As you may already know, I’ve been looking into civil nuisance abatement lawsuits and their relation to gentrification in Los Angeles. The City files dozens of these cases each year and they’re based on really flimsy but also mostly unchallenged evidence. A big part of this project is collecting copies of the complaints themselves, and so far I’ve obtained them for 2015 and 2016 and 2017-2019.
Apparently, though, the City Attorney inadvertently omitted1 a few of these from earlier productions and I just got copies of those the other day. They’re available here on Archive.Org. We’re still waiting for 2014 and earlier. And I have a bunch of other requests pending, of course, and I will certainly let you know if any of them are successful and result in interesting stuff!
But also sometimes even unsuccessful requests have interesting results! And that’s the main subject of today’s post! But first, some background! You may recall that Supreme Nuisance Prosecutor Jonathan Cristall and his unindicted co-conspirator Liora Forman-Echols published a really insidious how-to/why-to guide in the National Gang Center Bulletin in 2009, which I wrote about recently.
And this pernicious little document contains some really implausible claims. Just for instance, on page 6, Cristall and Forman-Echols state, without supporting evidence, that “[i]n most instances, the abatement of the nuisance at the property has a ripple effect, positively improving the surrounding neighborhood.” Oh, and also! Seasoned Supreme Gang Nuisance Prosecutor Cristall is not only a self-proclaimed expert on abating nuisances for fun and profit, he’s also a self-proclaimed expert on raising teenagers!
He is so supremely expert that he even wrote a book about it!2 And on that book’s Amazon page he at one time listed a bunch of really impressive honors he had received from various sources based on his work as a prosecutor! He recently altered the text3 but before the big coverup his Amazon bio used to state that Cristall
has received commendations for his prosecutorial work from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the California Narcotics Officers Association, and he is a recipient of the Los Angeles Police Commission’s Distinguished Service Medal.
Well, when I read dubious and unsubtantiated4 claims like this, about “a ripple effect” that magically happens to “improve” neighborhoods in which the City of Los Angeles is intent on using the coercive power of the state to facilitate gentrification, or about how some genius who thinks that spending decades hounding and prosecuting poor people, people of color, makes him an expert on how to raise children, I start sending out requests for public records!5
With respect to this putative ripple effect, I submitted a request asking for:
any records, which is to say any materials having a physical existence in the world outside the heads of the authors, in the possession of the City Attorney’s office that contain information supporting this claim. These might include, but not be limited to, such things as records showing any of the following:
1. statistics on instances of abatements of the nuisances having a ripple effect supporting the use of the word “most”
2. measurably defining the phrase “positively improving”
3. measurably defining the “surrounding neighborhood” with respect to a property
4. any other factual or quasi-factual basis for this claim
I think that the CPRA’s requirement that an adequate search for records responsive to this request would be completely satisfied if Mr. Cristall and Ms. Forman-Echols were to be asked if they have or have had any records that tend to support the truth of this sentence.
And with respect to Cristall’s Amazon Bio my request asked for:
copies of or access to records associated with these or similar commendations, medal-awardings, or honors (collectively “honors”). These might include, but not be limited to:
a. letters announcing honors;
b. records describing the grounds for honors;
c. nominations for honors;
d. certificates, plaques, medals, or other such material awarded at or due to ceremonies related to honors;
e. still photos, programs, recordings whether audio or video of such ceremonies.
And, like I said above, the requests were unsuccessful. And after a seemly period of time the Deputy City Attorney who seems to spend most of his working hours dealing with my CPRA requests, Bethelwel Wilson, got back to me with the sad news that there were no records responsive to either of these requests.
You can read Wilson’s replies to both the ripple effect request and the Cristall honors request, but in both cases he responded with precisely the same words: “After conducting an exhaustive search, the office has no documents in its possession responsive to this request. “6 But you know, read in the context of my actual requests, this is still a revealing response.
In one of these requests I asked for “any materials having a physical existence in the world outside the heads of the authors in the possession of the City Attorney’s office that contain information supporting” Cristall’s and Forman-Echols’s claim that “[i]n most instances, the abatement of the nuisance at the property has a ripple effect, positively improving the surrounding neighborhood.” In this context, Wilson’s response effectively says that the office of the City Attorney has no evidence outside of the heads of Cristall and Forman-Echols that nuisance abatement suits actually improve neighborhoods.
In the other request I asked for evidence related to Cristall’s extensive list of honors he’d putatively received. In that context Wilson’s response can be read as stating that Cristall has no evidence that he received these honors.7 On the other hand Cristall, or someone, edited the Amazon biography to remove all mention of these putative honors, and you can draw from that what conclusions you will! Wish I had a screenshot of the former version, but here’s a screenshot of how it looks now.
And that’s the story of how to squeeze nourishing juices from a rutabaga8 and a whole damn blog post from two CPRA requests for which there were, apparently, no responsive records. There is no telling what will happen next but stay tuned because whatever it is you will read about it right here!
Image of Abatementmeister Jonathan Cristall is ©2020 MichaelKohlhaas.Org and there is this lil bit as well, friends.
- I don’t necessarily buy their story that the omission was inadvertent but I also don’t necessarily not buy it either. I don’t have any evidence either way and while it’s true that they lie all the freaking time it’s also true that they tell the truth a lot of the time, freaking or otherwise. When it serves their purposes to do so I assume. And who knows what these people’s purposes are?
- Assuming here for rhetorical effect that people who write books on subject X are supremely expert with respect to subject X. But only for rhetorical effect so don’t @ me if you please!
- Or someone altered it. Someone with access, custody, and control over the Amazon page. Probably in response to events described in the very post you are presently reading!
- Probably unsubstantiatable.
- Not even claiming that this is a rational response, nor that it’s practical. Nothing like that. It’s just what I do because it’s what I know how to do. As the proverb teaches us, when the only tool you have is a hammer a lot of things start looking like they could be improved by hitting them with a hammer.
- This is a surprisingly unlawyerly phrase, by the way. Literally it appears that Wilson’s saying that they didn’t have any records after the search, which suggests that they may have had records before the search and then destroyed them or something. It would have been more accurate, or if not more accurate then at least more in line with what I expect he meant to convey, to have said something like that after the exhaustive search they had determined that they had no records. Or something like that. But I also suppose it’s a pretty wearying job dealing with me and for the most part Wilson is pretty good at it so I mostly overlook little lapses like this one. Not good in an absolute objective sense, by the way. Not good in the sense of complying with the law. But good in relation to the rest of the piss-poor City of LA CPRA-adjacent staffers, who are with only a few very rare exceptions a bunch of obstructionist and intentionally ignorant liars. Wilson’s not ignorant and he’s not a liar. He is, however, obstructionist, but of course that’s his job, or part of it.
- Alternatively it might mean nothing more than that Cristall doesn’t consider any evidence that he might have regarding the honors to be public record with respect to his possession of it. I always wish these responding agencies would say that when that’s what they mean, but they very rarely do. This is a problem that has to be solved in Sacramento rather than in Los Angeles County Superior Court, as judges here are so fond of telling me!
- Trying to keep my cliched proverbs vegan-friendly here. Both turnips and rutabagas are, of course, famously vegan-friendly. I’m just eating a lot more rutabagas lately, so that’s why.