Saturday, December 22, 2012
Ratchet Page Not an Internet Crime Says Law Enforcement Official Dealing With the Investigation
By Diana L. Chapman
Images that blossomed on Facebook pages of "ratchet" girls in the Harbor Area in early December were not criminal and were considered child "erotica," rather than pornography, says a lead investigator who heads a regional task force that deals with internet crime against children.
However, Los Angeles Police Lt. Andrea Grossman reported it as cyberbullying to Facebook and the company removed those sites within one hour of her call.
No penal codes applied in this instance, Grossman explained.
"It's not a criminal act," said Grossman, who heads the regional ICAC, Internet Crimes Against Children, a multi-agency task force of local, state and federal law enforcement officers. "We looked at the site. It was child erotica. That is not illegal.
"It's not (child) pornography," which is a crime, she explained.
Grossman says the Facebook sites that appeared around Dec. 2 using students images, some of scantily clad girls from San Pedro and Banning High Schools, did appear to be "pure cyberbullying"; However, currently no laws exist to make it a crime or to give the agency teeth to force internet companies, such as My Space or Facebook, to pull such sites down.
Facebook, however, was fully cooperative, she said.
"We can't force them to take down the sites," Grossmann said. "It's up to Facebook. But once I contacted Facebook, they responded in one hour which is pretty good time."
Grossman's task force covers five counties: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Orange and San Bernadino. Crimes involving children on the internet, Grossman said, should be reported immediately to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which acts like a clearing house for such crimes and alerts local authorities in charge. For instance, if an internet pornography complaint came in to the National Center involving a child in San Pedro, Grossman said, her task force would be notified to investigate immediately.
The task force also must report back to the center as to what happened with the case.
The local issue erupted when the internet group San Pedro California began complaining about the sites saying they had "offensive," demeaning, and abusive photographs of girls from the area along with derogatory comments.
Those commenting on the sites called some of the girls "hos" (whores) or claimed that some girls gave sex freely. While many in the California group reported their concerns to Facebook via the internet, the sites remained up until Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino took a stance and called in Grossman's task force and other agencies to try and force their shut down.
Facebook removed San Pedro Rachets, Wilmington Rachets and San Pedro Hotties from their pages, agreeing with Grossman and many of its complaining users that cyberbullying had occurred which goes against Facebook policies. Rachets, according to the Urban Dictionary, are a "diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos, that has reason to believe she is every man's eye candy. Unfortunately, she's wrong."
Buscaino, known for working closely with teens when he was an LAPD officer, said he considered the pages slanderous and abusive.
While no laws exist now regarding cyberbullying, Grossman said, there are other laws that might fit but didn't work in this case. Laws specifically against cyberbullying eventually might be implemented, she said, especially since the topic has riveted the nation after several youths committed suicide who became victims of internet attacks.
The Internet Crimes Against Children is a federally funded agency that formed 61 national teams devoted to fight child exploitation via the internet and offers "reactive, proactive, and forensic investigations and criminal investigations," its site reports.
Since its formation in 1998, the task forces have dealt with 280,000 complaints of alleged sex abuse against children and led to 30,000 arrests, according to the national Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The beauty of these agencies, Grossman added, is that internet crime is "everywhere," and it's not something that the Los Angeles police can deal with alone. Agencies had to join together to be effective, she said.
The program offers training to agencies that might be involved including schools, Grossman said. In this instance the schools, Banning High and San Pedro High, would be responsible to carry out further investigation of who the perpetrators were that put up the sites.
Internet users who believe they have concerns of child exploitation on the internet can report it too www.missingkids.com or call 1-800-843-5678.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
In the Wake of the School Shootings, I'm Trying to Convince Myself that Anne Frank Was Right: Good People Are Still Out There
By Diana L. Chapman
First, a man shot his girlfriend to death on the street behind my house, then killed himself.
I knew him and his kids. I also knew that Johnny O'Kane's actions had torn away the tethers of humanity, leaving two families in utter despair.
Still, I believed. It seems ever since I read the Diary of Anne' Frank when I was 12, I trusted Frank's words she wrote before dying in the Holocaust that people were still good at heart. I believe that despite everything I've written and seen first as a journalist, now as a blogger, anything from murders, baby kidnappings to robberies. I believe that even now, with the horrendous shooting at a Newton, Connecticut elementary school where on Friday Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old, brilliant autistic man, burst into Sandy Hook Elementary and killed 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults.
I believe this while knowing there have been a string of brutal attacks in China over the past two years where men have entered schools and literally chopped and hacked away at youngsters -- killing up to 21 and the youngest being four -- with weapons such as axes, hammers, cleavers and knives - the latest being the same day as Sandy Hook when a 36-year-old attacked children, ages six to 12 at a primary school -- succeeding in cutting off fingers and severing ears -- and seriously injuring two other students who remain hospitalized.
By now, as so many journalists are, I should be a cynical, skeptical woman who walks with a jaded heart and the piercing knowledge that the world, is in essence, upside down. I can't bear to think about the pain those Sandy Hook parents are suffering--tonight, in the morning and in every waking moment, knowing some of those tiny bodies were riddled with more than 11 bullet holes from an assault rifle.
But here I am still clinging to Anne's words, statements she started penning at age 13 while in hiding from the Gestapo, some of which are like pulling on a quilt of warmth and soothing protection.
"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out," Anne wrote in her diary while her Jewish family lived in unbearable conditions during World War II. "Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Once her family and others were discovered, they were forced into concentration camps where nearly all their lives were extinguished, including Anne's. Her father, Otto, survived, found his daughter's diary and shared it with the world.
There must be a reason he did that -- a reason for us to lay our heads on when the world has once again gone "crazy" as she says and worked its way into another one of its darkest corners in history. We've been layered with tragedy upon tragedy across our country.
Rampaging gunmen repeatedly committed shootings of the innocents in the past six months alone; two adults killed this week in an Oregon Mall as people shopped for the holidays; 70 shot and 12 killed in July at a Colorado theater as movie-goers settled into a night of watching good versus evil in the new Batman flick -- and now the perilous attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
But there were so, so many even before that.
It seems we are not any closer to an end of this insane mayhem and misery, horror tilting our nation repeatedly to yet another disaster and now we've lost Noah, Emilie, Catherine, Jessica, Olivia, Ana, Jessica and 13 other elementary students who will never celebrate another Christmas, another birthday or read another book.
If we listen to Anne, it is time to change. It's time to commit to gun control. It's time to give support to families dealing with the horrors of mental illness and not just run away. We can no longer wait.
The deaths, especially of such little children who were just beginning to flourish and bloom like beautiful cherry trees, defies our sensibilities.
"There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder," Anne wrote, "and until mankind, without exception, undergoes great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again."
With all our rage and grief, we might want to reflect back on the wisdom of Anne, who seemed to grasp and comprehend matters beyond her years. "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
We no longer need to wait. We need to take advantage of those that are still good at heart that are left in the world.
Take for instance, Gene Rosen, 69, a grandfather and retired psychologist, who found six small children huddled in his driveway immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting who told him they couldn't go back to school because their teacher had been shot. They had escaped, a boy told him.
Rosen didn't wait even though he didn't know exactly what happened. He took the children into his house, gave them toys and juice and listened to their stories about their teacher being shot. He called every one of their parents, who came and picked them up.
He later blubbered on the air about how brave the children were and how he hoped to see, cherish and hug them all again. He said he loved them.
Rosen is the reason I still believe in Anne's words. He gives me hope. And "Where there's hope," Anne wrote, "there's life."
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
|Some are calling Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino a hero for helping to take down a bully site|
Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino Works To Crush Sexual, Bullying Facebook Site Targeting Girls at San Pedro High School; Some Say He Was Wrong
By Diana L. Chapman
The minute the Facebook site -- called San Pedro Ratchets -- launched last week, some San Pedro High School girls found themselves posted there only in their bras and underwear and targets of alleged sexual exploits.
Comments swarmed in about their bodies and sexuality, officials said, that were "offensive," "raunchy" and "abusive." At least one student refused to return to school after the site went up Dec. 2 as Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, school and law enforcement officials scrambled to take it down.
Within hours of its launch, Buscaino's office was alerted by social media pings -- in particular by a group called San Pedro California -- that called out alarm bells and began filing complaints to no avail on a faceless Facebook requesting the site and two others, San Pedro Hotties and Wilmington Ratchets, be removed, said Branimir Kvartuc, Buscaino's media spokesman.
Around the same time that evening, the councilman received a phone call from his upset sister, Michelle Crow, a teacher at Dana Middle School, who complained one of her former students was on it.
What he saw, Buscaino said, was so offensive that he was immediately moved to action. He later dismissed criticism he was out of his realm of council work and interfering with free speech saying he didn't want to wait for something terrible to happen. It takes a community, he said, including its leaders, to stop such behavior. San Pedro High School principal Jeanette Stevens said without him the site might still be thriving.
"I am not going to wait for a teenager to commit suicide," Buscaino said. "There are a lot of critical issues facing the city. But the last thing I want to do is bury a child because of slander. It was really disgusting.
The site "was slanderous, cyberbullying and some girls were being identified as a "ho" (whore) or comments written were: "I want to do her," said Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer known for his work with teens. "It's something no child should ever go through."
As cyberbullying has riveted the nation with some victims committing suicide, the ratchet site was loaded with such slanderous comments, Buscaino's staff said, that they contacted Facebook, law enforcement and Crimes Against Children on the Internet.
Comments from the site -- due to profanity and sexual content -- could not be written here, but it encouraged others to post photos and comments. "Bringin' all the ratchet ...bitches of San Pedro on one page," and "upload all the...ratchet bitches you know from the Dro!" (Dro is a term for San Pedro.)
All three sites were taken down but immediately another site bloomed called South Bay Ratchets. According to the Urban dictionary, ratchets are "a diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos, that has reason to believe she is every man's eye candy. Unfortunately, she's wrong."
All the sites were removed by Dec. 5, Kvartuc said.
High School principal Stevens said she and her staff got warnings about the site via dozens of text messages, phone calls and emails. A former high school student who was off to college was so perturbed she contacted a school administrator. At least fifty complaints were filed with Facebook, Stevens said, but dealing with "Facebook is like a computer program without a face. It doesn't have contacts where you can call and explain you are a principal or a school administrator trying to protect children."
Some of the photographs, Stevens said, were sexual and said things like: "This person puts out." One photo had a girl laying down on her stomach, her pants pulled back while other girls wrote on her buttocks. It appeared the girl was tied up, she said.
"These are images we don't need to promote," Stevens said. "There was nothing good that was coming out of this. It was demeaning. We had young students who are under age and made poor choices, but it doesn't mean we exploit these poor choices."
Having the help from the councilman, she added, was the big reason the sites were removed because he and his staff knew who to contact and worked with all the agencies involved. In addition, the principal and Kvartuc said it was ironic that the community, using its own social media tools, alerted others to the site and began filing complaints.
"Maybe this is a little bit of norming of a social media tool," Stevens said. "It was whether we took a stand. We stood up. We threw them off the island as a community and I don't know if that's so bad."
The new village watching over youth, said Kvartuc, is the social media pointing out that San Pedro California's "thread" was what brought this to officials' attention. One member Sandra Zuvich wrote: "I can't believe this is even a page on Facebook. I have reported it and so should you! This is bullying at its lowest."
While the school is investigating who was responsible, a few leads have not panned out, Stevens said, adding that she believes it will be handled by the Los Angeles police since it did not happen on campus or during school time.
Facebook officials did not immediately react to the complaint and initially refused to take the site down because its policies had not been abused, Kvartuc said. But as intensely personal comments criticizing the girls bodies piled on, Facebook officials agreed it had become cyberbullying.
In a statement, the company says it takes such abuse seriously.
"We're concerned about any abusive behavior, and have made efforts to promote an environment where everyone of Facebook can connect and share comfortably," said Alison Schumer, who handles child safety and programs for Facebook. "Our policies prohibit the posting of content that bullies or harasses...
"This team treats reports of harassing and bullying content as a priority."
On his Facebook page, some hailed Buscaino as a hero while others contended he interfered with free speech and had no business being involved in the matter. Some said the girls were to blame because they had allowed such photographs to be taken.
Parents, many argued, need to educate themselves and their children about internet usage.
"I guess I'm the bad guy because I think Joe and the LAPD should be addressing other issues in our community," wrote Raul Martinez. "He might have shut down that page...But those pics are still out there cause those girls posted them on their page.
"This all goes down to parenting and upbringing. Maybe Joe should tell every parent in San Pedro to check your kids face book, take your kids to church, spend time with your kids...(sic)."
Doug Epperhart, a father of two teenage girls, said he too has concerns that a council member can work to remove internet postings and claims it could become "a slippery slope" leaving politicians with the idea that this could be done elsewhere -- such as against their competitors.
"This is more of the problem of the parents and the school," Epperhart said. "Parents seriously have no clue what their kids are putting out there. Removing the site does not eliminate the problem. It just treats the symptoms of the disease. The district should be able to find out who these kids (who put up the site) are and punish them."
The councilman's actions, however, were largely applauded -- especially by women who say the damage to the girls would remain with them for the rest of their lives and could cause suicidal tendencies.
"Thank goodness!" wrote Layla Cicconi of the site's removal. "That site had my blood boiling all day. I was beginning to wonder if this town actually went to hell in a hand basket. It's really amazing how many idiots think that site was funny. Makes me sad that that Could even be a form of entertainment."
Sunday, December 09, 2012
"We haven't solved it. He's still out there and could do it again."--LAPD Detective David Alvarez
Christmas Eve Murder of a 60-year-old Woman with the Mind of a Child Still Haunts San Pedro Churchgoers and the Police
By Diana L. Chapman
Los Angeles Police Detective David Alvarez calls it the kind of crime that keeps him up at night: A tiny woman with the mind of a child was viciously stabbed multiple times early Christmas Eve as she walked home from an evening church service in San Pedro.
Eva Tice, 60, who walked with a limp after a hip replacement and captured many hearts at her church with her sheer simplicity, was left to die alone on a stone cold sidewalk on Pacific Avenue. Her broken, bleeding body was discovered between 11th and 12th streets, near the old Ramona's bakery and across from June's Bar, which was crowded that night. All she had with her was her Bible.
Eva died a short time later at the hospital. No one has come forward as a witness.
She was attacked at about 7:15 p.m. as she was walking home, just three blocks from her apartment. Few leads have panned out. With the one-year anniversary approaching, the case remains "disturbing," Alvarez says. Not to mention unsolved. In essence, say those who knew Eva, it was like murdering a child.
"We need closure," says Alvarez, who has been working the case with his partner, Patty Batts. "There are lots of people who loved her. Nobody expects this on Christmas Eve. People tend to be home with their families, even gang members.
"It's just bizarre and very weird being attacked like that."
|Detective David Alvarez asks the public for help once again.|
The church's congregants remain dismayed, disheartened and haunted that someone would kill a woman who could get excited by childlike things. Her favorite possessions were a duck ornament and a Bible she couldn't read.
She turned down several offers of a ride home after the service, says Becky Aldape, an assistant administrator at the church. Eva was too anxious to race home to draw in some new coloring books and to see her Christmas tree with the duck ornament, which a sponsor had donated to her and her disabled roommate.
"She was such a sweetheart," says Aldape, who wears a pin that says "Justice for Eva." "She was so harmless. Why would someone do something like that to her? She was so innocent, so naive. I was angry, real angry."
Aldape turned her anger into making Justice for Eva buttons and worked with other congregants to blanket the neighborhood with posters seeking answers.
But the answers didn't come.
|Becky Adalpe holds the reward signs and wears her Justice for Eva pin.|
Detectives are frustrated, too, and disturbed over the death of "an innocent." It's a case that continues to mystify them. No one has been caught, despite the hundreds of hours Alvarez and his partner have poured into their investigation.
Investigators have gone door to door, conducted more than 100 interviews, received 30 tips. The city of Los Angeles put up a $50,000 reward. All to no avail. At first, detectives believed it was possibly a robbery, but all Eva owned of any value was costume jewelry.
The intensity of the attack also is puzzling. If it were a robbery, there was no reason for the excessive brutality. She was stabbed "multiple, multiple times," the detective said, in particular in the upper right chest.
Investigators are asking the public to come forward with anything they might have seen or heard--even the barest thread of a rumor. Something small might lead to a break in the case.
But for now, the question remains: Who would want to kill a 4-foot-11 woman with a mind that varied in maturity from the age of 6 to a young teen? Eva already had lived a tough life and didn't deserve this, her friends say. Her parents died in a car crash when she was a child and she was raised by social workers and foster care. She later married a similarly disabled man, who also died.
After that, Eva was given the chance to live in her own apartment with a roommate instead of in a group home or other institutional setting. A social worker looked in on the women at their apartment on 12th Street, police say.
But it was at the church where Eva really seemed to live. People there didn't mind sharing her youthful jubilance despite her age. In fact, they liked it. Today, these friends remain stunned, angry and haunted.
Eva was known for being helpful, says one of them, Joseph Baroni. She came each Saturday to help him with the church's yard sales -- something she loved to do. He recalls that, on that Christmas Eve, he was pulling out of the parking lot when he waved goodbye to her as she left.
"She was my friend," he said, the pain still in his voice. "She loved God. She loved everybody." She was physically incapable of warding off any attack, Baroni says, and he can't stand to think of Eva's shock that "someone was stabbing her to death."
Because blood would have been splashed on the killer, Baroni believes "someone knows something" and has yet to come forward. Investigators say a man was spotted running away after the attack, but it's unclear whether he was the killer or was running out of fear.
"It is so crazy she got killed," says a dejected Baroni. "She had no money. If she had any cash, it was a dollar or two. She had no enemies. It's just ridiculous."
Because Eva was so innocent, she didn't understand relationships--sexual or otherwise--or have any idea that anyone would want to hurt her. That kind of trust may have led her to have a pool of street friends.
Hope Chapel allowed Eva's homeless friends to attend the packed memorial service, because she respected them as humans beings--a lesson she taught others who knew her giving, caring soul. Once when a man fell and hit his head at the church's yard sale, people milling about ignored him. Eva came racing back to church officials to ask them to help the bleeding man.
They did and were impressed by how much she cared.
The night Eva was killed, congregant Susie Mendez planned to give Eva a ride but had to leave the service early when she was notified that her grandson had been hit by a car. She was devastated when she heard the news and says she continues to think of Eva every day.
"It just makes me sick, sick, sick," says Mendez, who received a text message about the murder in the middle of the night. "It breaks my heart. That night, she was so full of life and so peppy, like a little kid in a grown woman's body."
Eva couldn't wait to get home that Christmas Eve. She had several gifts under the tree--gifts she would never have the chance to open.
Anyone with information should contact investigators Alvarez or Batts from 7:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at (310) 726-7881. On weekends or holidays, contact the Detective Information Desk at a 24-hour, toll free number: 877-LAPD-24-7. Anonymous web-tips can also be left at www.lapdonline.org (click on anonymous web tips).