Monday, October 17, 2016

Daily Corrections Clips


Search on for inmate who fled state prison medical facility in Vacaville
Bill Lindelof, The Sacramento Bee

Authorities searched Monday for an inmate who walked away from a prison medical facility in Vacaville.

Jarvis Brown, 29, walked away from a minimum security part of California Medical Facility. He had been in state prison custody since May 12, serving a three-year sentence for evading an officer while driving recklessly in Contra Costa County.

Brown, a black man about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 165 pounds, was reported missing after an inmate count at 12:30 a.m. Monday. He was last seen in his bunk bed about an hour earlier.

Local law enforcement, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agents and the California Highway Patrol are involved in the search for Brown.

Josh Copitch, KRCR News

SUSANVILLE, Calif. - High Desert State Prison (HDSP) is investigating an incident that left one inmate dead.

The incident occurred just after 1:30 p.m. on a recreation yard at the prison, Saturday, October 15. One inmate was attacked by another one with a handmade "stabbing weapon". Staff recovered the weapon at the scene and no staff members were injured during the incident.

Inmate Douglas Maynard, 53, succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m.

Maynard was given to the prison by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on September 5, 1996, from Sacramento to serve four years for first-degree burglary. While incarcerated, he was also convicted of two additional counts of first-degree burglary and one count of first-degree robbery committed prior to his initial arrest.

At the time of his death, he was serving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.

HDSP investigators identified Robert Stockton, 39, as a suspect in the attack. Stockton was received by the CDCR from Tehama county on October 18, 1995, to serve a sentence of life with the possibility of parole for first-degree murder and use of a firearm.

In addition to HDSP’s investigation, the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office and the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office are also investigating. The Office of the Inspector General was notified.


Report: Some California guards see inmates as 'wild animals'

Don Thompson, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Employees at a remote Northern California prison largely view inmates as "little more than wild animals" incapable of being rehabilitated, according to the latest in a long series of critical reports.

California corrections officials sought the external review after the state inspector general reported last year that High Desert State Prison guards had created a "culture of racism" and engaged in alarmingly frequent use of force against inmates.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators found little evidence of overt racism, but plenty of other problems at the maximum security prison housing about 3,800 inmates near Susanville, nearly 200 miles from Sacramento.

Employees view themselves as united in a two-front battle against some of the state's toughest inmates on one side and a distant, disconnected state bureaucracy on the other, according to the report provided to The Associated Press.

The report blames a lack of communication and leadership at the prison, which has had 15 wardens in its 21 years of existence — five in the last 18 months.

That "has left the staff without a clear sense of direction, and in particular unaware of the change toward rehabilitation in the department's mission," says the report. "In their view, efforts to rehabilitate inmates of the type housed at HDSP, who they view as little more than wild animals, are both futile and dangerous."

Guards rarely interact with inmates unless violence erupts, tacitly allowing illegal activities like gambling among inmates as a way of keeping the peace, the review team found.

"It was as if the officers and the inmates had reached an agreement. 'You can do your thing, and we'll do ours, so long as you don't get violent,'" the reviewers wrote. "Viewing inmates as dangerous animals, the officers do little to prevent violence but rather keep their distance waiting for it to occur. When it does occur, which it does almost daily, they react quickly en mass to suppress it with force."

Nichol Gomez, a spokeswoman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents most prison guards, said Friday that the union was reviewing the report and she could not immediately comment.

Employees of all races denied the institutionalized racism described by the inspector general.

Minority inmates denied being addressed with racist language, though they believed they were victims of discrimination. Reviewers found white inmates were disproportionately assigned to skilled jobs, while Latinos were underrepresented. Black inmates were disproportionately likely to face discipline and use of force.

"They found all the same statistical disparities that we did," said Shaun Spillane, a spokesman for the inspector general's office. He said his agency examined different things than did the latest review.

Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office that represents inmates, said his law firm's investigation last year found that inmates were often subjected to racist comments.

"It's incredibly difficult for the Department of Corrections to rehabilitate prisoners when at least some of the staff have those kind of comments — suggesting that the prisoners are not human or, even milder, not fit for rehabilitation," he said.

Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan ordered the nearly $188,000 report in March.

The department "recognizes there is good work being done by our staff at High Desert State Prison under difficult circumstances, and will continue to strive for improvements," he said in a statement, adding that, "Our overarching goal is to ensure safety for everyone and to promote rehabilitation in support of public safety."

Denise Ellen Rizzo, Tracy Press

A cow turns her head as a state prison inmate checks the machinery drawing milk from her udders during the morning milking shift at Deuel Vocational Institution’s prison dairy.

She is one of 575 milking cows out of a herd of about 1,000 that are milked at the DVI dairy at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. The milk is processed right there at the dairy and sold to other prisons throughout Northern California.

The dairy was established in 1953 and operates, with the supervised help of 75 minimum-security inmates, under the Prison Industry Authority, pasteurizing and packing nearly 6,000 gallons of milk on a given day.

The dairy’s milk production includes 1 percent white and chocolate milk, and it is packaged in half pints, half gallons and 3- and 6-gallon bags for cooking in prison kitchens.

For prison authorities, the cows are considered 1,000 employees with individual stalls and misters for the heat of summer, working on 60 acres of dairy land adjacent to 540 acres of farmland at 23500 Kasson Road.

“The average cow produces 10 gallons (each day),” said Darrol Vierra, prison industry administrator.

He said the cows are bred at the dairy to create a sealed herd, keeping the quality of their milk stable.

Inmates in the program handle every aspect of the milk production process, from feeding the cows to milking, pasteurization and running the machines in the dairy warehouse, Vierra said.

The time the inmates spend at the dairy can shorten their prison sentences by as much as six weeks a year and earns them between 35 cents and 90 cents an hour to spend at the prison canteen.

The biggest benefit to an inmate who qualifies to work at the dairy, however, is the rehabilitation involved in learning pasteurization and food service and other marketable skills.

“We do get some success stories,” Vierra said. “One inmate got a pasteurization job at a dairy, another got into breeding, and some got warehouse work. It is another vocational aspect of the prison.”

DVI is known for its career technical educational programs for inmates, which include auto body and paint, building maintenance, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Last month, the Deuel Vocational Institution Citizens’ Advisory Committee took a tour of the dairy, and for many of them, it was their first look inside.

“It’s so interesting,” said Gene Birk, one of the committee members. “I knew cows gave milk, but I didn’t know the process.”

The small group of committee members saw the cow nursery, where several cows had recently given birth; the milk production facility, where half-pint cartons of milk traveled down a conveyer belt for shipping; and the milking barn.

“They do a nice job. Very educational,” committee chairman John Thoming said.
The cost to run the state-licensed dairy is about $4 million annually, Vierra said, and it must remain a self-sufficient operation. The milk it produces has won ribbons at the state fair for quality, he said.

DVI is one of two prisons in California with an on-site dairy. The other, Corcoran State Prison in Kings County, distributes milk to Southern California prisons.


Warden oversees 2,211 inmates, staff of 1,000
Dennis Wyatt, Manteca Bulletin

Deuel Vocational Institute — 10 miles southwest of Manteca — is a lot less crowded these days.

The prison built in 1953 was designed to hold 2,300 inmates. Today 2,211 individuals are incarcerated there. 

Back in 2012 the prison held 4,000 inmates. It was accomplished in part by converting the gym to a massive dorm room with bunk beds stacked three high with barely enough room to walk between the rows.

That changed after a riot.

“You couldn’t see over them,” Jerome Price told Manteca Noon Rotarians Thursday during their weekly meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room. “Guards couldn’t see into the middle (of the room) from the catwalks.”

After the riot, the bunk beds were limited to two high.

Today, the gym is cleared of beds and is staying that way in the aftermath of Gov. Brown’s new rules for incarcerating felons that committed “low level” crimes not considered violent in nature to meet federal court mandates to reduce overcrowding at California’s 34 state prisons.

Back when the riot occurred, Price was on an inspection team from the Department of Corrections headquarters. Today he is the warden at DVI. It’s a position he’s held since 2012.

Price oversees the prison that’s on 782 acres and has an annual budget of $91 million. There are roughly 1,000 employees split almost evenly between correctional staff and support staff.

DVI has two missions. It serves as a reception center and to provide housing for Level I and Level II inmates.

As a reception center, DVI receives inmates being sent into the state prison system from 29 Northern California counties. They are processed over 90 days during which time they are evaluated. That includes personal interactions, criminal records, education, life history, as well as, medical and psychological histories. They’re then transferred to the appropriate prison.

Level I inmates include work farms and forestry camps. They are either first-time or low-risk inmates who have “worked themselves up in the system” by good behavior. As such it affords the inmate better living conditions and a few more freedoms than they would have elsewhere in the state prison system.

Level II inmates are those who are nearing the end of their sentence or those who have committed crimes that are less severe. They can be allowed on work details.

Inmates at DVI can work prison maintenance, food service and custodial jobs among others. Inmates also have the opportunity to earn their General Education Degree as well as take basic adult education classes. Career training classes include heating and air conditioning, auto body repair, and building maintenance to name a few.

DVI also maintains dairy farm with 1,600 head of cattle with 600 being milked on any given day. Inmates help process 162,000 gallons of milk a month that are shipped to other prisons throughout Northern California.

Price noted the biggest challenge is maintaining the 63-year-old prison facility.
The prison is looking for volunteers through its community outreach program. They are needed to help with a wide array of self-help programs that inmates can access from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous to Al-Anon and meditation programs.

Price noted DVI has efforts where prisoners help the community. One is restoring recovered bicycles that are unclaimed at law enforcement agencies such as the Tracy Police Department. The bikes from Tracy are repaired and distributed to kids through the Boys & Girls Club of Tracy.


Don Thompson, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials said Friday that they have again denied parole for a follower of cult leader Charles Manson who is serving a life sentence for a murder he committed 47 years ago.

Parole officials decided that Robert Beausoleil, 68, should remain in prison for the 1969 death of musician Gary Hinman. He can seek parole again in three years, said board spokesman Luis Patino.

Beausoleil was an aspiring musician and actor before he joined the Manson family, and he has written and recorded music while in prison.

He originally was sentenced to die, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972.

He was in jail when other Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others, then murdered grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind, if released, Bobby will be just a model citizen. I think he's a very insightful and introspective person, and there is nothing about him that is dangerous," said his attorney, Jason Campbell.

Beausoleil had been denied parole 17 times previously.

"Thank God," Hinman's cousin, Kay Martley, said of the latest parole decision.

"He killed, murdered my cousin and it was gruesome. Three days they kept him and tortured him," she said. "All of this just comes back, even after 47 years."

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement that Beausoleil should remain imprisoned because of the heinous nature of the crime and because he remains dangerous.

Beausoleil was denied parole in part because he has been recording music for sale without the permission of California authorities, said Martley and Debra Tate, Sharon Tate's sister.

He previously had permission from Oregon authorities, where he had been serving his sentence until last year, they said. Patino and Campbell said they couldn't comment.

"If he can't play by the rules in place within prison, how can he play in a free society?" said Tate.

Beausoleil was transferred in 1994 to the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem at his request, after he married a woman from Oregon while in prison and later fathered four children. He was transferred last year to the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, southeast of Sacramento, after his wife died and he had a disciplinary infraction at the Oregon prison.

Martley fears that officials may decide to parole Beausoleil next time because of his young age when he committed the crime, and because he elderly now.

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown reversed the parole board and blocked the release of Bruce Davis, 74, who was convicted in the slayings of Hinman and stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea. In July, Brown blocked the release of Leslie Van Houten, 67, who is serving a life sentence for the LaBianca killings.

Latest ruling must now go through lengthy review, but victim's mom in support as she thinks killer is remorseful.

EAST BAY, CA – A man who was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in the brutal beating and strangulation death of Newark transgender teenager Gwen Araujo 14 years ago was granted parole by a state Board of Parole Hearings panel Friday.

However, the ruling by a two-member state Board of Parole Hearings panel on Wednesday to grant parole to Jose Merel, who's now 36, is only the beginning of a five-month process to determine whether he will be allowed to go free after 14 years in custody, according to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jill Klinge.

The state Board of Parole Hearings' legal staff now has four months to review the ruling to see if it's consistent with the evidence that was presented at Merel's hearing at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, said Klinge, who participated in the hearing.

If the legal staff approves Merel's appeal, Gov. Jerry Brown will have a month to approve the decision, modify it, ask for all 12 members of the panel to review it or simply let it stand.

Merel was one of four men who were convicted for their roles in the death of Araujo, 17, at Merel's house in Newark in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002. The incident sparked outrage among the transgender
community nationwide.

Michael Magidson, who's also 36 now, was also convicted of second-degree murder. Merel and Magidson were both sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.
Jason Cazares was prosecuted along with Merel and Magidson at two highly-publicized trials in 2004 and 2005 but jurors deadlocked on his fate at both trials.

He pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in December 2005 so he wouldn't have to risk a murder conviction at a third trial and was sentenced one month later to six years in state prison.

Jurors deadlocked on the fate of all three defendants at their first trial in 2004 and Merel and Magidson were convicted at the end of the second trial.

A fourth defendant, Jaron Nabors, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2003 in exchange for his testimony against the other three men and in 2006 he was sentenced to 11 years in state prison.

Cazares and Nabors have both been out of prison for many years.

Araujo was born as a male named Eddie but presented herself as a woman.

According to prosecutor Chris Lamiero, who handled both trials, the four men killed Araujo following a night of drinking and smoking marijuana when they discovered that the beautiful woman they'd been socializing with for several months actually was a biological male.

According to testimony in the two trials, Araujo had sex with all of the men except Cazares.

Klinge said Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, supports granting parole to Merel because she thinks he's always been remorseful about his involvement in Araujo's death but most of Araujo's other family members oppose granting Merel parole.

Magidson had a parole hearing at the Valley State Prison in Chowchilla on Wednesday but Klinge said that at the last minute Magidson stipulated that he's still unsuitable for parole at this time and he won't be eligible for parole again for three years.

Klinge said Magidson has had a poor prison record and has been cited for disciplinary violations numerous times.

Magidson was unapologetic and unremorseful when he and Merel were sentenced on Jan. 27, 2006, saying "This case was based entirely on lies by the witnesses and my co-defendants and encouraged by the prosecutor."

He said, "I'm here with my head held high" and claimed, "I didn't receive a fair trial."

After the hearing, Lamiero said, "Mr. Magidson didn't do himself any favors" with his comment and said "his words will come back to haunt him" when he faces a parole board.

However, Klinge said Magidson is now more remorseful.

At the sentencing hearing for Merel and Magidson, Araujo's aunt, Emma Rodrigues, said Araujo "used poor judgment" in partying with the four men over a period of several months but said Araujo "shouldn't have paid for that mistake with her life."

Rodrigues said that because Araujo was transgender, "She was rejected at school, at church and even by her own family."

Rodrigues said that one time Araujo opened a Bible and asked, "Where does God have a place for people like me?"

Klinge said Guerrero has been affected so much by Araujo's death that she never went back to the legal secretary position she held for 16 years and is now homeless.


Jazmine Ulloa, LA Times

 As voters weigh two dueling death penalty measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort to end executions in California, saying they want to see the practice abolished both in the state and across the U.S.  

Some have long been active practitioners of so-called conscious capitalism, giving to social causes and ballot measures in support of issues such as education and the environment. But this year, the death penalty debate has generated heavier funding and drawn in some first-time donors, as contributors say they see potential for change amid waning public opinion of capital punishment.

“It feels like now the time is right,” said Nicholas McKeown, a computer science professor at Stanford University and founder of four tech companies. “Public opinion has changed a lot, and there’s also the general sense that we need to bring about that change in California so that it sweeps across the country to the Supreme Court and nationwide.”

McKeown and Netlfix CEO Reed Hastings have been the two biggest contributors to the cause. Other top donors include Robert Eustace, who served as senior vice president of knowledge at Google, and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and founder of Emerson Collective, a nonprofit that advocates for policies on education, immigration reform and environmental conversation. 

Among the new donors are Paul Graham, CEO of start-up incubator Y Combinator. There’s also billionaires John Doerr, a venture capitalist who has backed some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs, and Tom Steyer, who has spent millions on the fight against climate change and this year decided to take action against the death penalty, calling it failed policy.

Together, they have dished out $4.2 million into a $7-million campaign to pass Proposition 62, which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The same funding drive is also working to oppose Proposition 66, which intends to speed up the death penalty system through changes in how and how often death row inmates can appeal their convictions.

Public support for capital punishment was at its peak nationwide in the mid-1990s, when 80% of Americans favored the death penalty in murder cases. But that support has since fallen to 49% percent of Americans — the lowest in more than four decades, according to a Pew Research Center survey released late last month.

Roughly 42% now oppose the practice.

Yet in California, voters have refused to abolish the punishment. The last time a measure similar to Proposition 62 was on the ballot in 2012, it was rejected by 52% of voters. And that measure raked in more funds, at least $7.2 million, including $437,500 from McKeown and $250,000 from Hastings.

This year, Proposition 66 intends to shorten the time that legal challenges to death sentences can take through new procedures, such as requiring initial appeals to be heard in trial courts and establishing new deadlines.

Police associations, prosecutors and sheriffs have pulled in $4.3 million in donations to support the ballot measure and defeat its competitor.

But Silicon Valley supporters say they have rallied behind Proposition 62 due to the death penalty’s cost: Ending it could save the state about $150 million annually within a few years, although the impact could vary by tens of millions of dollars, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

McKeown, the overall top donor who has contributed $1.5 million to the cause, called the practice inhumane and pointed to its abolition throughout Europe and other Western democracies.

Graham, who has doled out $500,000, said he has never supported the death penalty but only recently learned of what he called the flaws in its application. One recent study in the journal PNAS, he said, estimated more than 4% of death row inmates have been wrongfully convicted.

“It always seemed barbaric, and clearly had no deterrent effect,” he said in an email. “But I didn't fight that actively against it because I thought the people being killed were murderers — the proverbial ‘worst of the worst.’”

Whether their funding will make a difference remains to be seen, as polls suggest not enough voters have changed their minds on capital punishment to repeal it. An USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll has found more than half of likely voters still oppose the measure to abolish the death penalty.

The latest tally, a survey by the Field Poll and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, found 48% percent of 942 likely voters supported Proposition 62, as opposed to 37% that didn’t. Another 15% were undecided.

Proposition 66 received less support, with 35% reporting they were inclined to vote “Yes,” 23% who said they would vote “No” and 42% who are undecided. 

History suggests that when voter support for a controversial ballot measures remains below 50%, its passage is uncertain, even when its leading in the polls, according to the Field Poll survey.

Joe Tash, Del Mar Times

Kyle Wesendorf took a slightly unusual path to her current career as a vegetarian personal chef – before deciding to attend culinary school and take up cooking for a living, she worked in the legal field, specifically as an attorney handling the appeals of death row inmates.

“It’s a weird resume,” said Wesendorf, who runs her own business, a personal chef service called Brio.

Even though the 63-year-old Solana Beach resident no longer practices law, she hasn't left her passionate opposition to the death penalty behind - earlier this year, she joined a cause near to her heart by enlisting as a volunteer for Prop. 62, a measure on California's November ballot that will, if approved, abolish the death penalty in this state. 

“I’ve always been against the death penalty,” said Wesendorf, who retired from her legal career in 2003 after practicing in Illinois and California. “It’s my abiding passion. I feel very strongly it’s wrong. A great country like ours should not be killing people.”

Wesendorf is a member of the board of directors of the Yes on 62 committee. In that capacity, she has helped organize the campaign, from raising funds and gathering signatures, to getting the word out about the ballot measure.

California voters last considered the death penalty question in 2012, when, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, they rejected an initiative that would have replaced the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life without possibility of parole.

This time around, Wesendorf is optimistic that the outcome will be different, and that voters will abolish the death penalty in California. Prop. 62 also calls for the imposition of life without parole instead of capital punishment.

Complicating things is a competing ballot measure, Prop. 66, which seeks to fix a broken death penalty system and speed up the process, streamlining appeals procedures and setting a five-year time limit for the completion of death penalty appeals.

The last execution carried out in California was in 2006, due to legal issues surrounding the state’s lethal injection procedures. More than 700 inmates currently remain on death row in California.

Among the reasons for abolishing the death penalty in California, said Wesendorf, are that it does not work as a deterrent, it is expensive (the state’s legislative analyst estimated that elimination of the death penalty will save $150 million per year in legal and prison costs), and that its application is racially biased.

Many nations around the world have abolished capital punishment, and in the U.S., 24 states have either abolished the death penalty or put it on hold, according to the Death Penalty Information Center web site.

“When you look around the world at countries which continue to execute people... we’re in very bad company,” with such nations as Iran, China and North Korea, said Wesendorf.

But proponents of Prop. 66, which promises to streamline and maintain California’s death penalty, said the goal should be to “mend, not end” the law.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Prop. 66 supporter, said she believes Californians want to keep the death penalty on the books in a way that protects the legal rights of defendants while speeding up the process.

“It’s not working because those who don’t want the death penalty have been part of the cause for how much it costs and how long it takes,” she said.

Currently, she said, it takes more than two decades for a death penalty case to work its way through the appeals process. “We want to fix that.”

The death penalty, said Dumanis, is reserved for “the worst of the worst,” for such crimes as killing a police officer, or in the case of murder with aggravating factors such as lying in wait, torture, kidnapping or sexual assault.

She said race doesn’t enter into the decision of whether to seek the death penalty; instead, she said, prosecutors consider the circumstances of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history and other factors.

The legislative analyst’s office concluded that Prop. 66 could save money by reducing the number of death row inmates in California and distributing those inmates to other prisons instead of housing them all in single cells at San Quentin Prison. But due to other changes in the appeals process, the total fiscal impact is “unknown and cannot be estimated.”

The vote likely won’t hinge on dollars and cents, according to Dumanis. “The bottom line is it’s probably a moral decision. Either you believe in the death penalty or you don’t believe in the death penalty. Californians have said for some crimes we believe in the death penalty.”

If both measures receive majority approval on Nov. 8, the one with the most votes will win. A September poll by the Field Poll and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that 48 percent of voters supported Prop. 62, 37 percent opposed it, and 15 percent were undecided. The poll found that 35 percent supported Prop. 66, 23 percent opposed it, and a plurality of 42 percent was undecided.


Ruby Gonzales, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

GLENDORA >> A former Walnut resident could spend the rest of his life in prison for the 1976 murder of a Glendora woman who didn’t come home after a trip to the moviehouse to see “The Omen.”

Larry James Allred, 62, will be sentenced Monday at the San Bernardino Justice Center. He accepted a deal last month and pleaded guilty to killing 18-year-old Cynthia May Hernandez 40 years ago.

Hernandez left her Glendora home to see a horror movie at the Fox Twin Theaters in Covina the night of Aug. 26, 1976. Her family found the Chevrolet station wagon she used backed into a parking space behind the theater at 211 N. Azusa Avenue.
There was no sign of Hernandez.

Glendora police reopened the cold case in 2011. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department later took over the case. Authorities have yet to reveal where Hernandez’s remains were found in San Bernardino County and how Allred became their suspect.

Allred has prior convictions for rape, kidnapping as well as importing and selling counterfeit collectible Disney pins.

He was in the California Institution for Men in Chino serving an 8-year sentence for selling and importing the bogus Disney pins when the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in April charged him with Hernandez’s murder.

Barrett Newkirk and Kristen Hwang, The Desert Sun

Painting a picture of John Hernandez Felix' personal life is difficult – those who knew him are reluctant to talk.

Beyond his past run-ins with the law, information about the 26-year-old who is accused of fatally shooting two Palm Springs police officers is hard to come by.

"No, nothing i say will change his situation," Chris Patino of Desert Hot Springs said in a Facebook message to a Desert Sun reporter.

Patino said Thursday he had last talked to Felix a week ago. Patino described Felix as "always out and about," mentioned his ties to the local gang Varrio Las Palmas and said Felix was known to do drugs and carry weapons.

"Believe (me) it don't surprise no one that knew him," Patino said of his alleged involvement in the killing of two cops.

Felix's family has not spoken publicly about what happened in the Palm Springs home where he lived with relatives. Felix's father and a woman, who both stood outside the home on North Cypress Road Thursday afternoon, ignored requests to talk to The Desert Sun.

Law enforcement arrested Felix shortly before 1 a.m. on Oct. 9 following a 12-hour standoff at his home. Three days later, he was charged with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of officers Jose "Gil" Vega and Lesley Zerebny. Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described Felix's actions as a planned "ambush" against police.

"This individual wanted to kill police officers," Hestrin said, referring to Felix. "That's the motive. He wanted to gun down police officers because they wore the uniform."

Felix and his family members were known in the neighborhood, but no one interviewed had regular interactions with them.

Tarcisa Villarin, one of Felix’s neighbors and a caregiver at the nearby elder-care facility, said she only knew Felix in passing. She would wave when she saw him on the street, but they never spoke more than a brief hello.

"When he is calm, he seemed good," she said Monday morning.

Felix attended Palm Springs High School between 2004 and 2008. Online, he lists that he graduated in 2008, although Palm Springs Unified School District declined to confirm that information. His freshman yearbook photo shows a young man looking shyly into the camera without smiling. In his junior year photo, he grins widely, dimples marking his face. These two photos are the only times Felix appears in the school yearbook in four years.

In 2008, he was not pictured in the class photo. He is not listed on the rosters for any sports teams or campus clubs.

The latest update to Felix's Facebook page was June 1 – a meme of Bart Simpson, which said: "People push you to your limits. But when you finally explode and fight back, you're the mean one."

On the evening of Oct. 8, after the two officers had been killed, someone wrote below the post, "I'm sorry John."

Palm Springs police officers, responding to a 911 call about a family disturbance, arrived at the Felix home at 12:18 p.m., according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, which oversaw the investigation into the shooting. As they attempted to convince the man to step outside, the man fired a gun at them through a metal screen door without warning.

Felix allegedly told his father he wanted to kill cops moments before the gunfire began. Frances Serrano, who lives directly across the street from where the shooting took place Oct. 8, spoke to Felix's father moments before the bloodshed. The father told Serrano that his son had a gun and wanted to shoot police officers.

“He came over and asked for help,” she said.

Serrano called the police and the father walked back toward his house. Soon after, Serrano heard gunshots.

With police surrounding the area, neighbor Juan Garciano said he saw Felix's father leave the scene with the police, apparently cooperating with them.

Property records show Felix's parents purchased the house in 1996 and his father has lived there since. The house has been in foreclosure since 2013 and was scheduled to be sold at auction in July, but the sale was cancelled.

Neighbors said police had previously been called to a similar domestic disturbance at the home about a week earlier. Palm Springs police have yet to provide records on the history of their responses or visits to the address, requested by The Desert Sun after the shooting.

Felix occasionally shared family moments on Facebook. He posted a “thankful” picture on Thanksgiving. One month later, a grinning Felix took a selfie on Christmas with his family in the background. The caption read: “Happy to be with my love ones on this special day and merry Christmas to all.” The same day he posted a photo of tamales and rice. In February, he wished his mother a happy Valentine’s Day.

Also in February, Felix posted a photo of himself with three Los Angeles Lakers Girls. Twice in early April, he shared photos of bottles of beer he was drinking after a long day at work. Felix mentions no work history online, and his friend Chris Patino said he wasn't sure where Felix was last employed.

In September 2009, police say Felix and another man attempted to kill a member of a rival gang in a drive-by shooting. Court records say the two men drove a gray Nissan up to a Palm Springs mobile home complex, with Felix in the passenger seat, and shot the gang rival in the leg. The men fled but were soon arrested.

Felix was charged with attempted murder but pleaded down to assault with a firearm, ultimately serving 18 months of a four-year prison term. He was released in October 2011 after accumulating court-approved credits and what are commonly called "good time" credits. He was discharged from parole in May 2015, when the California Department of Corrections stopped tracking his whereabouts.

Felix is a known member of the Varrio Las Palmas gang, which claims as its turf the Golden Sands Mobile Home Park – two blocks north of where the two officers were killed on Oct. 8. Felix's brother, Santos Felix Jr., is also a known member of the gang.

Santos Felix Jr. has a serious criminal history of his own, according to Riverside County court documents. His first conviction came in 2006, when he was 18 and was caught carrying a concealed .44-caliber revolver. Over the next 10 years, Santos Felix Jr. pleaded guilty in four more felony cases, including convictions for car theft, drug dealing, another concealed firearm and being caught twice with ammunition.

Santos Felix Jr. is currently behind bars after being arrested in July when he allegedly evaded police in a stolen car while carrying methamphetamine and yet another gun – a .38-caliber, police-model pistol. (This pistol was designed with police in mind, but is widely available to civilians.)

The sheriff's department and Riverside County District Attorney's Office have said John Hernandez Felix used an AR-15 assault rifle to fire armor-piercing rounds at the officers on Oct. 8. This kind of rifle can be legally owned in California, but not by Felix, who was already a convicted felon.

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Felix has been charged with three counts of attempted murder, illegal possession of an assault weapon and possession of a stolen firearm. The serial number of the gun recovered at the scene was scratched off. Enhancements have been added to each of the murder and attempted murder charges for the use of body armor and armor-piercing bullets.

On Thursday, in a courtroom at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Felix wore a dark blue dress shirt and shackles around his hands and ankles. He was represented by a public defender and only spoke to answer yes or no questions. He pleaded not guilty on all charges.

He is set to undergo a psychological assessment that, depending on the outcome, will give him the chance to change his initial not-guilty plea.

A decision from prosecutors on whether they plan to seek the death penalty should Felix be convicted is expected in the coming weeks.

"We want to know everything about this individual," Hestrin said. "We're not ready to make that decision."


Keramet Reiter, LA Times

Hundreds of prisoners live in solitary confinement in Los Angeles County jails. On average, they spend at least one year in a cell the size of a wheelchair-accessible bathroom stall, leaving only a few times a week, one at a time, for showers or exercise. Meals arrive through a slot in the cell door. Between the long hours in isolation and the steel doors, a prisoner might go days, or longer, without looking another person in the eye.

Solitary confinement costs taxpayers 2 to 3 times more per prisoner than less restrictive forms of incarceration. California officials estimated they would save $28 million this year by reducing the state’s solitary confinement population by even a few hundred prisoners. But solitary is even more expensive in social terms. It can cause serious psychological damage — anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations that may continue long after prisoners return to our neighborhoods.

The U.S. Supreme Court attempted to abandon solitary confinement in the late 19th century, calling the practice barbaric. Almost 100 years later, in the 1970s, courts in California and across the United States were still chastising prison officials for keeping prisoners locked in their cells for months at a time, with little access to running water, lighting or human contact.

In 1995, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson found that conditions in the isolation unit at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, “hover[ed] on the edge of what is humanly tolerable.” Fifteen years and few reforms later, prisoners there began a hunger strike to prove the truth of Henderson’s assertion. Thirty thousand prisoners in and out of isolation joined the protest, which ultimately curtailed the practice of indefinite solitary confinement in the state. The hunger strikes are a reminder that legal oversight is just one mechanism of reform; public attention is crucial, too.

A series of isolation-related tragedies across the United States have revealed just how debilitating solitary confinement can be, and how dangerous its outcomes. This, in turn, has maintained the pressure for reform.

Last year, 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide. He had been arrested on a robbery charge when he was 16 and incarcerated for three years in New York’s Rikers Island jail, including two years in solitary confinement. The charges against him were dropped. In custody and after his release, Browder attempted suicide multiple times, until he finally hung himself. “Prior to going to jail,” he told CNN in 2013, “I never had any mental illness.”

Prisoners are not the only ones who experience the harm of isolation. In 2013, a prisoner released directly from long-term “administrative segregation” killed Tom Clements, the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Clements’ successor would later write of the killer, Evan Ebel, “Whatever solitary confinement did to [him], it was not for the better.” Before Ebel killed Clements, few Americans knew that prisoners were being released directly from solitary confinement back into our communities.

Now, Colorado, New York, California and even Los Angeles County are among the jurisdictions working to reform solitary confinement. But top-down rule changes, imposed by judges or heads of corrections systems, have never been enough to fix solitary confinement. The guards who staff isolation units must be enlisted. They decide which prisoners go into isolation, for how long, and under what conditions. They see the effects of solitary confinement, and they are in a position to know how a bad situation could be improved. Too often their perspective has been excluded from policy debates. 

In the state of Washington, it was current and former prison guards who designed a new classroom chair for their isolation units. The chair keeps prisoners restrained but still permits face-to-face contact; it replaces steel, phone-booth-sized “Hannibal Lecter” cages that forced prisoners to stand and look straight ahead through a fenced window during any kind of group activity. The chairs’ restraints are harsh, but any increase in face-to-face contact protects prisoners from further psychological disintegration.

Staff working in solitary confinement units need more resources to deal with prisoners perceived as dangerous or troubled. They need expert help with educational efforts and mental health treatment. And the units themselves need to reconfigured, so that prisoners have access to natural light and sensory input other than cell walls and bars.

Most importantly, isolation cannot become a permanent condition. There must be limits, and opportunities to move prisoners out of solitary confinement into dedicated mental health treatment, or into the general population with rehabilitative programming. In Maine, Colorado and Washington, prison officials have experimented with moving prisoners from isolation units into mental health treatment units, resulting in healthier prisoners and safer prisons.

In all these efforts, transparency is important. Taxpayers fund solitary confinement, and live alongside its survivors, but we know too little about what goes on inside prisons. States must collect data, and make it available for independent analysis: Who is isolated in solitary confinement, for how long, why and with what result?

Reform efforts to date have still left U.S. prisons hovering at “the edge of what is humanly tolerable.” We can do better — by keeping track of the human beings locked in solitary confinement, identifying ways to transition them out of isolation and dealing more directly with the overworked and often under-resourced prison officials managing these difficult populations.

Orange County Register Editorial Board

Over the past five years, California has worked to curb the excesses of a “tough on crime” approach that overemphasized punishment to the detriment of rehabilitation and public safety.

In 2011, overcrowded prisons prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to order California to ease overcrowding. This led to the state’s realignment strategy, shifting responsibility for non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual offenders to counties. Voters followed up realignment with Proposition 36, three strikes reform, in 2012, and Proposition 47, which reduced a handful of low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, in 2014.

Despite all of this, the prison population is projected to continue growing to the point where the federal courts would be well within their right to order the release of prisoners.

Gov. Jerry Brown sees Prop. 57 as a responsible way of not only avoiding mass releases, but encouraging those in prison to better themselves by participating in evidence-based rehabilitative programs. We agree.

Prop. 57 makes eligible for parole those convicted of nonviolent felonies earlier than they currently are, on average after serving one and a half years rather than the current average of two years. Those convicted of violent felonies are not affected.

Parole boards, which consider a litany of factors on a case-by-case basis before submitting their recommendation to the governor, are a much better filter for letting offenders out than the prospect of court-ordered mass releases.

Opponents of the initiative are appropriately worried about the idea of allowing felons to be released earlier than they currently are, particularly during a time when crime appears to be on the rise.

First, it is important to keep in mind that crime increases observed in 2015 are only relative to 2014, when crime levels in California actually reached record lows not seen since 1976 for violent crime and even for property crimes. California must remain realistic and objective about crime, public safety and what actually makes us safer.

Second, public safety is not served by releasing inmates who haven’t received sufficient rehabilitative programming. Those impacted by Prop. 57 will someday be released back into our communities. Setting up prisoners to fail and re-offend benefits no one. Prop. 57 gives prisoners an added reason to participate in programs meant to improve their odds of successfully reintegrating into society.

Third, Prop. 57 is certainly not the complete solution to our problems, but it is a step in the right direction, enabling California to avoid federal court-ordered releases as we continue to find the right balance between incarceration, rehabilitation and crime prevention.

Moving forward, the state must ensure rehabilitative programs are adequately funded and actually work. Gradually shifting funding from our bloated prison budget to support public safety and crime prevention efforts locally is also likely to yield tangible benefits.

With this in mind, our Editorial Board recommends a Yes on 57.