Newsletter: Essential California: A court system kept in the dark

Messages sent by a Pittsburg, Calif., officer from his patrol car computer led to an investigation into excessive force and false reporting.
(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 14, and here’s what’s happening across California:


Just as Pittsburg Police Officer Michael Sibbitt was about to testify in a murder trial, news of his prior misconduct reached the court — from a police lieutenant. The revelation in a Contra Costa County courthouse in 2015 had a sweeping effect: Nineteen convictions secured with help from the disgraced officer and his partner were dismissed after prosecutors learned of the misconduct. The incident rocked the criminal justice system in this Bay Area suburb and shows the dangers when important information from officers’ confidential disciplinary files is not shared with the courts. Los Angeles Times

Trial by fire


The Mendocino Complex fire, the biggest wildfire recorded in California history, is a grim reminder for Lake County residents of how their area has become an epicenter for fires. A Los Angeles Times analysis found that more than 50% of Lake County’s land has been burned since 2012. And it has sparked debate for some residents about whether living in this rural enclave about 120 miles north of San Francisco is worth it. Los Angeles Times

-- A firefighter from Utah died Monday battling the Mendocino Complex fire, marking the latest fatality in a fire season that has taken a grim toll on first responders. Los Angeles Times

-- Thomas Fire evacuee Karon Davis’ new art crackles with relevance as California copes with more disaster. Los Angeles Times

Big movie premiere

“Crazy Rich Asians” has all the trappings of a lighthearted Hollywood rom-com. Beautiful people in love. Stunning locations. Disapproving in-laws. But as the first English-language Hollywood studio movie with a nearly all-Asian cast in 25 years, this film is carrying more weight than the typical frivolous romp. If it does well at the box office, it could open the door for a new wave of diverse voices and new faces in Hollywood, while also reviving the moribund romantic comedy genre that has been all-but-abandoned by franchise-obsessed film companies. Los Angeles Times

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The city’s newest star: Has LeBron James changed? Just ask the people of his hometown. Los Angeles Times

One writer’s view: Los Angeles, stop doing cocaine. Los Angeles Times

Spooky, scary, Part 1: “The most dangerous neighborhood in Los Angeles for burglaries is actually one of the priciest enclaves in town, where the median home value is $3.3 million.” Crosstown LA

Spooky, scary, Part 2: Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.” Associated Press


You can’t make this up: A video of a man climbing a barrier at the Los Angeles Zoo and then slapping a hippopotamus on its rear end has sparked a criminal investigation by the LAPD, officials said Monday. Los Angeles Times


Somewhat surprising: Indian nationals make up about 40% of those held at ICE’s detention facility in the Imperial Valley, officials say, and of 680 migrants detained at a federal prison in Victorville, 380 are Indian. Asylum seekers say they’re fleeing an increase in persecution under a Hindu nationalist government. Los Angeles Times

Ready for battle: San Diego County cities are preparing to go head to head with the federal government this week in a legal battle that could force the Trump administration to plug sewage spilling from Tijuana. Los Angeles Times


Sad story: A review of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos’ case file with the Department of Children and Family Services concluded that the circumstances leading to his death were unlike those surrounding 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose death following months of torture by his mother and her boyfriend and child investigations that went nowhere resulted in criminal charges against four social workers. Los Angeles Times


Worrying stat on lead: “Two-thirds of the state’s 1,026 school districts have not taken advantage of a free state testing program to determine whether the toxic metal is coming out of the taps and, if so, whether it exceeds federal standards.” San Francisco Chronicle

In Sacramento: A California lobbyist is fighting for his sick daughter, with the Legislature’s help. CALmatters


Another charge: Claude Snelling woke in the night 42 years ago to find a man in the backyard trying to abduct his 16-year-old daughter. He tried to stop him and was fatally shot. Tulare County prosecutors on Monday said they filed murder charges against Joseph DeAngelo, 72, bringing to 13 the killings he is accused of and resolving four decades of police disagreement over whether the Visalia attacker was also the serial rapist who killed a Sacramento suburban couple and later raped and killed 10 people in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

Police pursuits: A police department whose policy requires 100% of its officers to certify they have read and understood the vehicle-pursuit protocol is not liable for an accident even if all its members failed to sign, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday. Los Angeles Times

Interest rates too high? California’s high court also ruled that interest rates on consumer loans can be so high that they become “unconscionable” and, therefore, illegal — a decision that could call into question the validity of millions of loans and upend the state’s subprime lending market. Los Angeles Times


Big gender discrimination suit: The former president of the Salk Institute discouraged one of her professors from suing for gender discrimination, saying in a private email that legal action could damage the La Jolla science center’s reputation — and suggesting it might harm the researcher’s career. San Diego Union-Tribune


Save the juniper! “The Bennett Juniper, largest juniper tree in the United States, is in the path of the Donnell fire in California’s Sierra Nevada.” Mercury News


What’s Elon saying? Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said Monday that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has approached him several times about taking the electric-car maker private and that the fund’s interest represents the funding Musk tweeted about last week. Los Angeles Times

Golden arches: McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees plan to spend $390 million to modernize an additional 550 restaurants in California through next year. It’s part of a $6-billion upgrade effort nationwide by the fast-food giant. Los Angeles Times


In theaters: What the star of “BlacKkKlansman” learned from the real black cop who infiltrated the KKK. Los Angeles Times

Two scoops for you: A 12-pound ice cream sundae? A look at the 103-year-old Fair Oaks Pharmacy. Los Angeles Times

The NYT has hired a California food critic: “Not only does The Times have more readers in California than in any other state save New York, but California has more restaurants and a wider variety of them than any other state, bar none.” New York Times

Plus: More reactions to this big food news. Eater LA


Los Angeles area: Sunny, 84, Tuesday. Sunny, 85, Wednesday. San Diego: Sunny, 82, Tuesday. Sunny, 81, Wednesday. San Francisco area: Partly cloudy, 64, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 65, Wednesday. San Jose: Sunny, 79, Tuesday. Partly cloudy, 79, Wednesday. Sacramento: Sunny, 87, Tuesday. Sunny, 90, Wednesday. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Barbara Jackson:

“My time spent in California with the U.S. Navy was exciting. I remember the beauty of the land. The beautiful homes and greenery of San Diego. My favorites were Santa Monica, where I shopped at a huge record store and ate double baked oysters covered in cheese. Also Santa Barbara, where I bought the most delicious spiced olives from the Santa Barbara Olive Co. I would love to have these again. I’m a water baby, so my love of the ocean is what I miss the most!”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. Send us an email to let us know what you love or fondly remember about our state. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.