L.A . City Council Approves Measure To Name Stretch Of Melrose Avenue "Michelin Mile" After Restaurants Honored

Several Los Angeles streets have long been anointed with famous nicknames. There is  “The Sunset Strip”. A stretch of Wilshire Boulevard is known as “The Miracle Mile”. On the glum side, two miles of Vermont Avenue in South Central are known as Death Alley.

Now a new one will join the ranks; Welcome to the Michelin Mile.

Friday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to name a not-quite-a mile stretch of Melrose Avenue as “The Michelin Mile” due to the high concentration of restaurants that recently were honored by the esteemed Michelin Guide.

 “I think it’s high time we brought recognition to the deliciousness of our own city,” City Council president Herb Wesson said after the unanimous vote. “For two long New York and San Francisco have sought to be known as the dining capital of America. Those days are over.”

 Starting on the west end of the Michelin Mile is Osteria Mozza at Highland and Melrose which was awarded a Michelin star at the June 3rd ceremony. Next door, the beloved Pizzeria Mozza was listed in Michelin’s Bibb Gourmand guide which pays tribute to more casual, yet delicious restaurants.

 Cattycorner to Mozza, Petit Trois made it to the Bibb and Trois Mec earned a star.   A few blocks east, Providence received two Michelin stars and at the east end of the Michelin Mile – which is actually only eight-tenths of a mile long – was unexpected one star winner Kali, whose co- owners - chef Kevin Meehan and somm Drew Langley - are really good friends with Kate Green.

But, like almost all City Council actions, this one was not without protest.

Manik, owner of the Circle K on the northwest corner of Highland and Melrose, was livid about not being included in the Michelin Mile.

“You know damn well the Round K deserves a Bib,” said Manik from Dhaka, Bangladesh. “You need a bag of Fritos. Original, Scoups? We have it for you. You gonna get that at Little Mec? I don’t think so.”

On the southeast corner, the Valvoline, general manager Lewis Hamilton was thrilled about the designation. “To be part of the Michelin Mile is a true honor,” said Hamilton, who works part time for Mercedes Formula One. “We will strive to be worthy.”

The Mile could be even longer next year. Perhaps too new to be honored was Auburn, the bright new spot at the old Citrus space, which got a excellent review from the Times’ Phil Addersen.

As for Chi Spacca, please see the accompanying article.

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As A City Mourns Nipsey Hussle In The Staples Center, A Family Mourns Maurice Forte In Nickerson Gardens

Josiah Walker stayed up late Saturday night - past midnight into Sunday morning -because that day, April 7th, was a big deal to him. It was his 10th birthday. Not long after he turned 10, Josiah heard three gunshots. He was in Nickerson Gardens, Watts, a place long accustomed to the wicked sound.

His mother, Jacqueline, a bit hard of hearing. didn’t hear the shots, but she soon heard the commotion at the front door of her unit. Justice, the 17 year-old girlfriend of her son Maurice Forte, 18, was there in full distress. Maurice had just been shot.

Jacqueline ran outside, to Imperial Highway near Parmelee Avenue, to a metal gate entrance along the sidewalk of the projects, and saw that worst sight a mother could see; Her son’s lifeless body, three red holes on his sweatshirt.

As the city today focused on the death of beloved rapper Nipsey Hussle, as peace marches spurned by his shooting have attracted thousands to Crenshaw and Slauson and lead the local news, the struggles of Watts went on almost unnoticed west of Central Avenue.  

But, here, inside Watts, the pain was as unbearable as ever.

A nearly lifelong Nickerson Gardens female resident who goes by the name Red led me to Maurice’s mother’s apartment. Red used to live next door and knew the slain boy when he was yay high.

Jacqueline Walker comes to the front door to meet us. She is not in tears. She is not red-eyed. She seems, actually, kind of drained of emotion. As if the last two days she’s been in Zombieland. It’s not that she’s medicated, it’s just that she’s so brokenhearted her emotions have run dry.

Red hugs her.  She looks at me and, before I even say a word, she politely says “I just want to let you know there are no words of comfort that can make me feel better. There are no words.”

So I say nothing, in hopes she will continue, maybe start talking about her son without a prompt. She doesn’t.    

In an effort to obtain instant credibility, I tell her “I’ve been covering Watts for close to 30 years. I’m old friends with Kartoon and with Loaf.”

She looks at me blankly. Kartoon, I repeat. Loaf, Nothing. No reaction. “You don’t know of Kartoon or Loaf,” I asked, mentioning two legendary men around these parts. She shakes her head, in an almost embarrassed way.

Red bursts into laughter. “That right there shows you how square she is. You live in Nickerson Gardens and don’t know Kartoon or Loaf?  Girl, you gotta be the squarest lady up in here.” Red burst into laughter. And, almost certainly for the first time in over 48 hours, so does Jacqueline.

It turns out this “Kartoon”, whose name is Ronald Antwine, came across the crime scene almost immediately after it occurred.

“Moe was already dead,” Kartoon said as he stood in front of the Nickerson Gardens gym, famous for a small mural that says “Nobody Can Stop This War But Us” and larger ones listing the names of residents who have died, both naturally and violently.

Antwine had been at a friend’s party earlier Saturday night. Here is some of what he wrote to me later;

“I  went to my lifelong friend Greg’s 60th birthday party, The odds were stacked against us to live a full life years ago. I sat and partied with my O.G’s and the reunion was priceless.

“I left that party and went to another where I sat with an O.G. who, at one time, would have been labeled as my enemy. We talk about, not only Nipsey Hussle’s murder, but the gang culture here in Watts and South Central. We both acknowledged the lack of respect many youngsters display, the disloyalty and the devaluation of life. After a lengthy conversation we parted ways in the hopes of ending our night peacefully.

“In less than 10 minutes the uplifted spirit of mine fell from its heights, my emotions became unstable, my life felt so empty. A few seconds in front of me an act of  cowardice took place, I pulled over knowing I couldn’t render any assistance. I watched a young man take his last breath.”

“I feel bad about Nip, It’s a tragedy.  But, his funeral gonna be at Staples Center and the whole city will be watching and grieving. What about the family here grieving for their kid.”  

.“I’m tired, just simply tired of what has become just another day in the hood.”

The LAPD would only say their investigation is continuing.

“We’re working on a few thing, but we’re in the infancy of the investigation,” said Det. Arron Harrington of LAPD’s South Bureau Homicide.

Since the killing, as is common after a shooting, rumors have been rampant and Harrington doesn’t want to encourage more. A video even briefly surfaced on Facebook of the fallen young man.  

Back at Jacqueline’s, her and Red stood at the entrance of the two units, an area maybe 15 square feet. This was Moe’s childhood playground, they say.  His family wouldn’t let him venture out into the projects, home of the Bounty Hunter Bloods, one of America’s most infamous street gangs.

Maurice’s confinement didn’t last. After being bussed to middle school, the small confines of the porch was no longer possible and Moe started to hang out. In short time, he was getting into trouble. He did time in juvenile camp for being a look out on a burglary, a crime that both his mother and Red had another laugh about.

“I don’t even think he knew what he was doing,” said Red. “He was supposed to be a look out on a burglary and he was playing on the phone when the police drove by.  He sure couldn’t be my lookout when I was robbing banks.”

Soon, Maurice had sprouted to 6-foot, 1” and became known in some circle  as “Big Moe”. His troubles continued and he, while not a ruthless hard core killer, would end up in camp or juvenile hall, usually for a failure to appear that a warrant had been issued for. “Everyone around here would remember him as a good kid,” said Red. “But, in Nickerson Gardens, you can’t help but know your neighbors and if they happen to be Bounty Hunters, you just can’t ignore them.”

Jacqueline suddenly remembers his probation officers, a Mrs. Grimes from the Compton office. “She is going to be devastated. She was very kind to Maurice.”  

It’s often hard for people, even if they live here in, say, West L.A. or Encino to understand or even give a damn when a gang member dies. The first, knee jerk response is usually “Well, he was a gang member. What did he expect?”  What, they don’t understand is in some places it’s safer, certainly easier to be in a gang than not.  And being in a gang doesn’t make you a killer. In the city’s most notorious gangs; Bounty Hunters, Grape Street, Rollin’ 60s, Hoover Criminals, shot callers have told me the vast majority – up to 90, 95% - are not “true riders”, the hard core who “put in work” for the gang.  

Still, the newspapers are full of two word biographies -  “gang member” – to describe the life of a countless homicide victims. But, who was that person?

Maurice’s girlfriend, Justice, who was with him when he was killed as they were walking to a market,  said she met him three years ago when she was only 14.. “Months later, he asked me to be his girlfriend.”

Justice in a soft, barely audible voice, spoke of his gentleness, his thoughtfulness.  

“I never expected him to do half of things he did for me. If I needed to talk, he wanted to listen. He wouldn’t butt in and say something, he would let me talk.  He was always there for me.”

Later, Justice texted me the following

“I have something else I want to add. He was the first boy to meet my father and my father loved him so.  That made me love him even more. Maurice was such an adventure. We were always happy. I love him and I will forever cherish him in my heart.”

Reached by phone, Moe’s sister Kiearra can’t speak other than to say “This is about to be hard.”  She hands the phone to another brother, Jahmile.

“He was a loving person,” Jahmiel Forte, Jr. said “He would never want to hurt anyone. He was all about family.  He loved music. Loved rap. We’d sing together.”

Thinking, reaching for some sap, that  I might get an ironic Nipsey Hussle shout-out, I ask “Who was his favorite rapper?’

“Himself,” said his sister Kiearra, returning to the phone. “He was his favorite rapper. Only thing, was he never go to finish a song.”

Another sister, Janae, Forte, 20. said her brother was always smiling and would never let anyone know if he was down.

“There was never a day when he showed anger or sadness,” she said. “If he ever was, no one knew because he would keep it to himself.”

Back in Nickerson Gardens, his mother talked about his dreams of becoming in the music business and getting out of this neighborhood.

“He wanted to go someplace peaceful,” said Jacqueline. She said that three more times. Each time a little softer, almost like she was  thinking -or at least hoping – he is there now.

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Robert Mueller To Investigate Murder Cases Of LAPD Det. Chris Barling For "Collusion With Watts Gang Members"

One day before he is scheduled to retire from the Los Angeles Police Department, legendary homicide detective Christopher Barling was dealt a shocking blow when word leaked that the United States Justice Dept. had assigned Robert Mueller III to prepare a report regarding his possible “collusion with Watts street gang members”, authorities said Wednesday.

The report by Mueller, who just finished a much-publicized investigation on the possible links between Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, could put in jeopardy the more than 8,900 homicide cases Barling worked and cleared. “If it turns out Barling colluded with gang members in Watts, all those cases could be reviewed and likely thousands of them would be overturned,” said a federal law enforcement source speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If that happens the streets of Los Angeles would be flooded with convicted killers.”

What sparked the Justice Dept. investigation was discovery of a nearly 30-year-old internal memo that was leaked to the Washington Post and Krikorian Writes over the weekend and has since been thoroughly vetted.. The memo, from a active current member of LAPD’s storied Robbery-Homicide Division, details incidents of collusion in which Barling is alleged to have been involved in as far back as 1990.

Though heavily redacted, the statements are from Det. Tim Marica, who once partnered with Barling in the Southeast Division which includes Watts. Here is what the Washington Post published online earlier today, Wednesday, with redactions intact.

“In 1990, Barling and I were assigned to Gang Unit in SOE ([sic] Div.. Being young officers, we would come in early and meet with homicide dets. The rest of the coppers in the unit were always dumbfounded on how Barling always had inside information on the Bounty ####### and the P#s. When making an awesome arrest, he’d play it ff by saying “I’m really an O’Barling and it’s just luck of the irish.” Then, one day, I saw him in Grape Stre## hood on his day off. I snuck up and heard him talking to an OG. That’s when I heard it. O’Barling claimed he was actually a gangster and had been jumped in by the E/S Patty Crip set. From what i could hear O’Barling had made an alliance with Grape ##### Cri##. He’d lay off of them as long as they gave up info on other rival gangs in the projects.”

Det. Marcia did not respond to repeated phone calls, texts, and E-mails.

Barling, a 32-year veteran of the LAPD, has long been among the most respected detectives in the modern history of the city. A former employee at Disneyland, he gained fame in 1997 during the double murder trial of Cleamon “Big Evil” Johnson when he testified as a gang expert and spoke nonstop for a record 17 hours straight. In a memorable moment of the trial, Big Evil told the judge, Charles E. Horan, ”I’ll confess if this motherfucker just shuts the fuck up.” **

When reminded of that long-winded incident in 1997, retired LAPD homicide detective John Skaggs found it difficult to believe Johnson told that to judge Horan. “I always thought Barling was in cahoots with Big Evil,” Skaggs said.

Still, one of Barling’s closest colleagues, Sal LaBarbera, agreed that Barling could talk with the best of them.. “We called him “The Filibuster’,” LaBarbara, said “He would talk everyone’s ear off until you would see things his way.”

Still, most current and retired LAPD personnel who worked with Barling were stunned by the news of the Mueller investigation.

“No comment,” said Capt. Cory Palka, commander of the Hollywood Division who knew Barling from the 77th. Palka claimed he had no idea about the Mueller probe.

Rob Bub, an LAPD homicide investigator for 22 years and currently co-director of investigations at the Los Angeles Detective Agency, said he had always respected Barling’s skills, but started to get suspicious of him last year..

“I think I really started to suspect [collusion] when I heard there was a deal in the works to rename the Watts Towers the Barling Towers,” Bub said.

A veteran crime reporter for the L.A. Times said she wasn’t shocked by the allegations.

“Barling has been playing both sides since before I was born,” said Nicole Santa Cruz. “It’s the worst kept secret in the South end. Despite that, I’m still really going to miss him.”

One member of the Grape Street gave an insight on how Barling benefitted from “insider info” gleaned from gang members.

“Say, for ‘zample, Barling got T Bone from the PJs in the box,” said the gang member who spoke on the condition of anonymity and if I would get him a 40. “We know Bone got a thing for a hottie from the Folsom Lot in the Nickersons who go by ‘Shiitake’. Ya know, like that mushroom. Anyway, So, Barling gets to interviewing T Bone and starts going on and on about Shiitake. You feel me? ‘Fore you know it, Bone giving it up just to get 411 on her. You feel me? On the street we call that fuckin’ with a homie. But, on CNN that’s called ‘collusion’.”

Despite the allegations. many spoke in awe of Barling’s skill, his caring and his single-minded pursuit.of bringing some type of justice to the families of the fallen. One of them was Rick Gordon who has worked with Baring since 1993. He spoke for many when he said the following;

“I always used to tell Chris that he ‘may be’ the best homicide detective supervisor that I have ever worked with. I would always say ‘may be’ because i’ve worked with so may great people and I didn’t want it going to his head. Now that he’s retiring, I was finally able to tell him that he was the best of the best.”

Gordon continued. “Chris was the complete package. He knowledge, work ethic, leadership skills, and compassion for others was truly remarkable. He was a great teacher and mentor for new homicide detectives. Most of all. he truly cared about providing justice for families of murder victims.”

Barling declined to comment for this article and referred all questions to his attorney, Michael Avenatti.

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Chris Barling represents what is good about - not only the LAPD - but police forces around the world. Barling is a person whose mission is to not let you get away with murder. Many of my friends hate him.

PUBLISHER ’S NOTE - When one of our journalists, Michael Krikorian, approached Det. Chris Barling about doing a serious article about his career at the LAPD, the detective was against the idea. He did not want a glowing, even gushy farewell to the murder cop story. When Krikorian said “How about a fictional story about you being investigated for collusion?”, Barling was all in. So here it is. I added this note because, according to sources in the department - police, not Justice - many people thought Barling really was in the shithouse with Mueller and company. Stay tuned.

As for Barling, here is a story from five and a half years ago on why he - and others - do what they do. It was known as the the Craigslist Cell Phone Killing. http://www.krikorianwrites.com/blog/2013/10/28/daughter-of-slain-man-thanks-detectives-for-arrests

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Limited "Nancy Dog" At Sumo Rated #1 Hot Dog In America, Proceeds Go To Midnight Basketball League In Watts

For the first time since 1947 when hot dogs were first rated nationally, a version available in Los Angeles has awarded the prestigious "Top Dog"  honors by the Restaurant Critics Association of America, it was announced Wednesday.

The winner, the "Nancy Dog", the creation of Nancy Silverton for Sumo Dog on Western Avenue in Koreatown, will only be available until January 22  and cost $9  with 20% ($1,80) of each sale going to help fund the Nickerson Gardens Recreation Center participation in the Midnight Basketball League in Watts.   

The Silverton creation - with contributions from Osteria Mozza chef Elizabeth "Go Go" Hong and chi Spacca chef Ryan DeNicola -  consists of a beef hot dog from the renowned Snake River Farms, provolone cheese, Calabrese aioli, pickles, onions, pepperoncini and wild oregano on a Martin's potato roll. One good bite and you'll know why the RCAA voted it best hot dog in the country. The worrisome news is the Nancy Dog will only be available until January 22.

The Midnight Basketball league is a nationwide non-profit founded in 1986 by G Van Standifer, a Army veteran and government worker who died in 1992. Here is a quote from him on the website http://www.amblp.com/.   "The Midnight Basketball League is is not just about playing basketball. It’s about providing a vehicle upon which citizens, businesses, and institutions can get involved in the war against crime, violence, and drug abuse”,

In Watts, the league plays not only in Nickerson Gardens, but at the nearby Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts projects as well.  The gym at Nickerson Gardens features a mural created by Brian "Loaf" McLucas - an old friend - which reads "Nobody Can Stop This War But Us"  That is a purpose of the basketball games.

(To read about the Wall  check  this  http://www.krikorianwrites.com/blog/2015/5/20/n402txn86sibadqyn1vvprx0p0amss)

Back to the Nancy Dog. Wednesday was the first day the special treat was made available to the pubic, but several restaurant professionals were given an advance taste over the previous weekend. They were stunned by the depth of flavor. 

"When I first bite into it, I thought I should get out of the haute cuisine life  and try the top the Nancy Dog," said Joel Robuchon.  the world's most honored chef. "But, then I thought there was no way I could top a hot dog made by Nancy Silverton."

Sumo Dog is at 516 S. Western Avenue. The website is https://www.eatsumodog.com/  Sumo Dog opens everyday at 11:30 a.m. and closes at midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. other days. 

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A Mom, A Son, A Public Defender, A Deputy D.A., Mark Twain and Barney Fife

About three weeks ago, while on vacation,  I received the following text; ‘My name is Lavedia Williams   Guys from Nickerson Gardens told me to contact you   I have a story”

I text back that I’d get with her when I return to L.A.  I did.  This is her story.

On July 18, 2017, her son, Devaughn James, 23, on parole since February after serving time for a residential burglary in Cerritos, is stopped near the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts for driving a car – his girlfriend’s - with expired tags.

(I guess it should be noted up top that James, who grew up in Pomona before coming to live in Watts with his mother at age 16, was not a member of the Bounty Hunters, the notorious Blood gang that rules the projects.)

“The sheriffs pulled us over at 113th and Bellhaven for expired tags,” says Lawren Huff, 24, James’ girlfriend of three years.  “It was my car and he had a valid license.”

During the stop, the deputy, a guy named Rothwick (who I didn’t reach), is, according to Huff, “very polite”.  

“He asked Devaughn if he was on parole and when Devaughn said ‘yes’, he asked ‘what for?’,” says Huff.

“A residential burglary,” James replies.

“Was it a bullshit charge or legit?” deputy Rothwick asks.

“No, it was legit. I did the crime,” answers James, who did the time, too, 17 months, much of it at a fire camp near Santa Clarita.

Rothwick - or his partner in the cruiser  - run the address James gave them as his current residence. Their in-car computer shows a gun is registered to that address which is his mother’s home located a few blocks away on 113th and Wadsworth Avenue.

They place James in the patrol car and drive to the address. They knock. Lavedia Williams answers the door. Deputy Rothwick explains the situation.

She invites him into her spotless four-bedroom home. She shows him the gun in her bedroom, which has a lock on the door. He calls in a sergeant. They video the scene. They take the gun and take her son to the sheriff’s station.

They explain to the mom they will get a hold of James’ parole officer and then he will be released.

But, they can’t reach his parole officer. Instead, he is charged as a felon with access to and in possession of a firearm.   He is sent to the county jail facility known as Wayside, near Magic Mountain.

And Devaughn James is facing seven years in prison for that gun.

By the time I get to Williams’ house. In late August. she’s a nervous wreck.

“This could ruin my son’s life,” she says, “I was honest with the sheriffs. I shoulda lied and or just not let them in the house.  But, I told them the truth. It was my gun. My mom gave it to me so many years ago. It’s an heirloom.  An old .32 revolver. It wasn’t even loaded. I only have two bullets and I keep them nearby, but not in the gun.”

Bam! And just like that. I have the lede for this story. This woman has twice the fire power of Barney Fife. I’ll get to that later.

Williams tells me about herself. She’s a former rabble-rouser from Nickerson Gardens who is tight with several guys I've known for decades.  I mean she knows Loaf, Kartoon, Big Hank, Big Donnie. She’s impressed I know all these guys. It vastly helps my credibility and her comfort level.  On the other hand, her knowing them lets me know I’m not dealing with Mary Poppins.

And just like that, she admits to being “in the life” back in the day. She fought. She dealt. She used. She represented. But, that was then. This is now. She’s been clean for 15 years. Now she’s a protective mother.

I take more notes. And vow to keep in touch. She gives me the next court date. I say I’ll try and make it. But, when that court date rolls around, I’m outta pocket.  

Nothing happens in court that day anyway and the case is postponed until Sept. 15.  This past Friday.

A week ago, I talk to Williams. She is more worried than ever. He son was at Wayside when a race riot breaks out. Two inmates are seriously injured. It’s an unsettling experience for James – 5’ 8’, 145 -  and probably more so for her. She says her son told her he was “surrounded by 30 Hispanics.” at one point.  This is not fire camp in Santa Clarita. Wayside don’t play.

Lavedia says again she hopes I can make it to court.  

So, Friday, I come to Compton Court. 10th Floor. High security. I have lot of memories here. Most of them bad.

But, I’m not thinking of the bad times here: my namesake, Michael Jr., being sentenced to a long prison term; me in the lockup downstairs twice; the many tearful testimonies of kin of the killed.

Instead, I am gratefully thinking of one glorious memory here, a moment as liberating as I’ve ever known. It was about 30 years ago and I’m facing several years for a bar room brawl that spiraled out of control. I didn’t start it, but I ended it. I had thirty times the firepower of Barney Fife and all of it loaded.

I’m hoping, praying I get a year, maybe two, when the lawyer my dad hired, one brilliant attorney named Paul Geregos, (father of Mark) tells me the deputy district attorney and the judge have agreed to cut me a ton of slack. Time served and a month at Men’s Central.

I’m deep into this grateful thought – partly thinking with dread about where I would have ended up if I got the years - when an attractive young woman asks me “Are you Mike? Mike the writer?’  It’s Devaughn James’ girlfriend, Lawren. We talk. She details that traffic stop. Then Lavedia shows up. And then Devaughn’s sister. Then Lavedia’s boyfriend, Anthony.

Lavedia is thinking the worst case. I try to calm her.

“You ever hear that line by Mark Twain about worries?” I ask.

No.

“Some of my biggest worries never happened,” I tell her, paraphrasing one of the great quotes.

She repeats it.  

Then James’ public defender, A. J. Bayne, exits another courtroom and speaks to the family. He seems surprised that a reporter is there. I explained I’m a former Times staffer, and Watts – and South Central -  was my beat and though I’m no longer on staff, I write an occasional op-ed for them. And I have this website.

“I know this isn’t a big front-page story,” I explain. “A triple murder or something. But, it’s a front-page story to this family.”

He seems to get that  Bayne is clearly a busy public defender.  He points to yet another courtroom and says he’s on a trial in there, too.  Maybe we can talk later. Before he rushes off,  he gives me a little on this case.

“This is not a strong case,” he says as he shuffles some papers, “I think if we go to trial, we will win.”

However, he says “the 459 (Burglary) conviction will taint him with some jurors, but at worst they would be a hung jury.”

He adds the value of the family being at the courtroom.  “It’s very important the family shows up,” Bayne says. “Plus, they have credibility. I believe the mother. And another good thing for Devaughn is the D.A..  She’s reasonable.”

We wait outside. Lavedia asks me to repeat that Mark Twain quote.

Then deputy district attorney. Linda Davis arrives. She’s seen it all. About 10 years in Compton Court. Countless cases based in or near Nickerson Gardens.

Presiding in the court room, Dept. F, is Judge H. Clay Jacke II.  Beside the court reporter, the Deputy D. A. , the P.D., it’s just the family on one side of the courtroom seats and me on the other. I’m closer to the attorneys and try to listen in one their whispers.

P.D. Bayne is showing deputy D.A. Davis a video his investigator took that shows the lock on Lavedia’s bedroom door. They speak too softly to eavesdrop. But, there are some nods.  

Then about four, five minutes later, A. J. Bayne walks over Lavedia and says, not too softly. “He’ll be home for dinner tonight.”

She briefly convulses in joy. The girlfriend drops some tears. The sister does, too. Anthony smiles. I think back 30 something  years.

Devaughn comes out and pleads, as agreed,  “no contest”, a version of guilty, but usually associated with a good deal. He is sentenced to four years in prison, but suspended.  Suspended means if you stay clean, don’t violate parole or probation, you don’t go to prison. The gun will be destroyed.

The family is thrilled, though Lavedia hopes to get it completely wiped off his record one day. The public defender is proud he got the guy a deal. Even the deputy D.A. is satisfied. She says that family showing up was important. And she got a gun destroyed.

The only person who was a little disappointed in the outcome was my crusty old editor Morty Goldstein, Jr., a curmudgeonly, nearly-fictional character.

He had hoped, after hearing about the two bullets laying near the gun, not even in the chambers, to use the following lede.

In the “Andy Griffith Show” of 1960s television. bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife was issued an unloaded Colt .38 caliber revolver.  Sheriff Andy Taylor allowed him a single bullet that was to be kept in his uniform’s pocket and- only in an emergency – loaded into the gun.

Lavedia Williams of Watts had double the fire power of Barney Fife. Lavedia had unloaded “heirloom”  .32. caliber revolver – a gift from her mother – stashed in the night stand of her usually-locked bedroom with two bullets laying nearby.

That old gun and those two bullets could cost her son seven years in prison.

But, even ‘ol Morty Goldstein is happy we don’t have to go with that lede.

“When that public defender,,, What's his name? A. J. Foyt?”

“A. J. Bayne.”

“Yeah. When A. J. tells the mom ‘He’ll be home for dinner tonight’, man, even I got a little misty.”

Coming from Morty Goldstein, Jr., that’s saying a lot.   So Devaughn James, stay outta trouble.

Lavedia

Lavedia Willaims at home.

John Skaggs, Big City Homicide Detective With A Mayberry Heart, Retires From LAPD

June 30, 2017

February, 2005 – LAPD Officer Sam Marullo and his homicide training officer Det. John Skaggs are driving past the sprawling U.S. Post Office facility on Central and Florence avenues in South Central Los Angeles.

 “You know, Marullo, this is the largest mail facility west of the Mississippi.”

 Murullo looks up from a Grape Street murder book he’s been studying and says “Dayum!”

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Besides his father Ronnie, who was a homicide detective for the Long Beach Police Department, there was a fictional detective who inspired John Skaggs to go into law enforcement. But, it was not super cool Steve McQueen with his ’68 Mustang 390 GT of “Bullitt” or deadly Clint Eastwood with his .44 magnum of “Dirty Harry”. It was that soft-spoken, kind and – most of all – respectful Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

 “My favorite TV show as a kid and today was the cop show ‘Andy Griffith’,” said Skaggs, a 30-year veteran of the LAPD who is retiring today. “There was some life lesson learned from every episode about morals and relationships.  I have taken away many ideas from that show on how to treat people with respect, and deal with courage and bravery.”

Although Skaggs, 52, grew up in Long Beach around cops – his uncle was a deputy chief for the LAPD who retired in 1986 – he didn’t seriously consider law enforcement as a career until he was about 17. 

“I got into some trouble as a kid and decided I needed to get away from some bad influences. Soon after, I developed my desire to be a police officer and joined the police academy and never looked back.”

After graduating, he requested to be sent to either of the city’s two highest crime rate areas. 

“I chose 77th Street Division, which covers South-Central, and Southeast Division, which covers Watts.  These two were the busiest Divisions, and they had the largest gang problems.”

Skaggs knew from going to high school in Long Beach and witnessing what was happening on inner city streets and in schools that gang enforcement would be where he could have the biggest impact on people's quality of life.

“The main reason I joined LAPD, was because they were the only police department with a true gang unit.  Their Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) Unit was devoted to one thing, gang suppression.  I joined the LAPD to be a gang officer. I could chase gang members that were responsible for most violent crimes and completely ruined communities with fear and intimidation.”

But, along the wide ride, Skaggs discovered something many cops, journalists and regular folk don’t realize; Gang members are humans, too.

“One thing that stands out is the number of gangsters I built friendly relationships with that were later killed,” Skaggs said. “Many tried to get out of 'hood life.  I observed very often that I was the only person in their lives that ever encouraged them to go legit and get an education or job that would lead to a career.  So many of them had no positive influence in their lives and no role models.”

Rob Bub, who recently retired from the LAPD after 22 years in homicide, was Skaggs' field training officer.

“If you are a training officer, John was the guy wanted to have,” said retired LAPD homicide detective Rob Bub, who was Skaggs’ training officer.

“John knew what he didn’t know and what he needed to learn,” said Bub

The very first day Bub was training Skaggs, they got a call for a man with a knife in a domestic dispute.

“We roll up on the scene and we go around the back of the house on Figueroa,” explained Bub. “And there was this Hispanic guy with a 12-inch kitchen knife. I’m thinking John’s first shift and we are gonna end up dumping somebody.”

The two took up tactical positions and Bub had an idea. He knew Skaggs was fresh out of the academy where they teach rudimentary Spanish.

“Knock him dead with your Spanish,” Bub told Skaggs. “And John talked him out of it. He dropped the knife. It was refreshing to see someone on their first day who knew what to do.”

Christopher Barling, homicide coordinator of the 77th , met Skaggs 30 years ago at the police academy. They were at CRASH together and partners on and off for five years at Southeast. 

“Without a doubt John is one of the best homicide detectives in the LAPD thanks, in large part, to his persistence and stubbornness,” said Barling.“  The characteristics of persistence is not unique among detectives, but John Skaggs has perfected it. "He’s like that old salesman who is about to get shut down and told to leave and at the very last moment, he sticks his foot in front of the closing door.”

It’s not breaking news that the most difficult part of the murder investigations, especially on the Southside of Los Angeles, is getting witnesses. There is the fear of retaliation. Fear of going to court. Fear of being labeled a snitch. And, coming in first place, the fear of getting shot to death for cooperating with the dreaded enemy; the police.

Barling said Skaggs had and knack for getting people to open-up.

“One of John’s greatest gifts was the ability to get someone on his side. He is going to take care of a witness. He has this talent for building a bond with people. And he is very sincere.”

Skaggs also had the talent for pissing people off, Barling said. His fellow detectives, the younger officers, and even his captains and commanders were fair game..

“As his partner, sometimes John’s stubbornness drove me crazy,” Barling said. “He is so strong willed, so strongly opinionated that sometimes he did not want to listen to anyone.”

And Skaggs was never one to apply a coat of sugar.

“People don’t like to hear they are wrong, but Skaggs had no problem telling people what he thought of them,” said Barling. “Me, I might try and finesse a situation. But, John would just tell them 'You’re wrong'."

“In John’s world, you are either helpful or you are a dumb ass.”

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck lavished praise on Skaggs.

“There is nothing more honorable in policing than detective work,” Beck said via E-mail.  “The dogged determination and intelligent pursuit of the truth required are the best of our qualities.  John Skaggs was born to be just such a detective. He is relentless and brilliant in his hunt for the worst mankind has to offer.  I have depended on him to solve our most important cases.”

In 2009, Beck promoted Skaggs to head the West Bureau Homicide which is currently located at the Olympic Division on Vermont and 11th Street.

“I was proud to promote him so he could pass his skills to those under his command,” Beck said.  “I will miss having him to rely on, but his retirement is well earned.”

Skaggs will expand his role as a teacher and consultant for government programs that assist police departments across the country with high homicide rates and low clearances.

Skaggs will likely teach these departments the value of a good CI.  A CI, or Confidential Informant, is an essential player for a successful homicide detective. Skaggs had some of the best.

“We would be stuck on a case, and John would go off somewhere and talk to one of his informants,” said Sal LaBarbera. another storied LAPD homicide detective who retired in 2015. “Ten, 20 minutes later, he’d come back with some vital information. I’d say ‘How the hell did you get that?’ Even though I knew.”

One of Skaggs prime CI’s talked about him with the proviso her name would not be used.

“I was arrested for prostituting on Figueroa 19, 20  years ago or so and I told the officer ‘What if I told you about a murder?’ Next thing I knew I was taking to John Skaggs. He told me to trust him and I did. Was one of my best decisions. One thing about John. If he gave you his word, he honored it. His word was his bond.”

The woman, hooked on crack, was later involved with a carjacking and did six years in prison. When she got out, she called on Skaggs.

“He was there for me. He helped me stay sober.   I got in a [drug and alcohol] treatment place and John would come visit me.”

She has been clean and sober for six years now.

“Five of those six years John was there to hand me my sobriety cake,” she said. “When life shows up and I need that shoulder to cry on, John is there for me.”

August, 2005 – LAPD Officer Sam Marullo and his homicide training officer Det. John Skaggs are driving by the sprawling U.S. Post Office facility on Central and Florence avenues in South Central Los Angeles.

 Marullo’s head is deep into a Mad Swan Bloods vs. Main Street Crip killing.

 Skaggs points at the post officer.

 “You know, Sam, this is the largest mail facility west of the Mississippi.”

 “I didn’t know that. Must be a whole lotta letters up in there.”

 LaBarbera said Skaggs solved more of his cases than anyone he knew.  “More than me. More than Barling. He had great persistence.”

Skaggs most famous case was detailed in L.A Times reporter Jill Leovy’s outstanding book “Ghettoside”. All of Skaggs talents are revealed as he successfully investigates the killing of Bryant Alexander Tennelle, son of LAPD homicide detective Wallace Tennelle. 

“If you read the book,”. Leovy said, “It might seem like John is a caricature of a homicide detective, But, in reality, I downplayed him. He really cares deeply about the cases. He has this laser focus. By the way, he thought “Ghettoside” was a book about the [Tennelle] case and everything else in it was just filler.”

Two men were convicted of Tennelle’s murder and both are in prison.

Of, course, all the murders weren’t solved. One of them was the 2006 Watts killing of 25-year-old Anthony Wayne Owens, Jr. shot to death at Imperial Courts housing project.

But, mention Skaggs to Anthony’s mother and she passionately praises him.

“That there is a good man,” says Cynthia Mendenhall, much better known in Watts as community activist Sista Soulja.  When she is told Skaggs is retiring, Sista gets silent for several seconds before saying “For real? You’re gonna make me cry.”

“John Skaggs treated me and my family like we were his family,” said Sista, a former PJ Crip who turned peacemaker and community activist more 20 years ago.  “John was hurt he couldn’t solve Tony’s murder. But, he just couldn’t get what he wanted from the people that knew.  He took it personally.  He is, I guess now was, a great detective. He wasn’t there for the check. He was there for the people.  It was like he was on a mission to catch killers before another innocent life was lost”

Lashell Lewis is mother whose son’s murder was solved by Skaggs. 

In March, 2004, Edwin Johnson, 18, was visiting friends at 97th and Hickory in the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts. A car of rival drove by and Edwin was shot five times.

The mom said that though her son was born in L.A. , he was raised in Big Bear which did not prepare him for the mean streets.

“My son, not being raised in Watts, didn’t know how to dodge bullets,” said Lewis. “I was devastated. I put my faith in John.”

Eight months later, Skaggs having pulled out his main tools – perseverance, charm, trust, sincerity and respect –  solved the case.

“John treated me as a human person with love, kindness and respect,’ said Lewis. “He assured me he would not give up. He treated me, ya know, with love. I think of him not so much as a friend, but more like a big cousin or an uncle.”

March, 2006 – LAPD Officer Sam Marullo and his homicide training officer Det. John Skaggs are driving by the sprawling U.S. Post Office facility on Central and Florence avenues in South Central Los Angeles.

Marullo’s preparing himself to give a “notification” to mother whose 17-year-old son has been killed near Nickerson Gardens.

 Skaggs points at the post office.

 “You know, Sammy, this is the largest mail facility west of the Mississippi.”

 Marullo doesn’t even look up and just says “They must have stamps for days.”

Marullo, who formally became a homicide detective in February, 2014, is grateful for Skaggs’ mentorship. Still, he enjoys chiding Skaggs about the mail facility.

“Every single time we passed that place he would say that. ‘This is the largest mail facility west of the Mississippi.” And most every time I would act as though I hadn’t already heard that.  

When it came Marullo’s time to train officers, he followed his mentor’s tradition of telling them about the mail facility.

“I would then say, ‘Did I already tell you that?’ and they would say “Yeah, about three times.’ Millennials. I guess I came from a different era because each of the 15 times John told me that, I act as though it was the first time I heard that useless fact.”

Marullo said Skaggs had high expectations of him and that made him work harder and smarter.

“I find myself placing those same expectations on the trainees with whom I've worked.”

Marullo went on.

“John was dedicated to working murders.  He sacrificed half of his life to chasing killers.  He always left a positive impression on the victims' families and always followed through with his promise to do all that he could to find the person who killed their loved one. He is not only a mentor, but a friend.”  

This morning, shortly after 9 a.m., Skaggs landed at LAX after a week in Memphis and headed for his last shift.

“I’m leaving with a ton of great memories and a few bad ones after 30 years of service,” said Skaggs. “It was an awesome ride.”

Maybe if Frank Bullitt and Dirty Harry Callahan were real, they coulda learned a few things from John Skaggs, the big city detective with the small town heart. Check out the photo below. That’s a real homicide detective. Ain’t nothing Hollywood about it.

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The Ground Breaks At Mud Town Farms In Watts

Grape Street and baby kale are about as synonymous as Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis and the Peace Corps.

Yet Wednesday afternoon in Watts, baby kale - along with roasted brussels sprouts, grilled eggplant and red and yellow bell peppers  - starred in a buffet lunch at the groundbreaking ceremony of Mud Town Farms, a 2 1/2 acre plot near 103rd and Grape streets designed to be a model for the working urban garden. Mud Town Farms will have a mixed fruit orchard and a wide variety of crops, the first of which could be ready to harvest this summer.

"This is a dream project that was not supposed to happen, but it is happening," said Janine Watkins, a community activists whose family moved to the area in 1921. "This is a gift to the babies of one of the poorest  and most maligned communities in our city."

She said Mud Town Farms will help people of Watts form a special bond with the land that for many, if not most, has been missing.

"When you disconnect with Mother Earth, Mother Earth forgets who you are," she said. "Let's make this suffering ground come to life. Put down your cell phone and pick up a shovel. This dirt right here is Watts happening."

The Los Angeles City Council was represented by Councilman Joe Buscaino of the 15th District which includes Watts. He called Mud Town Farms the "re-imagination of 103rd and Grape Streets," as he thanked,  among others,  gang interventionist and social architect Aqeela Sherrillsand chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson whose restaurant LocaL is a half block away. 

Tim Watkins, the CEO of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, the non-profit that owns the land, looked at the chain link fence separating the farm from the Jordan Downs housing project and announced it would be replaced by "an edible fence", overflowing with fresh vegetables.

"People from the neighborhood will be welcome to come to the fence and pick what they need," Watkins told crowd of 150. "They won't have to sneak in at night.  If they take a little more than they can use, that's okay with me. It's here for them,  And if they want to get a little more involved in the garden, they can come inside the fence."

All the speeches went on. chef Eugene Johnson was at the grill, getting the buffet ready; The eggplants, the chick peas, the balsamic pomegranate vinaigrette, the tahini, the pumpkin seed pesto and, yes, the baby kale.  

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Howard Bingham, Legendary Photographer of Muhammad Ali, Dies At 77

On June 12, 1994, when O.J. Simpson left LAX. for Chicago shortly before midnight and roughly 90 minutes after Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed, storied photographer Howard Bingham was on the same flight. At Simpson’s fiery trial he was called to testify as to Simpson's demeanor

Naturally, Bingham was the only witness both defense and prosecution liked.

Johnnie Cochran, approaching the witness: “Are you a world-renowned photographer?”

Bingham: “The world's greatest.”

Cochran: “So, we’re clear about that.”

Later, on cross-examination, when Marcia Clark made a passing reference to Bingham as an outstanding photographer, Judge Lance Ito interrupted: “Uh, the world’s greatest.”

Bingham: “You’re a smart man, judge.”

Howard Bingham died Thursday, Dec. 15 at the age of 77.

"Howard, one of the kindest people I've known, used that kindness to win friends around the globe and help mankind by using his lens to reveal humanity in its stark, unblemished beauty." said Tim Watkins of the Watt Labor Community Action Committee who knew Bingham for over 50 years. "He photographed the greatest of greats yet never lost his connection and love for Watts where his family settled many decades ago.".

Bingham was a photographer for the African American newspaper Los Angeles Sentinel in 1962 when he was assigned to cover a professional fight by an up-an-coming young boxer named Cassius Clay. 

The rest, as has often been said, is history.

One of the great phone calls of my life came from Howard. I was at my desk at the Los Angeles Times after having covered Muhammad Ali coming to Watts in 1996 or '97..

The phone rang. I picked up.

"This is Howard Bingham. The Champ wants to talk to you."

An Oasis Blooms In Watts; Dorothy Sampson and Her Roses

More than 19 years ago, I was H2H, ( heading to a homicide) on 102nd and Grape when I noticed a profusion of color to my left. Hundreds of rose bushes were in full bloom near the corner of Grandee Avenue and Century Boulevard. It was the rose garden at the Watts Senior Center. I went back later and talked to the caretaker of the garden, the lovely and spirited Dorothy Sampson.

Yesterday, I stopped in on the way to Jordan Downs and learned Dorothy, now 82,  had retired two years ago. In 2007, the city council voted to renamed this oasis as the Dorothy Sampson Senior Center and Rose Garden.Rose.

I wrote the story below that ran in the Los Angeles Times on January 1, 1997.  

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Today in Pasadena, hundreds of thousands of people will watch the nation's best-known celebration of the rose. On Thursday in Watts, one person will continue her work on a quieter tribute--the smallest nationally accredited rose garden in America.

Dorothy Sampson will don overalls, grab pruning shears and lovingly tend the Watts Senior Citizens Center Rose Garden.

"I love this place," said Sampson, 63, the gardener at the center, pruning her way through the 480 rosebushes.

The rose garden near the tracks of the Metro Blue Line grew from a dream that germinated eight years ago.

In 1988, Dolores Van Rensalier, then the director of the center, took a group of seniors citizens to Exposition Park's rose garden near the Coliseum. A member of the group, Arvella Grigsby, taken by the beauty of the roses, sadly remarked that it was "too bad there will never be a beautiful public rose garden in Watts."

"I said, 'Why not?' " Van Rensalier recalls. "From that moment on, I was determined to have a rose garden in Watts. Everybody laughed at the idea. They thought the roses would be stolen. Even Arvella patted me on the back and said, 'That's OK, dear.' "

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But it wasn't OK with Van Rensalier, a native New Yorker who vowed to create a place of beauty in a neighborhood too well-known for its negatives.

"It doesn't take a lot of people to make a difference," Van Rensalier said from her office at City Hall, where she works for the Department of Recreation and Parks. "Just a few people is all it takes."

Thanks to Van Rensalier, Sampson and crews from the parks department, Watts now has a true garden spot at 1657 E. Century Blvd.

The first roses were planted in 1990. By 1994, the garden was given national accreditation by All-America Rose Selections, based in Chicago. The organization usually requires a garden to have a minimum of 800 bushes before it is accredited, but waived that for the Watts garden, which at the time had fewer than 300.

"We think that a garden is such a wonderful place to reflect, especially in an urban environment like Watts, that the community deserved accreditation," said Patti Tobin, the organization's director of communications. Being accredited allows the garden to receive about 40 of the year's top-rated new roses from the accrediting group.

Today, the garden still has fewer roses than any of the nation's more than 130 other accredited gardens. Nonetheless, there are 480 rosebushes and 25 varieties at the Watts garden, which is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

One month after the first bushes were planted, Sampson was hired as the full-time gardener. She had developed an early love for gardening while growing up in Louisiana. Her father would come home from his day job and work on his plot until dark.

"I'd hear that old hoe go 'chomp, chomp,' and I would have to go out and help him," Sampson said.

Sampson married a man who didn't care for the outdoors, so they made a deal: He'd make the breakfast, she'd work in the yard.

"It worked out fine, until he had company over," she laughed. "He would say, 'Look at you, look at you.' "

After she retired in 1983 from her manufacturing job, Sampson began to work as a professional gardener. Not until last year, at 62, did she stop cutting lawns. Now she has only roses to tend.

"It's nice to go by and see this," Juan Mendoza, 19, said as he strolled by the garden on his way to a market.

Mendoza remembers the plot of earth before the roses bloomed.

"It used to be bunk. Now it's cool. The guys around here respect this place," he said, gesturing at the graffiti-scarred neighborhood, a stark contrast to the clean walls of the senior citizens center.

There were a few thefts of rosebushes during the early years of the garden, but they have stopped, residents said.

For motorists driving down Century Boulevard near the Blue Line tracks, the garden provides a stunning splash of color most of the year. This week, however, Sampson is finishing the yearly pruning of the bushes, and soon nothing but bare canes will be on display while the roses rest for two months.

As lovely as the garden is, Sampson is not quite satisfied. Many of its older bushes are not the top-performing varieties, and Sampson longs to replace them. However, there are no funds to buy new roses.

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The rose she yearns for the most is Double Delight, one of the world's most beloved flowers: intensely fragrant, with a brilliant red edge and a creamy white center.

She grows dreamy-eyed when she talks about the flower.

"That's my favorite rose, but we only have one," she said.

On Monday morning, with the cloudy skies threatening, Sampson was out in the garden pruning. She came across the one bush of Double Delight, graced with one last strikingly beautiful rosebud. She cut the bloom, took a long whiff, gave it to a visitor and shook her head.

"God, I love that rose," she said.