Sam Levin Profile picture
@Guardian LA correspondent. sam.levin@theguardian.com. he/him
29 May
NEWS: Gov Newsom has pardoned Kao Saelee + Bounchan Keola, two formerly incarcerated firefighters facing deportation to Laos, which they fled as kids.

“This is all I wanted – a second chance. We came to this country to have a better life," Boun told me.

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/m…
This is huge for both men who spent decades in California prison for teenage convictions and then at the end of their sentences last year were transferred directly to ICE for deportation. Both told their stories from ICE jails, prompting national outrage + calls for their pardons
Both of them had fled persecution as children, resettling in the US after the Vietnam war. They grew up in poverty + under CA harsh sentencing laws, were sent away for decades over adolescent cases. While in prison, they served the state as firefighters making a few dollars a day
Read 9 tweets
24 May
I hung out with The Linda Lindas.

“It’s good because I get to scream a lot – all of the anger that builds up, it’s good to let it out.”

theguardian.com/music/2021/may…
“I grew up with the DIY culture of punk, going to punk shows, making mixtapes – with the idea that anyone can do whatever,” -Eloise, 13, finishing 7th grade. “Punk is anything we want it to be. I like DIY because it’s whatever you feel like. It doesn’t have to be a certain way.”
“It was my first experience of racism + I didn’t really know how to respond,” - Mila, 10, who wrote Racist, Sexist Boy with Eloise after a boy told her he was avoiding Chinese people. “The song lets people know they are not alone. It felt good to write. It made us feel better.”
Read 8 tweets
20 May
NEWS: Kao Saelee, the incarcerated California firefighter who was facing deportation to Laos, has been released from ICE. He spent 22 yrs in prison + then ten months in ICE jail, after CA handed him over to immigration authorities.

Today, he finally reunited with his family
Kao spent two yrs fighting wildfires as a CA prisoner, but due to @GavinNewsom's policy of sending people to ICE for deportation at the end of their sentences, Kao was flown to Louisiana ICE jail last year, instead of returning to his CA family. My story:
theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Because CA partners with ICE, Kao has been stuck in detention during Covid, facing deportation to Laos, a country his family fled as refugees when he was two years old.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family,” he told me last Sept.
Read 14 tweets
19 May
NEW: I found cases across California where police spread falsehoods about the people they've killed, with major inaccuracies that can go uncorrected for years.

“The George Floyd press release was not an anomaly. It's standard procedure."

(thread)⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/m…
I found cases where police:

-cited vague “medical emergencies” without disclosing officers caused the emergencies through use of force.

-falsely claimed civilians were armed

-falsely claimed they overdosed

-blatantly misrepresented the civilian's actions before the killing
When Dujuan Armstrong, 23, died inside Santa Rita Jail, the Alameda Co Sheriff reported it as a “drug overdose." A spokesman said he was acting “bizarre,” adding: “The deputies saw him in distress. They called medics immediately.”

More than a year later, the truth came out (TW):
Read 20 tweets
4 May
Los Angeles sheriff deputies frequently harass the families of people they have killed, including taunting them at vigils, parking outside their homes, and following them and pulling them over for no reason, according to a new report:

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/m…
The families of Paul Rea, 18-year-old killed during a traffic stop, and Anthony Vargas, 21-year-old shot 13 times, describe constant harassment by LASD deputies when gathering to grieve and honor their loved ones -- mocking, taunting, threats, stops + searches, arrests + more:
Read 12 tweets
3 May
NEW: Tien Pham, 38, was deported by Biden and separated from his family after decades in California.

“America is my home. My family, my loved ones, my friends, they are all there,” he told me from Ho Chi Minh City.

(Thread)

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/m…
Tien is a Vietnamese refugee whose family fled violence + resettled in the US when he was 13 years old. He was prioritized for deportation by the Biden administration due to an old teenage conviction.

He is one of thousands of people who have been deported by Biden.
Tien grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. His father had served in the South Vietnamese army alongside the US, and ended up imprisoned in a “re-education” camp where he was forced to work and ate rodents to survive. Tien faced severe violence in Ho Chi Minh City as a kid.
Read 20 tweets
27 Apr
There are many police killings with similarities to the George Floyd murder that receive almost no attention. Last year, LAPD killed Daniel Rivera, with officers holding him largely face down on the ground for roughly 7 minutes. He was unarmed and in distress. (thread)
On 8/14/20, LAPD was responding to reports of an alleged burglary attempt + came upon Daniel, 37, who was standing near a ravine in Arleta. He hopped a fence into the wash + may have fallen / was lying on the ground, largely not moving, as police approached, body cam video shows
Even though he was unarmed and not moving, and had his hands behind his head, one officer kneeled on his back, two others handcuffed him, one shoved his face into the ground, and another shocked him with a Taser four times, causing his body to convulse.
Read 10 tweets
30 Mar
NEW: I interviewed trans kids across the US about the Republican bills targeting their rights. Many have faced these attacks for years and are now seeing the bills become law.

Here are some of their stories (thread) ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/m…
Wyatt, 14, South Dakota, is banned from using the boys bathroom. He has to walk across the school to get to the single-stall staff restroom: "This is a basic human need ... I’ve asked my guy friends if they’d be uncomfortable if I was in the boys’ restroom. They wouldn’t."
Wyatt has faced anti-trans bills since he was 11: "As a 14-year-old, I shouldn’t have to worry about my rights being taken away. I should not have to go out of my way to make other people happy. I’m not a problem to society. I just hope by the time I’m 18, things are better."
Read 15 tweets
28 Jan
NEWS: Bounchan Keola, the incarcerated firefighter who California sent to ICE for deportation, is free after 22 years.

He was released from ICE custody yesterday and is now reuniting with his family for the first time in decades: Image
When Boun was working as an incarcerated firefighter last fall, he suffered a near-death injury.

He had two weeks left of his sentence at the time, but California transferred him to ICE instead of releasing him to his family. My story from November:

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/n…
Boun, 39, has been incarcerated since age 16. If California had not reported him to ICE, he would've gone home last year to his family and received medical treatment for his firefighting injuries.

Instead, he's been stuck in ICE jail, threatened with deportation to Laos.
Read 12 tweets
12 Jan
I spent time inside a South LA hospital with the highest rate of Covid patients in the region – the epicenter of the epicenter of America's out-of-control pandemic.

Here's what I saw + heard from frontline staff battling the catastrophic surge. THREAD:

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/j…
Entire families are hospitalized – husbands and wives, twin brothers in their 20s, parents and their children. Anahiz Correa, ICU nurse manager, recounted a mother and son who ended up dying in the same ICU room weeks apart. "The patients are much sicker and it’s not clear why.”
Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital has put beds in an old gift shop, which has a small sign on the door indicating “patient care in progress.” The chapel around the corner is filled with gurneys. Patients are treated in the waiting room + doubled up in spaces meant for one.
Read 23 tweets
17 Dec 20
A short thread on the California prison system's Covid catastrophe + vaccine access:

Advocates + experts are arguing that CDCR must urgently make vaccines available to incarcerated people, mandate vaccines for guards, AND do mass releases of elderly/vulnerable. Here's why ⬇️
CDCR has a long history of severe medical neglect + abuse, including experimenting on incarcerated people. Some will likely be reluctant or scared to take a vaccine. This mistrust is compounded by the fact that CDCR has spread Covid across the system, infecting 31,000+ people.
Incarcerated people in CA have witnessed CDCR’s botched Covid response, which has allowed guards to bring Covid to every single prison, leading to mass and worsening outbreaks and 104 deaths. So why would people inside trust a vaccine? says @jamesking0314:
Read 11 tweets
13 Dec 20
NEW: California is on track to allow mass evictions to begin during the worst phase of the pandemic so far. Millions are at risk, and many more will die of Covid if lawmakers don't pass new tenant protections.

A short thread on what's at stake ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/d…
-More than 2 million households said they couldn't pay rent in November, and that # will increase with new shutdowns.

-Tenants owe an estimated $1.7 billion in unpaid rent, and California law currently says they are on the hook for all of it, which will be impossible for many.
Evictions mean more people will die. When other states lifted eviction moratoriums, it led to 433,700 additional Covid cases + 10,700 more fatalities, according to @LeifScience.

Given the scale of the crisis in CA, the fatal consequences will be catastrophic here.
Read 11 tweets
15 Oct 20
NEW: I interviewed Jackie Lacey + George Gascón about their tight race for LA district attorney, arguably the most important criminal justice election in the US. There are huge differences in their beliefs on incarceration + safety.

Thread on my chats ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/o…
LA has the largest jail system in the world + extremely high prison rates. I asked Lacey if the region jails too many people.

She said no, and warned that if she were a less punitive DA, LA would “deteriorate” with the “criminal community” + “predators” flocking to the region.
Lacey has fought for the right to continue prosecuting children under the age of 12, and has continued to try youth as adults. She said this was warranted for some crimes: "You can say, 'Oh you’re incarcerating children!' but that’s not the act of a child or the mind of a child."
Read 19 tweets
22 Sep 20
NEW: Kao Saelee worked as an incarcerated firefighter in California.

But when his release date came, the state partnered with ICE and transferred him to detention. He now faces deportation to Laos, a country his family fled when he was two years old.

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Kao, now 41, has been imprisoned since he was a teenager. Even though he completed his sentence and fought wildfires, @GavinNewsom + CDCR handed him over to ICE.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family," Kao told me from ICE jail. Image
When his release date came on August 6, Kao's sister was waiting outside the prison to take him home for the first time in two decades. Instead, guards handed Kao over to a private security contractor for ICE who shackled his hands, waist and legs, put him in a van and drove off.
Read 17 tweets
16 Sep 20
NEW: In Oregon, there is now a confirmed Covid-19 outbreak linked to the evacuation of Coffee Creek prison in the fire zone. Two prisoners have tested positive + Dept of Corrections says they mixed with groups outside of their units during evacuation to Deer Creek, another prison
Here’s part of DOC statement to @TaraHerivel and other attorneys. “Female AIC” refers to an incarcerated woman who tested positive. State is now expediting return of evacuated prisoners to Coffee Creek. Delays in tests results have made this situation more complicated, DOC says. Image
DOC says it appears the two Covid+ prisoners didn’t mix with the population at Deer Ridge, the prison where evacuees were placed. There is still fear about a possible mass outbreak. The fire threat is not over. For thousands of impacted families, this is an unimaginable nightmare
Read 7 tweets
15 Sep 20
I spoke with men incarcerated at Oregon State Penitentiary, who are stuck in overcrowded facilities in the fire zone + have repeatedly been pepper sprayed. They're begging for help.

Here's a short thread with audio from my prison calls, shared with their permission.

LISTEN ⬇️
Parker, 23: "Pepper spray got on everyone, everyone was coughing and sneezing. I couldn't even take a drink of my water. There was so much in the air. I still have lasting effects. I was scared. I didn't think they would put us in that situation. DOC is supposed to protect us."
John, 44: "It's smoky in here. It's horrible in here. Some of these inmates are elderly, some have heart problems + respiratory problems. This is no place for them. What you're brewing is a perfect storm for violence and pandemonium. How do you plan on protecting these inmates?"
Read 12 tweets
15 Sep 20
NEW: Oregon prison guards have repeatedly pepper sprayed evacuated prisoners who are trapped in overcrowded facilities and already sick from smoke.

I spoke to folks inside who were sprayed and are struggling to breathe...

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
As fires approached, Oregon crowded four prison populations into one facility, and violence and fights immediately broke out.

The prison responded by repeatedly deploying pepper spray.

"I couldn’t breathe. When I got sprayed, I had to stick my face into a sink to rinse it off”
“The pepper spray got on everyone. Everyone was coughing and sneezing. There was just so much in the air.”

“My eyes and lungs are still burning and soot is still floating all inside the prison."

“These officers just pull out their cans of spray and start spraying everywhere."
Read 11 tweets
10 Sep 20
NEW: Oregon's fires have wreaked havoc on the state’s incarcerated population, with thousands now packed into a single overcrowded prison that was already a major Covid-19 hotspot.

I spoke to families + attorneys about the worsening catastrophe:

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Some key points:

-1,450 evacuees were moved into the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP), which already had more than 2,000 prisoners + has had 143 Covid cases.

-Evacuees are sleeping on the floor and on emergency beds throughout OSP in indoor facilities not used for housing.
-Problems are already escalating, with families reporting people packed into makeshift sleeping quarters, some struggling to breathe due to smoke, prisoners facing long waits for food, fights breaking out.

-Populations are reportedly mixing for meals + lines to make phone calls.
Read 9 tweets
6 Sep 20
NEW: During the pandemic and protests, police in Los Angeles have continued to kill civilians at alarming rates.

Many of these deaths barely make headlines. Here are a few stories from this violent summer...

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
LA sheriffs in Lancaster killed Michael Thomas, 61, inside his own home on June 11. LASD claimed they were responding to a possible domestic violence call, but his girlfriend said there was no threat or violence.

Police fatally shot Michael in the chest. He was unarmed. ImageImage
Michael's daughter, Myesha Lopez, told me he had watched a George Floyd special the night before and was terrified of police and didn't want deputies in his house.

“He said, ‘I know if I open this door, you’re going to kill me.’”

The officers, it appears, did just that. Image
Read 17 tweets
1 Sep 20
NEW: Phoenix police held a teenage girl on the hot asphalt until the pavement burned through her skin, forcing her to be hospitalized in the burn unit. She has permanent scars.

theguardian.com/weather/2020/s…
Police were called to break up a fight between a group of high school students during a record-breaking heatwave. The fight had died down when officers arrived. Then one of the policemen grabbed Roniah Trotter and held her face down on the sidewalk while trying to arrest her...
“My face was burning. I have never felt nothing so hot,” Roniah said, recalling how she screamed for help and felt like she was going to pass out. “When they did eventually get me off the floor, the pavement had burned my skin off." (image of her arm after incident + scars today)
Read 14 tweets
27 Aug 20
White supremacists and far-right militias have infiltrated police departments in every region of the US.

A timely report + warning from @BrennanCenter:

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/a…
In addition to active police officers with direct links to far-right groups + white supremacist organizations, there have been hundreds of examples of law enforcement exposed making explicitly racist + bigoted remarks, and expressing sympathy for hate groups and movements.
In Kenosha, police said "We appreciate you being here" to armed militias, giving them water. Police let the shooter leave. The police chief blamed protesters for violating curfew, saying the gunman was "involved in the use of firearms to resolve whatever conflict was in place."
Read 6 tweets