Unsafe rides are just part of the job for flier distributors

Posted Saturday, Mar. 26, 2011 | By Barry Shlachter – barry@star-telegram.com

"Walkers," who hang advertising fliers on homes' doorknobs, get ready to leave in the back of a pickup at a south Fort Worth convenience store Wednesday. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

It’s 5:15 on a Wednesday morning, and about two dozen men are milling around several white cargo vans and a pickup with a wooden camper shell, hoping to be chosen to be crammed inside and taken to a suburban neighborhood.

There, the “walkers” will disembark to distribute fliers house to house, rubber-banding them to doorknobs and earning about $50 for six hours of work.

None of the day laborers at the Shamrock station on Fort Worth’s south side that morning expressed concern that only one of the vehicles had seats behind the driver.

They were more upset that the sole Ford Econoline in good condition and equipped with benches and seat belts already had a crew selected.

Noting bald rear tires on one van, a laborer named Michael Scannell defended the use of such vehicles, insisting: “We have a pretty good safety record.”

A 53-year-old man who identified himself only as Fred, and who would end up left behind that morning without work, said he’d climb aboard “as long as the van is safe. If it wobbles and shakes, it’s not safe.

“Anyway, I got to get money somehow, and this is better than robbing banks.”

Three people were killed and seven others were injured March 4 when the cargo van they were in careened off of Airport Freeway and ran into a tree. They were working as "walkers" for Reed Distributing. – Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

But all the laborers were aware of the March 4 accident that killed three walkers and injured seven others when a similar Econoline cargo van careened out of control on Airport Freeway.

Haltom City police said the 1995 van belonging to Fort Worth’s Reed Distributing was traveling at normal highway speeds when it burst a tire and rammed into a tree.

Found inside were an open bottle of Mad Dog 2020 fortified wine and fliers for a New York-style pizza chain, Carmine’s Pizzeria of Dallas and Lewisville. Police have yet to release toxicology results on the injured driver or a final accident report. But they said several of the tires were worn.

Mohan “Mike” Sedan, the Shamrock station’s Nepalese-born manager, recalled confronting one of the Reed drivers after the accident.

“I told him you shouldn’t put people in a van like that on the road. He said nothing,” Sedan said. “Even in Nepal, we have seats in vans.”

This may change. Two flier-distributing services not involved in the accident said they are reviewing their use of such vehicles and may install seats. Up until now, the industry has taken advantage of loopholes in state and federal road safety regulations to hold down costs.

Seats not mandated

It’s an open secret in the door-hanger advertisement industry that most walkers are typically transported in secondhand cargo vans with no seat belts or, for that matter, seats.

“That’s pretty much the norm in the industry,” said Jim Garner of Cedar Hill-based Always Distributing, a family-owned business founded in 1954.

Otherwise, explained Lee Brown, owner of H&H Distributing in Fort Worth, they couldn’t pack in 10 people with thousands of fliers.

The owner of the demolished Ford Econoline, Paul Reed of Reed Distributing, defended the use of such vehicles.

“I am doing nothing against the law at this point,” he told the Star-Telegram.

As far as carrying people in cargo vans without seats, Reed is correct.

Under Texas law, as in most other states, seat belts are not required for adults in a cargo van that has no seats. And while the Econoline owner’s manual warns of potential serious injury or death for anyone riding in the cargo area, there’s no state or federal prohibition against carrying adults in the back, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. Because there are no seat belts, restrictions on capacity don’t apply. And because no one is charged for the transportation, the contract workers who drive the vans are not regulated either.

“Tragedies such as these are a reminder that more needs to be done to protect the rights and safety of workers,” said Pablo Alvarado, director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “Day laborers, like those who lost their lives, go to great risks to humbly provide for their families. Employers must be responsible for their safety during and en route to work.”

Neil Donovan, executive director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he has tried to prevent unsafe cargo vans from cruising for day laborers.

“When I operated a shelter in Boston, we would run off vans that came by,” Donovan said from Washington. “It’s a pervasive problem. I don’t think there’s a community that doesn’t have exploitation. Where there are people who are in need, there are people who take advantage.”

Many cargo vans that carry "walkers" to neighborhoods have no seats behind the driver. – Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison

Flier distributors aren’t the only businesses using seatless cargo vans to transport day laborers. Firms that provide cleanup crews at sports stadiums have fleets of battered Ford cargo vans in which workers sit on nothing more than floorboards.

Walkers like those involved in the Airport Freeway accident typically cover 10 or 15 miles a day for $40 to $55, said Calvin McDaniel, a homeless Fort Worth resident who has worked for several local door-hanger services.

The companies say it is a very cheap but highly effective way for businesses to reach consumers. Only one local firm, Walker Weathersby Advertisements of Arlington, advertises its rates. They start at $149 for 1,000 fliers affixed to front doors. The cost to landscaping services, insurance companies, churches and pizza restaurants is a fraction of the cost of mailing postcards or running newspaper ads.

But the business has a sketchy reputation because of concerns that the impoverished workers — paid by the number of pieces distributed — might simply take the money and dump the fliers, said H&H’s Brown, a 32-year veteran of the business who says his own firm has confidential safeguards to ensure delivery. Others say they make spot checks to guarantee a neighborhood’s coverage.

The low rates in a highly competitive industry mean firms rely on some of society’s most desperate workers, who won’t question conditions.

“You don’t think about risks,” said McDaniel, 40, who was a walker for about 21/2 years until he switched to cleanup work recently. “You choose money over safety.”

Early each morning, there’s a scramble for the best place to ride inside a cargo van, he said.

“I try to get the wheel well hump; otherwise you get scrunched up. But whatever you get, there’s nothing to hold on to,” McDaniel said. “They know if you are needy enough to get in these vans, they can treat you any way they want.”

After sweeps of streets near the Presbyterian Night Shelter and south-side boarding houses, vans from several flier services often stop at the Shamrock station on Hemphill Street and hand out advance pay of about $20 for coffee and cigarettes.

McDaniel described Reed Distributing as one of the better companies, saying it had never stranded him in an unfamiliar neighborhood, depriving him of his $55 earnings, which he claimed had happened with a rival service.

Paul Reed said he intended to pay for the funerals of the three dead workers — James Rice, 51, and Kenneth Johnson, 42, both of Fort Worth, and Karen Guffee, 53, of Mansfield — but declined to be interviewed further for this report.

Fixing up the vans

H&H’s Brown, who overtly advertises a Christian ethical approach to business and uses an evangelical symbol in his company logo, said he was so shaken by the cargo van crash that he’s rethinking the use of seatless vehicles. Only two of the company’s five vans now have back rows of seats.

“We’re in the process of getting seats,” said Brown, pointing out several bench seats placed on the pavement behind the H&H building. On Wednesday morning, he said, he found all the brackets needed to convert some GM truck benches for his Ford vans. “We’re going to fix all of them up.”

Asked why he hadn’t done so earlier, he replied:

“You take out the seats because it’s hard to fit in 10 guys and the paper fliers. And the law in Texas doesn’t require it. When I started out in this business, you sat on a milk crate. That’s how paper trucks are.”

A black milk crate was found among sleeping bags, fliers and a walking cane in the wrecked Reed van, now a designated crime scene.

Brown said that his insurance carrier has been told how his contract walkers are transported.

“And when we had accidents, the insurance company paid,” he said, then conceded: “They may have been injured less if they had seat belts.”

Although Brown has decided to put in seats, he asserted that they may not have prevented the deaths in the Airport Freeway crash. He noted that one victim, Guffee, was belted in a front passenger seat.

Referring to the driver, who survived, he said, “That guy ran into a tree going very fast.”

“If it’s unsafe to ride in a cargo van, why not ban motorcycles?” he asked. “Even motorcycle cops don’t wear seat belts.”

One of H&H’s contract drivers, a former walker named Arthur Hughes, 60, said he purposely leased a Ford van with seats “so people will be comfortable. I don’t want people flying around. I’m more people-oriented.”

Jim Garner, who runs Always Distributing said, “We’re like everyone else. We use cargo vans.” Garner said he too was shaken by the accident, prompting a review of his fleet of five cargo vans.

Will he upgrade to seats?

“We’re looking into it. We’re exploring the possibility,” he said. But, he added, the several thousand dollars to equip a cargo van with seats would be prohibitive.

“As my equipment gets dated, I’ll probably go to vans with that equipment already in it, instead of retrofitting.”

Not all local flier delivery services rely on cargo vans. Two say they use minivans with factory-installed seats and seat belts.

Robert Stafford, 45, of Richardson-based Ace Flyer Distribution, said he operates four secondhand Dodge Grand Caravans and limits riders to seven, not 10.

“I may be one of the few exceptions in this business,” Stafford said. “I will not put people on the floorboards.”

“We use a van too, but it has seats,” said Zakk Weathersby, 25, a former walker who operates Walker Weathersby. “It sounds kind of unsafe not to have seats.”

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

Source: Star-Telegram

N. Carolina day laborers receive help from Hispanic “angels”

Published March 28, 2011 | EFE

Charlotte – Members of an Hispanic group have made themselves into “angels” by offering a plate of free food to day laborers suffering the consequences of being unemployed and dealing with tightening immigration laws in North Carolina.

This is a situation that is a new one for Charlotte – which up until recently represented the “American Dream” – for many immigrants due to the abundance of jobs, for instance a group of Hispanics who meet each day between Wendover and LaTrobe streets in the southeastern part of the city.

One by one they arrived there despite the unusually low temperatures on one Spring Friday morning with the hope of finding “something to do” to earn their daily bread.

The phenomenon of the day laborers is more common in the agricultural sector in states like California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, all of which have a large immigrant presence.

Juan Nava, originally from Puebla, Mexico, who has been in Charlotte for six years and without work since last November, knows that each day he must compete with another 40 day workers to find a job doing “whatever.”

“We expose ourselves to many dangers,” he tells Efe. “Not getting paid, getting robbed, being left in a far corner of the city, but the need forces us to do it due to the lack of jobs. Sometimes I come here with $2 in my pocket and finish the day with $40.”

Meanwhile, Leo Koi, another Mexican, said that he became a day laborer after losing a stable job he’d held for 11 years due to his lack of immigration papers, but he added that he’d never failed to pay his taxes each year since he arrived in Charlotte in 1998.

“I have three American children and I never thought I’d end up like this, looking for work on a corner. Here, there was plenty of work before, but the economic situation and the immigration programs have made it hard to earn a living,” Koi said.

A Honduran, Marlon Cantor, said that he prefers looking for work on the corner, which is well-known among immigrants, rather than returning to his country where there are no jobs anyway.

“We build them their houses, skyscrapers, highways, s, ping centers, schools, and … now they don’t want us,” said Cantor.

Because of the situation caused by the lack of work facing the immigrants, a group of Samaritans from the local chapter of MIRA USA two weeks ago started providing breakfast every Friday to the day workers in the area.

MIRA is a nonprofit organization that started up in Colombia 10 years ago and moved to the United States to continue its social work.

The volunteer group now has 19 branches in 11 U.S. states.

Jonathan Castañeda, coordinator of the 50-member MIRA USA chapter in Charlotte, said that the inspiration for the Samaritan work is Jorge Muñoz, known as the “Angel of Queens,” a Colombian who years ago distributed free food to homeless people on a corner in the New York City borough and was publicly recognized by President Barack Obama.

For the day laborers, the presence of the MIRA volunteers one day a week tells them that they are not alone and that someone is looking out for them.

“By giving them hot coffee and a sandwich, I think that we motivate them to keep moving forward despite the difficult situation. This comes from our hearts and we’re not looking for recognition,” said Colombian Juan Carols Estrada.

The day laborers, emphasizes Ecuadorian immigrant Glenn Mercado, are people who suffer racism and other types of mis but are very worthwhile because they are good workers.

While day laborers and others have these problems, the MIRA group in Charlotte will continue distributing hope and sharing plates of food.

Source: Fox News Latino

D Magazine Puts “Hire A Day Laborer” On Its “Must Do In Dallas” List

D Magazine Puts “Hire A Day Laborer” On Its “Must Do In Dallas” List

By Cindy Casares | 24 Mar 2011 | 20:51

D Magazine Puts “Hire A Day Laborer” On Its “Must Do In Dallas” List

D Magazine in Dallas just printed a must-do list featuring “52 Things Every Dallasite Must Do” to be “a true local.” On it, between the local restaurant recommendations and the State Fair, view is the item “Hire a day laborer”. Yes, search really.

We took a good look at the list to see if, perhaps, this was a list about getting to know real Dallasites, some of whom are poor and don’t have big hair or drive Cadillacs with longhorns strapped to the hood. It’s not. Amongst D’s exclusive, insidery, locals-only list items are things like “Ride a mechancial bull at Gilley’s.” (Their cover item, actually.) Really, John Travolta circa 1980? Next you’ll be telling us to a Cowboys jersey. Another item on the list is “Get a boob job.” So, in other words, this is a list of things a certain group of people in Dallas might choose to do if they were Lucy Ewing. Fine. But then why would you add to that list “Hire a day laborer” unless what you’re trying to say is you’re not a real Dallasite until you exploit a Mexican?

We emailed D Magazine executive editor Tim Rogers to ask him just that question. He emailed us back this article from D Magazine, published in 2008, by a writer who worked for his buddy’s construction company for ten years to make ends meet, using the services of day laborers all that time.

“Are you saying people SHOULDN’T hire day laborers?” Rogers asked us. “I thought the we offered was very helpful.”

It’s not our place to say whether or not people should hire day laborers. We’re sure day laborers wouldn’t want us to deter you from hiring them. They need the money. What bothers us about D’s list item is its flippant of a very sad and complicated social and economic situation in this country and Latin America. To commodify human beings who are risking their lives to send their families their last dime is, frankly, sickening and more than a little insulting to the Dallasites who read their magazine.

When you place “Hire a Day Laborer” next to “State Fair of Texas” and the “Audobon Center”, like rolling up to the vacant lot on Carroll Avenue is just another diversion for you and your family, you pretty much take the humanity out of your magazine. Get a load of these pointers D Magazine offers:

Hopefully, you have a truck. Anything less makes for an uncomfortable ride to the jobsite. Especially if you’re hiring multiple guys. We once endured an awkward trip in a Miata with one laborer straddling our lap, facing us, and telling us he loved us.

And, on bidding too low:

Be prepared to pay $10–$14 an hour. A few years ago, we offered $7 an hour and dudes scattered as if our vehicle read “INS.”

Oh, ha ha. Why not just say they scattered like cockroaches? What, all of a sudden you’re sensitive?

Source: D Magazine & Guanabee.com

Federal appeals court hears arguments on Redondo Beach day laborers

Federal appeals court hears arguments on Redondo Beach day laborers

By Eric Bradley Staff Writer
Posted: 03/21/2011 06:16:16 PM PDT
Updated: 03/23/2011 10:50:41 AM PDT

Federal appeals court hears arguments on Redondo Beach day laborers

NOV. 17, here 2004 FILE PHOTO: Day laborers Marco Bastlucio, look center, clinic and Victor Gonzalez, right, voice their opinions at a protest rally in front of the Redondo Beach City Hall. The rally of perhaps 200 marched from the Redondo Beach Dog Park. Photo by Brad Graverson 11-17-04 (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

A federal appeals court on Monday listened to arguments to reconsider a ruling that allowed Redondo Beach to resume arresting day laborers for standing on streets and soliciting work from people inside cars.

The 11-judge, special en banc proceeding of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was called after a divided three-judge panel found last June that the city could enforce its 1987 ordinance regulating solicitation of employment from streets.

The prior appellate court decision arose from a subsequently challenged, late-2004 move by the city to conduct “sweeps” of job seekers at the intersection of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue after nearby business owners complained about the activity.

In arguments Monday before the court in San Francisco, Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb said that when the city passed its ordinance, it “copied word for word” a Phoenix law that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit in 1986.

“Here we are 24 years later,” Webb said. “We’re pushing our seventh year of litigation.”

That case, ACORN v. City of Phoenix, involved the city preventing members of the political organization ACORN from asking for donations from occupants of vehicles stopped at traffic lights.

Redondo Beach Municipal Code section 3-7.1601 states that it is unlawful for someone to stand on a street or highway and attempt to solicit employment, business or contributions from an occupant of a motor vehicle.

The legislation also makes it illegal for occupants of a vehicle to stop on a street or highway to hire someone for work.

The law violates the free-speech guarantee of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, said the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which, along with a day-laborer advocacy group, sued the city.

“This is an exchange between a willing employer and a willing employee,” said Thomas Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

Saenz contended that if the city’s aim was to prevent interference with traffic flow, it could enforce laws governing jaywalking, obstructing traffic and illegally stopping vehicles.

Because the ordinance targets only those on the street looking for work, and not other acts of street-side solicitation, the law is discriminatory, Saenz said.

The court panel will issue an opinion at a later date.

En banc courts are used to resolve intra-circuit case conflicts and legal questions deemed to be of exceptional importance, court officials said.

Fewer than 20 cases each year are given en banc review, according to the court.

eric.bradley@dailybreeze.com

(Source: DailyBreeze.com)

Hidden cameras test public’s prejudice toward immigration

Posted on 16 March 2011

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Public attitudes toward immigration are put to the test on the latest episode of a news–reality hybrid television show that uses hidden cameras to record the reactions of real people.

An episode of the ABC network’s “What Would You Do?” shows the responses of people standing in line at a deli behind two day laborers fumbling with cash and struggling with English, help when the clerk begins spewing hatred. “Go back to your country or go eat at Taco Bell.”

What would you do?

Stand in uncomfortable silence, hoping simply to leave as quickly as possible? Tell the clerk to shut up? Join in with the bigotry? Kick the men as they’re down?

When ABC News set up that scenario in a New Jersey deli, hiring actors to portray the clerk and laborers, and hiding cameras to record people’s reactions, it found all of those responses — and more.

“What Would You Do?” has gotten some traction on ABC.

Producer Chris Whipple thought of the idea after wondering if there was a way to do a TV version of “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. There was an immediate response in the ratings after “Primetime” carried the first segment in 2004 with an actor portraying a babysitter who was verbally abusing a boy in a park.

ABC carried five “What Would You Do?” hours last winter and doubled the order for this year because it was the highest-rated newsmagazine program with younger viewers.

“It’s the kind of insightful television that makes you think, the water-cooler stuff you talk about the next morning,” said John Quinones, who anchors the series. “It’s pretty powerful, and [it’s] a reminder that you’re not in this world alone. You have to look out for all your fellow human beings.”

The deli segment proved to be emotional. Even though he was an actor, one of the men portraying a laborer cried later because of the way he was treated.

One Black man initially advised the laborers to get out of the deli, at first seemingly in sympathy but then in anger. In an interview after Quinones stepped in, he acknowledged being mad at immigrants taking away jobs. He softened after some thought, realizing he was guilty of the same discrimination that he had experienced.

Quinones, who grew up in San Antonio, dressed down and took a few turns himself posing as a Spanish-speaking laborer.

“Even though I knew it was all an act and the guy behind the counter was being paid to say these awful words, the words still stung,” he said.

Here’s how highly ABC thinks of the show: Even during troubled economic times, Quinones and Whipple scored a trip to Paris last summer to find out whether the French were snooty toward American tourists.

“What Would You Do?” is also a sign of changing times in broadcast news divisions. Quinones is a veteran journalist who reported about Central America for “World News Tonight” and won Emmy Awards for stories on the Congo’s rain forest and the Yanomamo Indians who reside in the Amazon rainforest.

Now Quinones spends most of his time on concocted social situations.

Quinones admitted to some trepidation about the idea at first, but he said it has been erased by how many times he has seen brave people do the right thing.

“How many other newsmagazines are tackling domestic violence, racism, attacks on the homeless, date rape, hazing, ping while Black?” Whipple said. Some of the experiments come directly from the news: The recent stabbing death of an immigrant from Ecuador on Long Island, east of New York City, has inspired a segment where people’s reactions will be tested when they see day laborers threatened with physical harm.

ABC has nine more episodes running on Tuesday nights through March.

(Source: NWAsianWeekly.com)

LA Police Commission supports officer shooting of Guatemalan day laborer

LA Police Commission supports officer shooting of Guatemalan day laborer

5:55 a.m. | Frank Stoltze | KPCC

KPCC Audio Broadcast

LA Police Commission supports officer shooting of Guatemalan day laborer

Victor Lopez is a Guatemalan community activist who says police have done a better job reaching out to his community in the wake of the shooting of a Guatemalan day laborer.

The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday said an officer was justified in killing a Guatemalan day laborer in the Westlake District last year. The shooting last September prompted violent protests.

The commission concurred with the findings of Chief Charlie Beck and his investigators. Beck said six independent witnesses described an intoxicated Manuel Jamines waving a knife at passersby, then turning it toward police when they arrived.

“The vast preponderance of evidence supports that Mr. Jamines held a knife over his head in a stabbing position and rapidly moved toward the shooting officer, closing to within 12 feet prior to the shooting,” Beck said.

Officer Frank Hernandez fired two shots and killed Jamines, who was 37 years old.

Several witnesses said Jamines, a day laborer who spoke only a Mayan dialect, had dropped the knife before the officer fired.

John Mack, who heads the five-member civilian police commission, told reporters that everyone who saw the incident didn’t see it the same way.

“Well there were some witnesses who were closer to the scene than others. Some were in a better position to observe whether or not there was a knife.”

As the commission announced its decision, District Attorney Steve Cooley also said he’d determined the officer had acted lawfully.

An attorney for Jamines’ wife and three children, who reside in Guatemala, said a federal civil rights lawsuit will still go forward.

Reaction to the decision varied.

In MacArthur Park, Richard Larios of the group Community Control of Police said he believed Jamines had dropped his knife. Larios held a sign that said “Stop Killer Cops.”

“I feel that there’s nothing crazy about saying ‘Stop Killer Cops’… if there’s a rogue officer who’s going around shooting people in the community without just cause.”

Two Guatemalan activists stood nearby. Victory Lopez, who works as a court interpreter, wondered what an officer is supposed to do with an armed man.

“If I have one knife and I’m approaching to you, I think you need to do something,” Lopez said.

Daniel Morales, who arrived in the Westlake neighborhood from Guatemala two decades ago, wished that the officer had reacted differently.

“I don’t believe that the police officers need to shoot that guy to stop him,” Morales said. “I think there’s another method that he can use to stop that.”

A police commissioner said the department is considering whether to arm more officers with Tasers.

The chief has said it may have been difficult for an officer to use the device in the Jamines shooting.

Morales and others said that in the wake of the shooting, police and political leaders have done a better job of reaching out to the relatively isolated Guatemalan immigrants who live just a few miles from L.A. City Hall.

“We opened channels of communication directly with the police and with the Mayor’s Office and we want solutions,” he said.

But Morales added that many in the Guatemalan community agree that any response to the commission’s decision must be peaceful, unlike the days of violent protest that followed the shooting.

“We want solutions on the table, we don’t want solutions with violence in the streets.”

(source: SCPR.org)

LA becomes 7th city to alter impound practices

March 16, check 2011 | Ryan Gabrielson

At a sobriety checkpoint in December 2009, the Los Angeles Police Department impounded 64 cars from unlicensed drivers while making just four drunken driving arrests.

That disparity has been common for years at such operations all over California, which are intended to catch or deter intoxicated motorists. Instead, officers at checkpoints spent most of their time seizing cars from sober motorists who were undocumneted immigrants and cannot obtain driver’s licenses, an investigation by California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism last year found.

However, impoundments may soon become far less common.

Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department became the seventh California law enforcement agency in the past year to alter its policies to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants’ cars taken at checkpoints.

Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Times that the agency’s checkpoint seizure policy had “stuck in my craw as one of the things we weren’t doing the right way.”

In fiscal year 2009, LAPD impounded more than 1,000 cars at the roadway operations, data from the state Office of Traffic Safety shows.

Going forward, at checkpoints LAPD officers are instructed to seize a vehicle only when it “cannot be released to a licensed driver” at the scene, according to an agency press release. Unlicensed drivers will have “a reasonable period of time” to find someone to legally remove their cars.

That is a significant shift from past practice.

California Watch’s reporting found that sobriety checkpoints across the state were increasingly turning into profitable operations for local police and tow companies because of impounds. In 2009, vehicle seizures generated an estimated $40 million in towing fees and police fines from checkpoint seizures.

Often, the operations would result in very few DUI arrests and dozens of cars impounded from unlicensed drivers.

The state’s vehicle code stipulates that if police impound an unlicensed motorist’s vehicle, they are to hold the car for 30 days. That hold generates more than $1,000 in tow storage charges for each car.

To date, Oakland, San Jose, Baldwin Park, Coachella, Cathedral City and Berkeley have altered their impound policies.

California cities frequently have a financial interest in impounding cars. Police departments charge impound release fees, commonly more than $100, and at times receive a cut of all tow revenues.

Tow operators traditionally argue that impounding the cars of unlicensed motorists helps to keep the state’s roads safer. The California Tow Truck Association has not taken a position concerning cities’ moves to reduce vehicle seizures, said Perry Shusta, the group’s president.

“I do believe there is a public safety issue there,” Shusta said. “But to tow or not to tow is not our call.”

(Source: CaliforniaWatch.org)

Ruling due Tuesday in LAPD shooting that sparked protests,

Ruling due Tuesday in LAPD shooting that sparked protests, clashes

March 15, story 2011 | 7:16am

Ruling due Tuesday in LAPD shooting that sparked protests, __fg_link_1__  clashes

Photo: Passers-by check out a makeshift memorial at West 6th Street and South Union Avenue, where a 37-year-old Guatemalan day laborer was shot and killed by an LAPD officer last year. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday is scheduled to announce its ruling on whether a fatal shooting of an immigrant day laborer by an LAPD officer was justified.

On a Sunday afternoon last September, Officer Frank Hernandez, who was assigned to a bicycle unit in the department’s Rampart Division, responded to a call for help at the corner of 6th Street and Union Avenue, in the heart of a densely populated Latino-immigrant neighborhood. On the sidewalk at the bustling intersection, Hernandez and two other officers found Manuel Jamines, a 37-year-old Guatemalan man.

Jamines, according to the Los Angeles Police Department’s account of the encounter, was armed with a knife, drunk and threatening passers-by.  Hernandez, police said, ordered Jamines in Spanish and English to drop the weapon and fired at him when the man made a sudden movement toward the officers.  A knife was recovered at the scene, police said.

Several eyewitnesses interviewed by investigators supported the officers’ account of the incident, according to police.  Some other witnesses, however, came forward to say they had not seen Jamines wielding a knife.

The shooting triggered a few days of protests and some rioting in the neighborhood, some of it instigated by anti-police groups that worked to stoke anger among the area’s residents.  Many protesters questioned why the officers hadn’t used a stun gun or some other non-lethal weapon to subdue Jamines. Their suspicion grew when it was learned that Hernandez had been involved in a controversial shooting once before. He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing in that case.

Jamines’ identity came into question. Coroner’s officials later identified him as Manuel Ramirez based on a fingerprint match with U.S. Justice Department records. They also found U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement documentation identifying him as Gregorio Luis Perez.

Hoping to calm the tensions that frayed after the shooting, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck promised to fast-track the department’s investigation and adjudication of the shooting, which typically would have taken about a year to complete.

Beck recently presented the commission, a civilian panel that oversees the department, with his final report on the shooting, which included his conclusion concerning whether Hernandez had been justified to use deadly force. Although Beck’s report is kept confidential until after the commission makes its ruling, if investigators concluded Jamines did in fact have a knife, it is all but certain that Beck would conclude the use of deadly force was justified.

The five-person commission will make a decision in closed session. It has announced plans for a 12:30 news conference to announce its findings.

– Joel Rubin

(Source: LaTimes.com)

Connecticut City Settles Suit in Arrests of Day Laborers

Connecticut City Settles Suit in Arrests of Day Laborers

By SAM DOLNICK | Published: March 9, try 2011

The City of Danbury, Conn., has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by eight day laborers who complained that their 2006 arrest in a local police sting operation was illegal and amounted to racial profiling, lawyers for the laborers announced on Wednesday.

Connecticut City Settles Suit in Arrests of Day Laborers

Juan Barrera, center, is one of the day laborers arrested in Danbury, Conn., on Sept. 16, 2006 by local police and federal agents. At left, Justin Cox, a Yale Law School student intern, and on right, Maria Cinta Lowe, an immigrant rights advocate.

The case made Danbury a flash point in a national debate over how suburban towns deal with day laborers and whether local authorities should engage in immigration enforcement.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers hailed the settlement as a major victory, calling it the largest amount ever obtained by day laborers and a harsh rebuke to Mayor Mark D. Boughton, who has taken a combative stance on immigration issues and strongly supported the actions of the Police Department.

“We’re thrilled,” said Helen O’Reilly, a law student intern with the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale University, which represented the laborers, along with lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “The message that this sends,” Ms. O’Reilly said, “is that if a city does what Danbury did, and they harass and target Latino day laborers, there are consequences and substantial costs.”

But Mr. Boughton dismissed the settlement as a modest sum and said it would not affect how the local police enforced the law. “It’s very clear that we specifically did not do anything wrong, and we are not changing any of our policies, practices or customs,” he said in an interview.

Under the terms of the settlement, which must still be signed by both sides, the federal government would pay the plaintiffs an additional $250,000 to settle claims against six federal immigration agents who were also named as defendants.

The case stems from a sting operation conducted on Sept. 19, 2006, by an undercover Danbury police officer posing as a contractor. The lawsuit said the officer drove an unmarked van to a park where day laborers had gathered to await employers looking for workers. The officer told the laborers he would hire them to demolish a fence for $11 an hour, but instead drove them to a lot where they were arrested and handed over to federal agents.

The workers were placed in deportation proceedings, which are continuing, Ms. O’Reilly said.

Advocates for day laborers have denounced the arrests as gross civil rights violations. The suit said that the plaintiffs had been arrested without probable cause, and that the arrests kept workers from exercising free speech — the right to signal their availability for jobs.

Juan Barrera, one of the men arrested, said he was celebrating the settlement. “We hope that the rights of each individual and each day laborer who arrives at Kennedy Park to look for work will now be respected,” he said.

Mayor Boughton said he would have liked the case to go to trial, but his insurer advised the city to settle. “At the end of the day, this became a discussion about money and legal fees,” he said. “It had nothing to do with civil rights.”

Mr. Boughton has long embraced local collaboration with federal immigration authorities. In 2005, he pushed to have Connecticut deputize state police officers as federal immigration agents, but Gov. Jodi M. Rell, a fellow Republican, rejected the proposal. The Justice Department and the Danbury Police Department declined to comment on the case.

Barbara Gonzales, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency “prioritizes efforts first on those serious criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 10, 2011, on page A28 of the New York edition.

(Source: New York Times)