulliently praised their own work in the case.

“The fact that they didn’t disclose in that press conference their methods I found really disingenuous,” said Erin Murphy, a professor at the New York University School of Law and the author of Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA. “There was no investigative reason they couldn’t have told everyone. I mean, the press asked them a million different ways. I knew … something smelly was going on. If it was just a familial search, they would have said. I think it’s really telling that they felt they couldn’t share their methods at that time.”

In the weeks since DeAngelo’s arrest, it has been revealed that investigators used a new form of genetic fingerprinting to search for distant relatives of the then-unknown offender in a variety of state, private and public databases, including the genealogy database GEDMatch.

The revelation has raised privacy concerns among the legal community, privacy advocates, and genealogy website users, many of whom were unaware of the ways their own DNA could expose their entire family tree to law enforcement scrutiny. While the terms and conditions of these public sites all vaguely warn of potential privacy risks, the average user is unlikely to be familiar with specific forensic advancements used by police — especially if, like in California, they don’t publicize them.

GEDMatch, however, is where investigator Paul Holes and his fellow investigators got their hit. Using other public records, they assembled a family tree and narrowed down the list of potential suspects within the genetic line. There was at least one near-miss — in March 2017, Holes successfully persuaded a judge to issue a DNA subpoena for a 73-year-old nursing home resident in declining health. He wasn’t a match.

At some point, “DeAngelo kind of bubbled to the surface,” Holes told the San Jose Mercury News.

timeline of DeAngelo’s known history and whereabouts during those 10-plus years of terror makes clear that he was never far from reach. In just a few short weeks, scientific advancements and a crazy amount of luck accomplished what conventional police work failed to do for the last 40 years. As significant as finally solving this case may be, California law enforcement should quit their showboating and instead reflect on why it took so long to apprehend one of their own.

Lawyer for Pedro Hernandez Says Bronx DA’s Office Is Still Withholding Key Evidence

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark (at podium)
Bronx District Attorney’s Office / Facebook

Lawyer for Pedro Hernandez Says Bronx DA’s Office Is Still Withholding Key Evidence

When Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced last September that gun possession and assault charges would be dropped against teenager Pedro Hernandez, who had spent 12 months on Rikers Island, she pledged her office would investigate what went wrong, and that the investigation would “go wherever the evidence leads.”

A lot had gone wrong in the case against the then-17-year-old Hernandez, who was held in connection to a 2015 shooting: Detectives had allegedly beaten witnesses until they agreed to sign false affidavits implicating Hernandez, and the prosecution had promised further charges against Hernandez to justify a $250,000 bail. But those promised charges never materialized in later proceedings, and prosecutors’ further claims that Hernandez was an active gang member and involved in a check forgery scheme also went unsubstantiated.

Such instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct rarely see the light of day because defendants overwhelmingly accept plea deals, giving in to pressure from the daily horrors of life in jail and the possibility of longer sentences if they take a case to trial. But Hernandez refused to take a plea — he insisted on his innocence while his family hired a private investigator to look into the case. The investigator, Manuel Gomez, filmed witnesses as they recanted their statements and eventually uncovered widespread witness intimidation in the Bronx’s 42nd Precinct.

While detained on Rikers, Hernandez graduated from high school and received a full scholarship to college. His case drew headlines and high-profile support, in part because it echoed that of Kalief Browder, a teen who spent three years on Rikers on charges that were eventually dropped, and killed himself two years later.

But while supporters celebrated Hernandez’s release, the Bronx DA refused to drop a robbery charge against him relating to a stolen cell phone. Hernandez’s trial on that charge is scheduled to start today.

On the eve of trial, however, Hernandez’s lawyer is claiming that the Bronx district attorney’s office is still withholding potentially exculpatory evidence in the case, and proceeding in precisely the same manner it did before. In a motion filed by Hernandez’s lawyer Alex Spiro in Bronx Supreme Court late last month, Spiro alleges that the Bronx DA is still shirking its Brady responsibilities, which dictate that prosecutors must hand over any and all evidence that might be favorable to the defendant.

“Since the inception of this case, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has demonstrated a disturbing lack of candor with the Defense and this Court, and has presumed Mr. Hernandez’s guilt regardless of what the evidence shows,” Spiro’s memo reads.

In early November, Hernandez’s lawyers asked the Bronx DA to hand over all remaining Brady materials that could impact the case against Hernandez, including the results of its own internal investigation into both police and prosecutorial misconduct (the prosecutor on the original case, ADA David Slott, has been transferred to the appeals division while the investigation plays out).

In late 2017, according to court filings, Hernandez’s defense attorneys uncovered that witnesses had given conflicting accounts of the robbery to the district attorney, information the DA was required to hand over to the defense but had failed to deliver. In December, a judge again “reminded” the Bronx DA of its obligation to hand over any relevant evidence to the defense. Finally, in late January 2018, the DA informed Hernandez’s lawyers of some potentially exculpatory information: The complainant witness in the case had tried calling his allegedly stolen phone shortly after the robbery, and a female voice had answered it.

Because the voice obviously didn’t match that of Hernandez, his lawyers argued that this evidence should have been turned over to the defense far earlier, and that it strongly suggests the DA is still invested in withholding evidence that might clear Hernandez of the robbery charge. “By the District Attorney’s own calculations,” the motion reads, “the People sat on this information in violation of its Brady obligations for approximately 778 days.” While it was eventually turned over, that means Hernandez’s defense team lost more than two years during which they could have investigated this lead, years in which he might have pleaded guilty, unaware of this information.

The fact that the DA had been sitting on testimony that could have cleared Hernandez of this charge points to systemic problems involving the treatment of exculpatory evidence at the Bronx district attorney’s office, something that even DA Clark has alluded to in recent statements, where she has called on outside law enforcement officials to look into the practices of her own office.

“My Office’s Public Integrity Bureau delved into the allegations surrounding the Pedro Hernandez case,” Clark said in a press release in November. “Because the investigation has broadened, we saw the need for additional law enforcement resources and the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon H. Kim, has agreed to assist my office in this investigation.”

But none of the results of the investigation into the 42nd Precinct, or the Bronx district attorney’s office, have been made available to Hernandez’s lawyer, even though this information could undercut the integrity of the government’s case. Given the lack of cooperation from the DA’s office, Spiro expects the hearing to be adjourned today (Hernandez also has a pending civil lawsuit against the city).

In a November 22 response to Spiro’s allegations of Brady violations, Assistant District Attorney Burim Namani wrote that any information on alleged misconduct could be found in lawsuits filed by Hernandez and others against the city, and by “googling Shaun King’s name, Pedro Hernandez’s name, Detective David Terrell’s name, Private Investigator Manuel Gomez’s name, Assistant District Attorney David Slott’s name, reporter Sarah Wallace’s name, the 42 Pct., and/or the title of Shaun King’s articles.” At the end of the letter, the ADA wrote,“People are fully aware of their constitutional discovery obligations, including their continuing obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and its progeny, and will continue to faithfully discharge those obligations.”

By refusing to take a plea deal, Pedro Hernandez exposed systemic police and prosecutorial misconduct, where evidence was fabricated to justify the arrests of young men of color. Over the next few weeks, we’ll find out just how seriously this particular district attorney’s office takes its constitutional obligations, and whether Pedro Hernandez will not only have beaten a series of bogus charges, but finally brought some measure of accountability to a system rife with abuses.

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The LAPD Has a New Surveillance Formula, Powered by Palantir

LAPD officers line up in front of protestors.
Lucy Nicholson / Pool / Getty Images

The LAPD Has a New Surveillance Formula, Powered by Palantir

Los Angeles Police Department analysts are each tasked with maintaining “a minimum” of a dozen ongoing surveillance targets for future targeting, using Palantir software and an updated “probable offender” formula, according to October 2017 documents, obtained through a public records request lawsuit by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and given exclusively to The Appeal.

These surveillance reports identify “probable offenders” in select neighborhoods, based on an LAPD point-based predictive policing formula. Analysts find information for their reports using Palantir software, which culls data from police records, including field interview cards and arrest reports, according to an updated LAPD checklist formula, which uses broader criteria than the past risk formula the department was known to have used. These reports, known as Chronic Offender Bulletins, predate Palantir’s involvement with the LAPD, but since the LAPD began using the company’s data-mining software in September 2011, the department claims that bulletins that would have taken an hour to compile now take “about five minutes.”

Los Angeles police argue that targeting “chronic offenders” in this manner helps lower crime rates while being minimally invasive. But the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, a community-based alliance that has advocated against increased LAPD surveillance efforts since 2012, paints a different picture of the Chronic Offender Bulletin program. The group calls it a “racist feedback loop” in which police surveil a set number of people based on data that’s generated by their own racially biased policing, creating more monitoring and thereby more arrests.

Field interview cards, for example, which provide information for the predictive checklist, often result from on-the-street racial profiling, argues Jamie Garcia, the lead organizer on the Predictive Policing campaign with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. “When we look at LAPD stops, the black population is completely overrepresented,” said Garcia in a phone call. The directives, she says, direct officers “to find these people and to basically harass them…. If you’re constantly being surveilled, constantly being harassed, the chance of something going wrong … The next thing you know, you’re a chalk outline.”

Legal scholars have noted that the institutionalization of risk formulas like the LAPD’s Chronic Offender program checklist can exacerbate existing patterns of discrimination by oversampling those already discriminated against, generating even more biased data that justifies further discrimination.

The LAPD declined The Appeal’s request for interview, and did not provide answers to written queries about the program. In an email to The Appeal, Palantir spokesperson Lisa Gordon confirmed that Palantir is used in the creation of Chronic Offender Bulletins, but stressed that the software does not automatically generate the reports and that the selection and vetting of people on these lists are part of “a human-driven process.”

How Pre-Crime Investigations Begin

The target identification process starts with a LAPD analyst looking for “probable offenders” by surveying police records. According to the LAPD documents, analysts deploy Palantir’s file-organizing software to conduct “work-ups” of these individuals, looking for records that add points to their predictive risk scores, which are based on factors, such as whether they are on parole and their number of police contacts in the last two years. Below is an image of one of these “work-ups,” generated a few months before the department adopted Palantir, which The Appeal found online, completely unredacted, in a May 2013 LAPD presentation.

An example of a research “work up” template created by an LAPD analyst to organize data points for the department’s predictive “chronic offender” formula.

Adding up points based on police stops and other criteria outlined in the formula, an analyst would then create “at a minimum” 12 Chronic Offender Bulletins for high-scoring individuals, and identify five to 10 others as potential “back ups” for the target list. The 12, ranked by highest point values, are then referred to officers to ensure the targets are not already in custody or being tracked. As the documents state explicitly, these targets are, at this point, legally “not suspects but persons of interest.” A “person of interest” has no defined legal meaning, but can simply mean someone who might have knowledge about a crime.

Critics claim that this essentially creates a cycle where anyone who has any history with the criminal justice system can now be subjected to increased surveillance for the foreseeable future, even if they’re not suspected of having any connection to a recent crime. On the redacted work-up above, which the LAPD confirmed as authentic in an email, the individual had been stopped twice in a single day on four separate occasions during a six-week period. All these stops would count as points in the predictive formula, making him a higher priority for the surveillance program.

Though the LAPD claims such reports are “for informational purposes only and for officer safety,” the report information is then fed to an internal LAPD database “for tracking and monitoring purposes,” according to the 2017 documents. Armed with this data, such as where target offenders have been stopped and what tattoos they have, special LAPD units are sent out to “engage” targets with specified tactics, such as checks for outstanding warrants or illegal gun seizures, which may lead to arrests.

Sarah Brayne, a University of Texas at Austin assistant professor of sociology, who conducted field research with the LAPD in 2015, says that officers are keenly aware that the bulletins did not give them reasonable suspicion or probable cause. “The language used when I talked with officers was, “Go talk to them, and you might catch them doing something, but there’s currently no PC [probable cause].”

Though the LAPD documents do not explicitly state that those on the list must be arrested, they suggest that once an individual lands on a Palantir-powered bulletin, police are supposed to continue monitoring the individual until he or she is in custody. According to a released PowerPoint presentation, for example, officers are expected to ask themselves “how many chronic offenders have been arrested” in the previous two weeks and what their strategies are for “outstanding offenders.”

Every week, analysts too are supposed to determine whether the individuals on their target lists “are active or in custody,” and then replace those who have been captured with so-called “back-ups,” other individuals scored as high-risk, creating new targets for police to engage.

Individuals can be removed from the surveillance list if they have not had any police contact for two years, says Brayne, but the program’s underlying logic is to incapacitate those determined to be the main drivers of crime.

Given the amount of scrutiny and routine contact that officers are instructed to pursue for people on the bulletin list, avoiding all police contact is not realistic, says Josmar Trujillo, an anti-gang policing activist in New York. “If you live in a community of color in America, you don’t have the choice of having these contacts,” said Trujillo in a phone call. “Oftentimes, you can be stopped just for being around certain people, whether it be car stops or stops of groups on a street, so this predictive policing idea that you have to earn your right not to be on the list is cruel because to avoid law enforcement for years — that’s not possible.”

Perverse Incentives?

The LAPD’s expectation that analysts have a minimum of a dozen targets on deck is possible thanks, in part, to the departments’ use of the software from Palantir, the controversial tech firm founded by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel. As Craig Uchida, an LAPD consultant and research partner, told Wired, before Palantir was brought on board, LAPD analysts could not make enough surveillance bulletins to keep up with officer stops. At the time, he recalled, cops were stopping around 100 people daily in the South LA neighborhood the program was first implemented in, bringing in too much data for analysts to efficiently process.

The documents also suggest that LAPD brass have become more committed than in years past to fulfilling the Chronic Offender program’s goals for officer surveillance and “engagement” with those listed. According to the documents, at weekly crime control meetings, specialized units targeting offenders are supposed to give reports on “their progress” to date. Brayne says this is a relatively new development.

“There was definitely tracking of how many arrests, but that was largely to collect data to measure efficacy and make a case for continued funding,” she said.

The expectations, embedded in these predictive policing tactics, worries Garcia, who points out that such incentives could motivate or even force analysts and officers to make unfounded arrests just to check people off their bulletin lists. “So the LAPD is even surveilling itself,” Garcia said.

Brayne, on the other hand, pointed out that during her field work, officers had too many high-point offenders to deal with, not too few.

New Technology, Similar Victims

Activists also argue this predictive policing program could be giving new scientific and legal cover for traditional police practices in poor, non-white communities, viewed by some as racially discriminatory.

“The data is inherently subjective, and it has that implicit bias in it,” Garcia said, claiming that data drawn from raw police interactions necessarily bakes existing biases into the LAPD’s predictive risk models. And Brayne’s ethnographic findings about the culture of the LAPD suggests these concerns may be justified. “They say you shouldn’t create a — you can’t target individuals especially for any race, or I forget how you say that,” said one unnamed officer to Brayne, when asked why the department had shifted to its points-based surveillance system. “But then we didn’t want to make it look like we’re creating a gang depository of just gang affiliates or gang associates… We were just trying to cover and make sure everything is right on the front end.”

The documents also reveal a newer, more expansive version of the LAPD’s points-based Chronic Offender formula than has previously been reported. Older reports have shown that analysts were supposed to count points against individuals for gang membership, being on parole or probation, prior arrests with a handgun, past violent crimes, and “quality” police contacts. This newer version from October 2017 includes most those checkboxes, but expands the gun penalty now counting up five points for “each incident” involving any kind of gun over the last two years. It also counts up five points for each violent crime arrest, whereas the older version just counted five points if an individual had violent crimes on their rap sheet.

The documents were obtained through a public records lawsuit, brought by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition in March, which sought information on a larger LAPD program in which the Chronic Offender Bulletins are used. Since 2011, that program, known as Operation LASER, has targeted Los Angeles neighborhoods with high densities of gun-related crimes, teaming up analysts and officers to target “chronic” offenders and areas. According to a 2017 LAPD grant extension request to the Department of Justice’s Smart Policing Initiative Grant Program, obtained by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, at the time, the department was targeting neighborhoods in South and Central Los Angeles, which are mostly Black and Latino, and planned to expand the operation to more police divisions across the city.

The LAPD has claimed success with the program — between 2011 and 2012, one area where LASER was operating experienced a 56 percent decrease in homicides (according to a 2014 report by the LAPD). But the report was unable to single out whether this was because of the use of Chronic Offender Bulletins or some other unrelated trend. Homicides in Los Angeles had dropped steadily since the early-nineties before leveling out around the middle of this decade.

But residents say these predictives tactics have come with a cost. “I feel like they already know who you are by the time they stop you or give you a citation. They already know your name and who you are hanging out with,” said one member of a focus group convened by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition for a new report it released today, alongside the public records.

Another focus group member elucidated the dangers of constantly focusing police resources on a very specific population: “Because they over-patrol certain areas. If you’re only looking on Crenshaw and you’re only pulling Black people over then it’s only gonna make it look like, you know, whoever you pulled over or whoever you searched or whoever you criminalized that’s gonna be where you found something,” said the participant.

Activists say these testimonies are only their first step in their push for reforms. On June 5, Los Angeles is having its first hearing on data-driven evidence-based policing, says Garcia, where her group plans to push presenters, many of them with deep ties to the LAPD, on what impact this type of profiling can have on their target communities. Garcia wonders, “Where are the hard questions going to come from if you are working with someone to present this information to the community who has every motivation to make the community agree with these programs? There’s a lot at stake.”

Max Rivlin-Nadler contributed reporting to this article

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