Thursday, January 31, 2008

When A Judge Isn't Just A Judge

Los Angeles, CA

Back in March of '06 a gang of former law enforcement (LAPD, Long Beach, Corrections) got nailed for home invasion robberies they did in '99 to '01 on drug dealers' houses.

The last of them, brothers William and Joseph Ferguson, former LAPD officers, were convicted yesterday. They're looking at a minimum of 87 years in the Federal hoosegow (I've always wanted to use that word).

And considering that the judge is Gary A. Feess I think they're gonna spend a lot more than that.

See, Judge Feess isn't just the judge in this case. He's also the judge who oversees the Federal Consent Decree imposed on the LAPD for, well, for shit like this.

"People may now have an understanding of why we have that decree," he said.

Feess also reiterated his commitment to the police reforms "to see that this sort of thing never happens again."

And one of the ways this sort of thing never happens again is to make sure that the people doing it never get out again.

Good luck boys. As your attorney so eloquently put it,

"I've got to sit down and do the math," he said. "It's not going to be fun."

As A Matter of Fact, A Car IS A Deadly Weapon

Los Angeles, CA

Okay, now maybe I'm different, but when somebody's pissed off at me and tells me to get out of the car my first thought is to find cover. All it really takes is one psycho ex who likes to chuck shit at your head and you'll see what I mean. But for normal people that's not something they usually worry about.

Maybe they should.

Carlos Gutierrez, 26, is accused of forcing his girlfriend, Yolanda Martinez, 37, and his uncle, 39 out of the car and then running them over. Seems the three of them had been out at a club in Silver Lake. Things got heated and Gutierrez went bugfuck.

This is where it gets a little weird.

Seems that, after running them down, Gutierrez stuck Martinez into the backseat, his uncle into the passenger seat and drove them around to the Palisades.

No, I can't figure that one out, either.

So, anyway, he stops for gas and whatever fucked up, psycho plan he has in his head pretty much goes to shit. His uncle gets out of the car, screaming for help, people call 911 and the cops show up to haul his ass away.

Martinez was declared dead on scene and Gutierrez's uncle was seriously injured with a shattered leg.

Gutierrez is being held on murder and attempted murder charges. Probably pull his driver's license, too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Good Neighbors

Valencia, CA

When I hear "Suburbia" I think Valencia. Tract housing, cul de sacs, pot farms.

A marijuana growing operation being run out of somebody's three car garage was taken down by police yesterday. Sergeant Phil Morris (no, seriously, that's his name) told the Daily News that it was the guy's neighbors what done him in.

Tipped a few weeks ago by residents who had picked up a distinctive scent coming from the house and heard fans working round-the-clock in the garage, sheriff's deputies began their surveillance, Morris said.
Now, did they call the cops because they're fine upstanding citizens, or were they pissed off that they could hear the guy's fans going all night?

See, that's the problem with these operations, and there have been a lot of them the last few years. They don't make good neighbors. If he had shared some of his product, maybe baked some brownies, a batch of fudge, I'm betting he'd still be in business.

Don't take my word for it.

"It's really quality stuff, really good stuff," said Morris.

Hey, if you can't trust a cop, who can you trust?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

L.A.'s Homicide Problem

Los Angeles, CA

Hit the latest Zocalo lecture last night at the Central Library downtown. The topic, presented by L.A. Times reporter and Homicide Report writer Jill Leovy, was the problem of disproportionate murder rates of young black and Latino men in Los Angeles.

The focus of the talk was really more on the black communities, since that's where the numbers are really bad. It's a huge problem. Nationally, 5 out of 100,000 people were murdered last year. In Los Angeles county the rate for Latino men was 50 out of 100,000. For black men it was 176 out of 100,000.

For me, the talk wasn't particularly eye opening. The thought she presents on the why of these murders parallels my own and boils down to this: When the formal authority is weak, the community will create and enforce its own authority. In a lot of ways you see the same thing in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are a lot of factors that go into this. A community living in fear of killers who get away with it, a distrust of the system that they see as letting them get away with it. Witnesses routinely don't talk about what they've seen for fear they'll be killed. In an environment like that violence becomes currency. It is used to settle disputes, redress wrongs, send messages.

One story Leovy talked about, which didn't make it into the papers, was about a man who had been burned to death. Seems he owed some money and a couple guys showed up, dowsed him with gasoline and lit him on fire in front of a dozen witnesses, who let him burn. It was originally ruled a suicide because none of the witnesses would say anything about what had happened. Eventually, though, someone came forward. I'm sure the killers are still free.

The anecdote above underscores another contributor to the problem; the lack of media coverage. A lot doesn't make it into the news. A lot of murders go unreported. You hear about the sheer number of deaths and you have to wonder if you heard about any of them. Chances are you didn't.

It's understandable that when people around you are being murdered and no one's saying fuck all about it that maybe you'll get a little jaded. Maybe you'll start seeing it as it's all being swept under the rug.

And it's not just the lack of scrutiny that contributes to that sense. When twenty-three day old Luis Angel Garcia was shot and killed in September the LAPD had up to 20 detectives on the case. Somebody had killed a baby, after all.

Compare that to the other 14 homicides in Rampart that month. They were given over to just six detectives.

It's things like this that create the sense that the people outside these communities don't care. These murders don't get the media coverage, the solve rate is less than 40%, people are dying and no one seems able to stop it. After a while, even the people who want to believe the system works, that the system is for them, are going to give up.

And it was that thought that really got me thinking. Do people care? It's a good question.

I'd like to think they do, but I'm really not sure. The talk was pretty full of a wide range of people. All of them there, seemingly, because they recognize that this is a problem. But that's still a tiny speck compared to the rest of the population.

What about me? Do I care? The simple fact that I'm asking this question points me toward yes, but I don't think it's that simple.

These murders aren't in my neighborhood. They're not among my friends and family. My chances of being killed, even in Los Angeles, which, let's be honest, isn't the den of murder and sin the Mid-West would like you to think, is remarkably low. Our overall murder rates are not that much higher than the rest of the nation and, in fact, are lower than they've been in more than twenty years. If you only look at the murder rates of whites it actually starts to look a lot like Europe.

I don't live in a "bad neighborhood". I have a full time job that allows me to own my own home. I can split hairs on my ethnicity all I want, but the fact remains that I'm as white as the next guy. My life hasn't been touched by murder and violence in years and I make a point of keeping it that way.

What am I really doing to help solve the problem? Obviously, I can't go be Batman and beat the crap out of the bad guys. That wouldn't solve the problem, anyway.

But is talking about it here enough? Is there more I can do? Should do? Want to do?

I ran into Will Beall at the talk last night. He mentioned LA Noir to a couple of friends he was with and I was surprised to find that one of them has actually read this blog.

So in writing this I think I've come up with my answer. Yeah, I do care. I don't know who reads this but I do it anyway. And it's not just to poke fun at idiot criminals and call for their heads (which, I know, not helping). If it can broaden the discussion even a little bit or help then I've done something positive.

And I can't hope for much else.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Three Killer Signing

Westwood, CA

There's a signing for the Killer Year anthology with Brett Battles, Robert Gregory Browne and Marc Lecard tomorrow, Saturday, January 26th, at 5:30pm at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood.

Go buy the book, get it signed, and watch Brett and Rob do rude things. I hear they're bringing a donkey.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mother of The Year

Victorville, CA

On the topic of small children, allow me to point your attention to one Vanessa Woods, 22, and her boyfriend, Reginald Hardin Jr., 24. The young couple are currently in lockup for allegedly torturing Ms Woods' 10-pound, 21-month-old daughter.

The infant is currently in critical condition at Loma Linda University Medical Center suffering from burns to her feet, arms, chest and genitals, as well as a lacerated liver and a distended stomach due to blunt force trauma, said Detective Randy German of the San Bernardino County Sheriff?s Department Victorville station.

Authorities said that there were cigarette burns on her arms and chest, her feet were completely burnt possibly by putting the child?s feet in scalding water, and the burns on her genitals were "consistent with being burned with a curling iron."

The couple was arrested at Desert Valley Hospital where Ms Woods took the child after she started vomiting blood. Police later obtained search warrants for their room at the local Econolodge where they found bloodstains that are being analyzed for DNA to see whose it is.

Jesus. Who do you have to be to do that to a child?

It's sad and disturbing to see the culmination of the train wrecks that people make of their lives. How fucked up have things been for them that it has all led to this moment? What horrendous decisions did they and the people around them make to bring them here?

Bad luck?  Just stupid?

When Hardin arrived at the hospital, he apparently did so in a stolen car, and he and Woods were arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property as well as torture and child abuse, officials said.
I'm leaning toward stupid.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

23 Days

Los Angeles, CA

Death is always tragic. Sure, sometimes it's deserved, comical even, but somewhere someone is going to mourn. Everyone, no matter how monstrous or dysfunctional, is someone's son or daughter.

But the death of a child is even more tragic. They are potential writ large, a giant ball of "Might Have Been" with no past to clutter up the shining possibility of their lives.

On September 15th, Francisco Clemente, 37, a street vendor who had been refusing to pay the extortion being demanded of him by the local 18th Streeters was allegedly shot by gang member Giovanni Macedo. Twenty-three day old Luis Angel Garcia was in a stroller nearby and was struck and killed by one of the bullets.

Twenty-three days. Just over three weeks old. Not enough time to learn to do... well, anything really. Who knows how he might have turned out. Could have been a hero or a villain. We'll never know.

After a lengthy and balls to the wall investigation, the LAPD has finally arrested Macedo along with five other 18th Streeters implicated in the killing. Macedo may have pulled the trigger, but someone else planned and ran the extortion ring that got Clemente and Garcia killed.

This murder underscores one of the biggest challenges for the LAPD in policing and protecting the immigrant community. It took the murder of a 23-week old child to bring people forward about the extortion. They tend to keep to themselves and when preyed upon are too afraid to come forward. The risk is deportation, SO 40 notwithstanding.

Theirs is a community operating out of fear. And that opens them up to be anyone's victims. I don't know how the LAPD can get in there and gain trust. There are too many years of harassment, too much bad rep to overcome quickly or easily. If anything, though, maybe the murder of a little boy who was so small it's a wonder he got hit in the first place will help bridge that gap.

It would be nice to see something good come out of this.

Wringing Out The Last of A Killer Year

Last year, a group of debut novelists pulled together to form Killer Year. Sponsored by the International Thriller Writers, they were able to do a lot of promo pushes, marketing, etc. By all accounts it's been very successful.

One of those things was just released; an anthology of short stories called, unsurprisingly, Killer Year. Edited by Lee Childs and including stories by Robert Gregory Browne, Toni McGee Causey, Marcus Sakey, Derek Nikitas, Marc Lecard, JT Ellison, Brett Battles, Jason Pinter, Bill Cameron, Sean Chercover, Patry Francis, Gregg Olsen, and Dave White.

Damn. There's a lot of talent crammed into those pages. It's sort of the last hurrah of the 2007 crowd and chock full of good stuff.

Go buy it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Merging In L.A.

Los Angeles, CA

I say this a lot, but it's true. L.A.'s a weird place. We have more of our fair share of murder-suicides, ubiquitous religious child porn cases, and the far too common shooting of a child.

Maybe it's because we're so spread out. We can't understand each other, see how everyone else lives. Stuck in our houses and apartments, Westside or East. South Bay or North Hills. Folks in San Pedro don't hang with people in the Palisades.

Los Angeles eats people. For a lot of folks it's a meat grinder. We have to stick together, but we don't know how. Community is elusive. Empathy just a word. I've always thought Bret Easton Ellis captured it perfectly in the first line of his novel Less Than Zero. "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles."

I have a complicated love / hate relationship with this town that I haven't fully parsed out. On the one hand I hate the crime, the pollution, the sheer magnitude of so many people crammed into one place. On the other hand I love the crime, the pollution, the sheer magnitude of so many people crammed into one place. I can't explain it.

But for all its incoherent scrabblings toward community, there's an odd solidarity sometimes. I caught this over at Order In The Court the other day.
To my right are two nicely dressed Chinese kids, Abercrombie types. To the left, a pair of attorneys stand discussing what sounded like a statutory rape rap for a client that wasn't going well.

A couple floors down, a pelon cholo gets on, wearing baggy shorts in spite of the 42 degree heat outside. He's got the Dodgers logo tatted under his Adam's apple, "City of Angels" on the back of his neck and script ink where his eyebrows used to be.

Another floor below that, an LAPD detective in a suit, his badge and his strap visible on his belt, hustles for the door. The veterano puts his hand out and holds the elevator for the cop. The attorneys keep yakking away.
Any other day these guys might all be more than 50 miles from each other. Some might be pulling triggers at the others. But in a crowded elevator in an L.A. court they're all the same.

Just people. It's good to remember that, sometimes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Okay, I Lied

Los Angeles, CA

Tidbit to plug a new blog by Daily News reporter Brent Hopkins previously of the It's A Crime crime blog.

Order In The Court covers the legal system and its assorted twists and turns. Looks to be good stuff. Check it out.

Out Of The Loop

Yeah, in case you (all three of my sporadic readers) hadn't noticed, I'm taking a short break. Might be back tomorrow. Might not. Maybe next week. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Who Knew Tuesdays Could Be So Rough?

All Across The Southland, CA

Looks like the coroner's going to be busy this week.

  • A man's body was found inside a dumpster at an apartment complex in Palm Desert. I love what the cops have to say about this one. ""It's considered suspicious." The hell you say.
  • And finally, a woman's body was found shot in the head off the side of La Tuna Canyon Road in Sun Valley this morning around 2am.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Phrase Of The Year: "Possibly Gang Related"

Los Angeles, CA

Last year's word of the year, according to Merriam Webster, was w00t. I'm sorry, but when leet speak crawls into the English language we might as well just give up. I mean, seriously, WTF?

Well, dictionaries aren't the only ones to make shit up. Over here at L.A. Noir, after exhaustive research (I looked at half a dozen posts and made wild leaps of logic - and really, I was exhausted afterward - *rimshot* - thank you, thank you, I'm here all week, please tip your waitress) the L.A. Noir Super Secret Language Team (Me after a couple of sidecars and a pizza) have determined that last year's most frequently used phrase was (there's a hint above if you can't stand the suspense) "Possibly Gang Related".

The word of the year was, of course, "cocksucker", but that's based more on how often I scream it out the window driving down PCH at the end of the day.

Anyway, it's looking like 2008 might be getting set to make that phrase an annual tradition.

Jason Grey, a 29-year-old Latino man, holds the unfortunate distinction of being the first Los Angeles homicide of 2008. He was shot to death at Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale in what is being described as, you guessed it, "possibly gang related".

Yeah, what isn't in this town?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Thank God That's Over

2007 blew monkey chunks.  Seriously.  Yeah, there were some good things, especially on the writing front, but all I can muster for the last year is an overwhelming sense of relief that it's over.  Too many doctors, too many freakouts, not enough sleep.

I'm looking forward to 2008.  January is, as my wife put it, batting cleanup.  This is the month to shake off the final lingering crap that hangs on to you like that drunk girl at the party who puked all over your shoes and wonders why you don't call her anymore.

I'm finishing edits on the book this week.  Not that it doesn't necessarily suck (I honestly can't tell anymore), but that it's at least at a point where I can have some trusted advisors tell me whether or not I should just burn it and start over.  I either end it and sell it this year, or it goes into the drawer and I work on the next one.

I've got more stories coming out this year.  At least two in the can and a few more floating out there to see if anyone bites.  Got a couple more to finish.  One of these days maybe I'll make some money off them.

And there's another writing project that I can't really talk about yet, because it's only potential.  Edging closer to reality, but we'll see if it  goes anywhere.  I've already had my freak out over it, so I'm done with the hard part.

How about y'all?  Looking forward to 2008?  Hopeful that a new year will bring good things?  I am. 

So to everyone, have a wonderful new year.  May it be full of victories.