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Dig Investigative nuggets from the staff of Reveal

California’s gang database gets less secretive, but problems linger

Adults in California will now be notified if they’re listed in the state’s database of suspected gang members and affiliates, thanks to a new bill signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill allows Californians to appeal for their name to be removed from CalGang. It also requires law enforcement agencies using the database to submit annual reports to the state Department of Justice.

Earlier this year, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting detailed the myriad problems with CalGang. In some cases, unverified allegations of gang affiliation contained in the database led to criminal charges and inclusion in civil gang injunctions, which restrict someone’s ability to move and associate freely.

Until now, Californians had no way of knowing whether they were in the database or challenge their inclusion. Juveniles have been able to since 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of people are included in the database, which is based on arrest reports, social media posts and other law enforcement intelligence. Information in California’s gang database is accessible to law enforcement in 13 other states that use systems built off CalGang, as well as the FBI; the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to a report by The Intercept, U.S. immigration authorities use information from state gang databases and their own system to identify people for deportation – regardless of whether the gang intelligence is accurate or flawed.

A scathing review of CalGang released by the California State Auditor last month provided critical momentum in the effort to pass the... Read More >

Why California cracked down on oversight of armed security guards

When security guard Teng Xiong shot a Stockton, California, teen in the jaw several years ago, he expected someone would hold him accountable. He thought police would arrest him. He was traumatized. He reported himself to state regulators.

But regulators never talked to Xiong. Instead, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, the agency that licenses armed guards in California, filed the report away and let him keep his firearm permit. He continued to work as a guard.

This sort of indifference in California, which boasts the largest population of armed security guards in the country, may finally come to an end with reforms signed into law today by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, the bill was spurred by an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that found regulators in California and many other states frequently license armed guards who are poorly trained, mentally unstable and prone to violence. Even after receiving a shooting report, many state regulators failed to take action unless the guards were convicted of crimes.

We found California regulators failed to investigate security guard shootings, permitted guards who used excessive force to keep their gun permits and allowed fraudulent companies to keep their licenses.

“Someone carrying a gun is a very serious act,” Hill said. “What we had in place before was not adequate to protect the public. We needed to really put some teeth behind the regulations, so that we know the type of training they’re getting, that they are... Read More >

Dow sued for not warning California residents of pesticide risk

Dow AgroSciences has violated a California law by failing to warn a Central Valley community that it was exposed to risky levels of a cancer-causing pesticide, according to a new lawsuit by the Center for Environmental Health.

The suit alleges that the chemical company should have given notice to the residents of a community in Shafter, California, when growers used 1,3-Dichloropropene, a popular but toxic pesticide manufactured exclusively by Dow.

Although warning signs are routinely posted at the edge of the fields after 1,3-D is applied, the lawsuit claims that Dow should directly notify residents when the chemical is being used nearby.

“Despite the fact that Defendants expose pregnant women, children and other individuals to 1,3-D, Defendants provide no warnings whatsoever about the carcinogenic hazards associated with 1,3-D exposure,” the lawsuit says.

The Center for Environmental Health brought the case under a law commonly known as Proposition 65, which requires the state to maintain a list of chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems. The law also says that businesses must notify the public when a significant amount of a Prop. 65 chemical is released into the environment.

Under Prop. 65, the term “significant amount” has a specific definition: For carcinogens, it’s a level where someone who comes into contact with the chemical over 70 years – which is considered a lifetime of exposure – would have more than a 1-in-100,000 chance of getting cancer.

That’s the central issue that this case will turn on: Were Shafter residents put at extra cancer risk and then... Read More >

Discrimination is in fashion for New York retailers

It was an anti-discrimination sting operation.

Two people, with similar résumés and appearance, applied for the same sales jobs at New York fashion retail stores. One of them used a cane or wheelchair, while the other had no visible disability. The one with a disability even got an advantage – a slightly better résumé and more professional-looking outfit.

What happened?

Testers with disabilities were much less likely to get a job, according to a study commissioned by Disability Rights New York.

Out of 31 tests, 20 of the people without disabilities got an interview or other positive response, compared with 10 of the testers with disabilities. After the interview process, 11 testers without disabilities got job offers, compared with three people with disabilities.

“It’s very disheartening,” said Elizabeth Grossman, of Disability Rights New York. But, she said, it wasn’t surprising: “It’s extremely rare to see a person with a disability working in a retail store.”

The advocacy organization isn’t naming the stores that failed its experiment, but will follow up privately, Grossman said, to “encourage them to change their behaviors.” She didn’t rule out litigation.

Grossman said her group focused on fashion sales positions because they don’t involve heavy lifting or other impediments, making them “particularly easily done by people with mobility disabilities.”

Neither the Retail Council of New York State nor the United States Fashion Industry Association responded to requests for comment.

The dark side of New Jersey’s temp industry just got some light

New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of temp workers in the country. Many of them staff huge warehouses that process consumer products shipped into the bustling Port of Newark.

But there’s a grim underbelly of the industry, summed up in a special report by NJ Advance Media in three D’s: “death, discrimination and despair.”

The front page of the The Star Ledger, New Jersey's biggest daily newspaper, showed a special report on the temp industry, on Sept. 18, 2016.

The front page of the The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s biggest daily newspaper, showed its special report on the temp industry on Sept. 18.Credit: NJ Advance Media

With assistance by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, NJ Advance Media spoke with dozens of temp workers, recruiters, activists and officials to detail the many tribulations of this “invisible workforce.”

There are unlicensed agencies, reporter Kelly Heyboer found, operating in apparent violation of New Jersey state law.

There are deaths, like the temp worker who was crushed in a conveyer belt at an Amazon fulfillment center.

And there are undocumented immigrants eking out a precarious livelihood. Heyboer and her colleagues chronicled the life of 65-year-old Rafael Sanchez, who lives in a cramped garage and works on a factory assembly line as a temp worker.

With help from Reveal, Heyboer also documented allegations of temp agencies hiring based on race and sex, part of a nationwide discrimination problem in the temp industry.

Some agencies even post signs advertising jobs specifically for men or women. Women are often paid less and face sexual harassment.

New Jersey-based Lyneer Staffing Solutions “recruited, hired, and sorted candidates based upon race,” according to a lawsuit from the company’s former director of human resources. The agency... Read More >

How janitors banded together to fight rape on the night shift

Billboard

Credit: Courtesy of SEIU United Service Workers West

“End Rape on the Night Shift.”

That’s been the motto for California janitors who for months have held demonstrations throughout the state, who have been arrested for blocking traffic in an act of civil disobedience, and who have fasted near the state Capitol to show support for survivors of workplace sexual assault. They’ve even posted the message on billboards in the San Francisco Bay Area that depict a female cleaner who is being grabbed and silenced.

These actions were a way of publicizing a problem that immigrant night shift cleaners say they frequently confront. It also was an effort to persuade California Gov. Jerry Brown to put his signature to legislation aimed at preventing the sexual harassment and violence of janitors at work.

On Thursday evening, nearly a half-dozen female janitors ended their fourth day of fasting. They were seated on blankets on a shady lawn near the Capitol building when they learned that the governor had signed the bill into state law. They collapsed into a teary group hug and there was a triumphant chant of “Sí, se pudo,” or “Yes, we did.”

The legislation, which was inspired by our Rape on the Night Shift investigation, will create a registry of janitorial firms in California, which worker advocates say makes it easier to hold problematic companies accountable for violations ranging from wage theft to sexual assault. It will also require sexual harassment training for everyone who works at a janitorial company. An advisory group made up... Read More >

More than 100 countries ban this cruel trap. The US isn’t one of them

Iraq bans them. So do China, Somalia and Sudan.

But in the United States, steel-jaw traps are not only legal, they are the go-to tool for trappers who capture and kill millions of wild animals a year for the global fur market.

For years, wildlife advocates have struggled to determine how many nations ban the controversial, punishing devices. Estimates have ranged from about 50 to more than 88.

Now, thanks to a new analysis by the Law Library of Congress, they have an answer: more than 100.

Steel-jaw traps work by snapping shut on the leg of an animal, holding it until a trapper arrives, or until the animal dies or wrings its paw off. In the process, they can inflict pain and serious injury. That’s why many countries outlaw them. Earlier this year, we detailed the cruel and grisly toll of such devices in an in-depth story about bobcat trapping in America.

The new analysis is tedious but definitive. It identifies each country where traps are banned or restricted, along with a link to the law. On the list are several surprises, including China – a major market for U.S. trapped fur. Other trap-unfriendly nations include: Albania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Denmark, Ecuador, Gambia, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Rwanda, Sweden and Uruguay.

Pressure for trap reform is growing in the U.S. Last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to ban trapping on national wildlife refuges. In California, officials voted last year to ban all commercial bobcat trapping. In other states,... Read More >

Pot growers call for labor regulation after abuse disclosures

It’s been a few years since Hezekiah Allen, director of the California Growers Association, lived in the secretive folds of the Emerald Triangle. But it all came rushing back last week, when Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting published an investigation into sexual abuse in California’s pot country.

“It was a reminder of how insulated we are, even from each other,” Allen said. “It reminded me of the importance of talking to each other and the importance of promoting this dialogue.”

Allen opened his email and began drafting a letter to the association’s membership of growers. The subject line: “Stand together.”

Reveal’s investigation “details the appalling truth that humanity has a dark side,” he wrote.

Allen, whose group was instrumental in passing medical marijuana regulations into law last year, blamed the exploitation on the legacy of marijuana prohibition. (Allen does not back Proposition 64, the November ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, alleging that it favors larger farms and will push smaller ones onto the black market.)

“A multi-generational failure of public policy has given safe-harbor to criminals in our communities,” he wrote in his email.

Reveal’s investigation found that decades of battles between law enforcement and marijuana farmers have created a culture of silence that’s easily exploited by predators. Migrant workers, known as “trimmigrants,” are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

Allen and the California Growers Association now are calling for a series of solutions.

Marijuana growers and workers should be regulated, he said, noting the association is exploring a registration program for workers... Read More >

There’s discrimination amid the dust on government asbestos projects

Demolition and asbestos removal isn’t glorious work, but it’s crucial to renovating the many old government buildings spread around the nation’s capital. Workers in hard hats knock holes in walls, while others, in face masks with respirators, seal off the lung-scarring, cancer-causing fibers.

“It’s a dangerous job, but it pays pretty decent,” said Louis Gatling, a Washington, D.C., asbestos worker.

Asbestos abatement workers seal off and remove cancer-causing fibers.

Asbestos abatement workers seal off and remove cancer-causing fibers.Credit: Asbestos Testing/Flickr

It’s also ripe for racial discrimination. Certain government contractors don’t want to hire black workers, and they don’t treat their predominantly Latino workforce well either, according to interviews and a pair of government lawsuits.

“They’re not playing fair on the jobs,” said Gatling, who is black. “It’s sad but it’s true. We just deal with it. Something needs to be done about it.”

Take Maryland-based Potomac Abatement Inc., which has done work for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Smithsonian Institution and even the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Supervisors screamed obscenities at Hispanic employees and repeatedly sexually harassed Hispanic female employees,” says a lawsuit filed by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

“Our investigation found egregious behavior,” said the office’s director, Patricia Shiu, in a statement. “Potomac Abatement’s treatment of its workers is appalling.”

In Washington, D.C., the city requires contractors to hire a certain percentage of local workers for projects it funds. So the company added 17 black workers to its “almost entirely Hispanic” workforce to meet those rules.

After a few months, as those projects came to a close, the firm laid off all... Read More >

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