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LA County Sheriff McDonnell talks ICE and individual ‘dignity’

In Las Vegas, ‘Tradition of Service’ included willingness to die helping others

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LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell joins Long Beach Chief Luna in the Long Beach Pride Parade (Photo courtesy Lt. Don Mueller)

More than just training kicks in when a violent eruption is in progress and peril lurks unseen around every corner. For law enforcement personnel, even off duty, it’s an instinct to help, unattached to thoughts of heroism or possible personal sacrifice as they run toward danger. The evidence is in the actions of first responders to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history as bullets rained down on concertgoers at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1.

Current and former residents from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties accounted for at least 25 of the 58 killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, the LA Daily News reports. Up to 527 people were wounded, including at least two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees, one of whom was listed in critical condition, while the second was reported stable.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell offered immediate assistance to Las Vegas Sheriff Joe Lombardo, including embedded LASD command staff. “Our thoughts & prayers are w/ the 2 @LASDHQ off-duty personnel that were struck by gunfire & all those affected,” McDonnell (@LACoSheriff) tweeted Oct. 2.

“He’s the real deal,” says out Lt. Don Mueller, second in command over the nine community colleges that contract with the LASD. McDonnell has a “genuine concern” about the communities he serves, including the LGBT community.

“He goes out of his way to support us,” Mueller says, noting that two gay division commanders, a lesbian division chief and a number of out captains have been promoted since McDonnell was elected in 2014. “He understands that our community faces additional difficulties and discrimination. He makes it clear we have his full support, as does the rest of the LASD.”

The LGBT West Hollywood community knows McDonnell from his time as Assistant Chief with the LAPD. He worked with the WeHo Sheriff’s station “quite well on cross-border issues,” McDonnell recalls during an interview with the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 25. “Over the years, I got to know the West Hollywood community” and “grew to appreciate the diversity in the city, the culture, and the willingness to support public safety.”

Recently, McDonnell issued an “LASD Guide: Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming Employees” to clarify the department’s nondiscrimination policy and answer questions.

But what of LGBT individuals arrested or incarcerated? “My expectation of all of our employees is that they treat everybody with dignity and respect,” McDonnell says. “We deal with a very difficult population, including an increasing population of people who are mentally ill. The challenges are certainly great.”

McDonnell says that he meets with the inmates, as well as a myriad of staff and a cadre of volunteers throughout the extensive jail system “who really take it personally” that they’re doing their job “the way we expect them to do it.”

“When that doesn’t occur and we become aware of it, we treat it very seriously,” he continues. “We investigate it and we hold our people accountable—to a level that if you were to ask our rank and file employees throughout the organization, they would tell you that we hold them exceptionally accountable, some would say maybe unreasonably so. I would argue that point in that what we do is so critical for our own credibility and the credibility of the justice system, that we have to adhere to exceptionally high standards.”

McDonnell says he “took exception” to State Sen. Kevin de Leon’s original bill, SB 54, the “California Values Act,” or the “sanctuary state” bill, that would limit the degree to which law enforcement can interact with ICE and other federal authorities.He thought that bill was a threat to public safety.

“It would have precluded us from working with our federal partners,” McDonnell says, including Homeland Security on the raft of custom issues at LA ports such as human sex trafficking. Additionally, while the LASD could provide names and locations of undocumented criminals and violent gang members for immediate deportation, ICE often just launches a raid into an immigrant community and sweeps up anyone they want, including innocent bystanders.

McDonnell received incredible backlash for his stance. But after working with Gov. Brown, who then worked with de Leon, an amended bill was produced that he supports. Thanks to  legislative leadership, McDonnell said in a statement Sept. 18 to the Board of Supervisors, “we can move beyond the bill’s early false premise that local law enforcement was going to act as immigration agents. This is fundamentally not true and I, and other law enforcement leaders in California, had the opportunity to make that point.”

“These are challenging times for progressive counties such as Los Angeles to maintain civil dialogue around difficult issues,” McDonnell said. “However, the LASD largely accomplished this mission.”

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Los Angeles

Los Angeles County contract employee charged in Vaccination Card theft

Officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site

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(Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

POMONA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that a Los Angeles County contract worker was charged today for allegedly stealing hundreds of blank vaccine cards from a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Pomona Fairplex.

“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” District Attorney Gascón said.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 45, of Las Vegas was charged with one felony count of grand theft. Arraignment is set for August 25 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Pomona Branch.

On April 27, officials determined that blank vaccine cards had been stolen from a vaccination site in Pomona. Ahmed, who worked at the center, allegedly stole more than 500 cards, which have a value of at least $15 apiece if illegally sold, prosecutors said.

In a statement, La Verne police said 528 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards were recovered in the suspect’s hotel room.

Ahmed — described by police as a non-clinical, contracted employee hired to support the Pomona Fairplex Mega-Pod vaccination site that at times administered nearly 4,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day — was arrested April 27. He was released the same day, according to jail records.

The case remains under investigation by the La Verne Police Department.

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Los Angeles

Pride after the pandemic, is LA’s LGBTQ community back in business?

A majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all in Los Angeles this year too.

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The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released its coronavirus pandemic metrics this week noting that Los Angeles County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. Factoring into that is as of May 21, 50% of L.A. County residents 16 and over and 72% of seniors 65 and older are fully vaccinated. 

Then there’s the “but.’ The state isn’t scheduled to lift fully the pandemic imposed mandates until June 15, including the mask mandate which has been a point of contention. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced Monday that California will require people to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing indoors until June 15 although people and businesses must adjust to the changes while the state continues its “relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic.”

The impact on Pride month in Los Angeles has already been felt as a majority of Pride celebrations remain in a virtual mode or in some cases no events at all. There are notable exceptions as the Los Angeles Dodgers are hosting their annual  LGBTQ+ Pride Night at Dodger Stadium on Friday, June 11th. There will be sections set-up for vaccinated and non-vaccinated Dodgers fans and the team is also bringing back Friday Night Fireworks for the first time since 2019, set to a special mix from DJ Bowie Jane. But only fully-vaccinated fans are invited to leave the stands and watch the show from the baseball field.

LA Pride also noted that Cinespia, will host LGBTQ+ Pride Movie Night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, June 26th. The organization also made note of its partnership with KABC 7 LA’s one-hour primetime special on June 12, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM, in a ‘best of LA Pride.’ According to a its website, the special includes Trans profiles, celebrity shout-outs, spotlights on LA Pride’s 2021 Honorees (more on that soon), a special Pride performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles from the Getty Center, and more.

But the main event, the parade, one of the nation’s oldest and largest was canceled for the second year in a row. LA Pride vowed to return in 2022. “Safety was our No. 1 priority,” said Sharon-Franklin Brown, board president of Christopher Street West, the nonprofit organization that produces LA Pride. “It takes time to put on a parade, [and] we were not sure we were going to be where we’re at now, which is this amazing space where everything is opening up.”

West Hollywood, which has been ground zero for Pride events in the region for over 50 years, like most of California went through the state-wide shutdown ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, the only event of note last year being the non-sanctioned ‘All Black Lives Matter’ protest march after the police killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed Black individuals whose deaths have drawn public attention and widespread outcry.

This year though, the city is taking a cautious approach, which in separate interviews with the Blade Mayor Lindsey P. Horvath and Councilmember Sepi Shyne both emphasized that maintaining safe standards for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors was a continuing priority and that WeHo would remain essentially in a virtual mode for Pride month.

The City’s 2021 One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival s taking place virtually/in a socially distant manner for 2021 according to a city spokesperson.

The City did receive a boost in Pride awareness with the public dedication of a street mural honoring recording artist Lady Gaga’s album Born This Way this past weekend, which has been unofficially adopted by many in the greater LGBTQ community as an anthem.

West Hollywood’s Out on Robertson and Out programs have been effect in drawing diners and retail customers although still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

Despite that local community leaders and businesses are worried. During the course of a non-COVID impacted Pride month, events and the massive Pride parade brings in millions of dollars, drawing tourists as well as locals. With ongoing virtual and barely no in-person events, particularly the annual parade, the ongoing pandemic economy is hurting businesses badly especially those who depend on a Pride boost.

Arguably the second largest regional Pride, in Long Beach has also been scaled back to virtual only for the most part.

There has been an independent push for Pride events including a three day concert to be held at the LA Coliseum on June 4, 5 and 6- OUTLOUD: Raising Voices, created by the award winning team of Jeff Consoletti and Artie Kenney. The series is headlined by Queen frontman Adam Lambert an according to its organizers is set to showcase extraordinary queer talent also featuring appearances and remarks by Angelica Ross, Conchita, Geena Rocero, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Valentina Sampaio, Yungblud and Whoopi Goldberg.

Downtown Los Angeles, (DTLA), Downtown Center Business Improvement District is hosting an event on June 24 at  Redline, a premier gay bar and lounge in the heart of downtown located in the Historic Core of the City. The organization announced this past week that it had lifted the COVID19 restrictions for that event.

In Santa Monica, Allies in Arts partnered with Santa Monica Pride to curate an Art Walk for Pride 2021, but aside from that no indoor in-person events are slated to occur.

As the pandemic restrictions are lifted and in addressing the ongoing effects on LGBTQ businesses in the city, a person knowledgeable of the efforts the Mayor and city officials are making, but not authorized to speak to the press, said that Garcetti’s programs outlined in his State of the City speech on the upcoming budget and his 25 million “comeback check” program to help restaurants and other small businesses pay off debt and reopen remained an overarching priority.

So for now, Pride month will be scaled back but with a sense of vibrancy for business that are able to reopen or in the case of the food and beverage and hospitality industry benefit from Pride events on a business by business basis with large scale looking to return in 2022.

Until then, the picture above of The Brooks Lifeguard Tower on Venice Beach best illustrates yet another Pandemic Pride.

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Los Angeles

Venice Beach targeted for clearing homeless encampments

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both Los Angeles City and County with a total of 58,936+ living on the streets or in shelters

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Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin appearing on KTLA (Screenshot via KTLA)

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin announced that “a ton of resources” are coming soon to address the homeless crisis along the Venice Boardwalk.

Bonin, whose council district 11 includes the areas of Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Palms, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Sawtelle, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester and LAX told KTLA Friday morning that a new push to address the homeless problems in Venice Beach would soon be launched.

Last week Bonin sent a letter to his constituency writing, “I am fighting aggressively to house people so we no longer have encampments on our sidewalks, or at our parks and beaches.”

Bonin also noted; “While we step up efforts to house people, the city should conduct a feasibility analysis of whether a number of different locations, including LAX land and three beach parking lots, could be used for different types of temporary emergency shelter. I have also asked that the feasibility analysis consider whether two local parks with existing encampments could restore the bulk of recreational space to public use by designating a certain area for existing unhoused residents. In all cases, the proposed solutions would provide security, sanitation and services, and focus on getting people into housing.

These are not encampments. They are an emergency response—an alternative—to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes.”

In late March, the City cleared a massive homeless encampment in Echo Park in the Angelino Heights neighborhood adjacent to the 101 Freeway, located in Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s district 13. Officials say the hundreds of people forced to leave were offered shelter, but not everyone took it according to local homeless advocates. The clearing of Echo Park brought condemnation from rights groups and grass roots activists due to the presence of heavily armed LAPD officers and what one source told the Blade was a “complete lack of operational transparency.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced last month in his annual State of the City address, that he would seek to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness, as well as allocate $235 million for the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance program, intended to help up to 100,000 households and other critical needs.

The Mayor also proposed a guaranteed basic income pilot project that would pay $1,000 a month to 2,000 to the city’s neediest households over the next year as part of a “basic guaranteed income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.

Chronic homelessness is a massive problem in both the City and the County. In the city of Los Angeles there are 36,300 homeless people with a total of 58,936 in the County according to the annual Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) homeless count (2019). Over the years, homelessness has dramatically increased all over the county.

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