About Kate McGinty

Kate McGinty has worked as a public safety watchdog on the iSun investigative team. She is now The Desert Sun’s digital editor of engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @TDSKateM and on Instagram at @kjmcginty.

Chris Dorner manhunt: Riverside police officer second killed in California this year

Desert Sun file photo from May 2008 of a mourning badge on a Cathedral City police officer.

A Riverside police officer was killed Thursday, and a second one wounded, when police say they were ambushed at a stop light.

Thousands of police officers flooded into Southern California and Nevada looking for the suspected gunman, identified as former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner. He’s also named as the suspected gunman in two deaths in Irvine on Sunday.

The killed officer, who police have not identified publicly, was the second  officer to be shot to death in California this year.

Galt Police Officer Kevin A. Tonn, 35, was killed Jan. 15 when he was responding to a burglary call.

The Riverside police officer’s death brings the total number of officers killed in California history to 1,535.

That figure is higher than the entire populations of 20 different cities or towns in California.

U.S. law enforcement death and assault reports by the numbers:* 

  • Ten officers have been killed in the line of duty in the U.S. this year (a 52 percent drop from the same time period last year).
  • An average of 156 officers are killed per year in the U.S.
  • An average of 58,261 officers are assaulted each year.

In honor of the Riverside police officer, Riverside County has ordered flags be flown at half-staff until Thursday, Feb. 14.

There will be a prayer vigil outside Riverside City Hall at 6 p.m. (Thursday, Feb. 7.)

* Sources: Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

1 out of 5 arrested is someone on parole or probation, California study finds

Desert Sun file photo

One out of every five people arrested is on parole or probation — a lower number than law enforcement expected — according to a newly published study.

Researchers examined to what extent people on parole or probation contribute to crime (as measured by arrests).

They used data from Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento and San Francisco police over more than three years, ending in June 2011.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization based in Kentucky, found:

  • The majority of adult felony and misdemeanor arrests (77%) involved people who were not under supervision.
  • When looking only at drug violations, one out of every three people arrested was on probation or parole.
  • Total arrests fell by 18 percent. Meanwhile, the number parolees arrested fell 61 percent, and people on probation declined 26 percent.

The data shows there’s a “small fraction” of parolees who are “contributing disproportionately to drug-related crime,” Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia said this week in a news statement about the study.

As a whole, though, Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel said:

“Our assumption has been that people under probation and parole were driving our arrest activity, but the data suggests otherwise,” he said.

“This new information opens up opportunities for law enforcement agencies, which are grappling with huge budget cuts, to work with partners in probation and parole to be more efficient and targeted in our prevention, intervention, and enforcement efforts.”

The study was paid for by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence and the Rosenberg Foundation.



Coachella Valley police use of force: How your department ranks

A SWAT team practiced at Palm Desert High School in July 2011 in this file photo (Richard Lui, The Desert Sun).

The Desert Sun ran a nearly four-page special investigation Sunday examining Coachella Valley police use of force:

Story: Coachella Valley use-of-force reports drop, but four deadly shootings ties record

Graphic: A closer look at use-of-force reports

Valley police shot seven people in confrontations in 2012, four of them deadly.

So far this year, valley police have shot two people. Palm Springs police shot a man Jan. 9 after they say he ran into three officers with a car. Three Indio police officers shot a man late Monday.

Nationwide, officers used force in 3.6 out of every 10,000 calls over a two-year period, according to the last-known comprehensive national study, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2001.

Here’s how your police department ranks for use of force — batons, dog bites, pepper spray, physical force, shootings, Tasers — according to The Desert Sun’s analysis of their data:


  • Palm Springs: 28 uses of force (4.36 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Indio: 21 uses of force (3.23 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 10 uses of force (2.87 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 3 uses of force (0.68 times per 10,000 calls)


  • Indio: 31 uses of force (4.39 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Palm Springs: 22 uses of force (3.44 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 9 uses of force (1.95 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 6 uses of force (1.67 times per 10,000 calls)


  • Indio: 35 uses of force (4.97 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Palm Springs: 28 uses of force (3.9 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 7 uses of force (1.72 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 8 uses of force (1.57 times per 10,000 calls)


The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department — which oversees police services in Coachella, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage — could not provide comparable data.

After repeated requests, it gave The Desert Sun its data on shootings and dog bites, as well as stun gun use for January through August 2012 only.

The sheriff’s department does not track its deputies’ other force, including baton usage, pepper spray or physical force.

Grant Virgin: Why John and JJ Virgin share their son’s story

Before I walked into Grant Virgin’s hospital room for the first time, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles media director called me.

Grant is not in your typical hospital room, he told me, warning me about the Posey bed — a tent-like cover that can be zipped up and clipped closed for his own security and for those around him.

I had reported on Grant’s injuries since Sept. 10, the night he was struck by a car in a hit and run in Palm Desert.

The 16-year-old’s bones were broken from head to toe, his aorta was crushed and his brain was rocked inside his head. He should have died.

I thought I was prepared to see him.

But actually walking into Grant’s hospital room — seeing the scar on his head,  watching his labored movements and sensing his exhaustion – was a different experience.

It sunk in how much this young man’s life was derailed by only a second or two one warm fall evening. It made my heart hurt for him.

His parents, John and JJ Virgin, agreed to let a reporter, photographer and videographer share their family’s story.

(story, photos, videos from inside his hospital room) 
(how many, why and what our lawmakers have to say about it) 


They opened the door for the community to see the heartbreak of Grant’s crash, their unwavering belief in integrative medicine and their differing opinions on the hit-and-run driver who altered the course of all their lives.

Most of all, they told me, they’re grateful to a community that has supported Grant’s journey. That’s what has kept their faith in the goodness of people.

But this is only the beginning of a different life for Grant, his parents and his younger brother, Bryce.

And it is only the start of our questions for lawmakers, police and state leaders about how we can create a better system that will help find justice for Grant and thousands of other hit-and-run victims.

How to help: 

Palm Desert police asked anyone with information about Grant’s crash to call (760) 836-1600Coachella Valley Crime Stoppers collects anonymous tips at (760) 341-7867.

The Virgin family is also accepting donations to help cover Grant’s medical expenses via Paypal (grantvirginfund@gmail.com).

Dec. 21 and the Mayan calendar apocalypse myth in a nutshell

Every news site and its mother has a story about Mayan Calendar — explaining the apocalypse myth and, more important, their version of the misinterpretation.

I’ll spare you the Google searches. In a nutshell:

  • The ancient Mayans kept time in a different way than we do — theirs was based on the idea of counting days and was tied to the solar year — and maintained three different calendars.
  • The Long Count Calendar seems to end on or about Dec. 21, 2012 — triggering the Doomsday predictions across the world in recent years.
  • In reality, the Mayans did not predict the end of the world. Dec. 21 was just the completion of a major cycle — a 5,126-year cycle —  and marked the first winter solstice in 26,000 years when when the sun and Earth will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way. Some reports say they even marked down a few plans for after Dec. 21.
Dec. 21, as depicted by Desert Sun copy editor Will Toren

Dec. 21, as depicted by The Desert Sun copy editor Will Toren, who won draw off to draw this.

But the truth be damned.


#ApocalypseConfessional is trending nationally on Twitter as I write this.

NASA has received about 90 calls or emails per week with questions from people about the Mayan calendar, LA Times reported on its blog:

The questions range from myth (Will a rogue planet crash into Earth? Is the sun going to explode? Will there be three days of darkness?) to the macabre (Brown said some people have “embraced it so much” they want to hurt themselves). So, he said, NASA decided to do “everything in our power” to set the facts straight.

That includes producing this video:

And variations of Google search terms — calendar 2012, mayan predictions, mayan calendar end — have continued to climb:


Google Trends for mayan calendar, worldwide since 2004


(By the way, the No. 1 city in the world for searching “mayan calendar” is Hyderabad, the capital and largest city in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.)

Desert Hot Springs’ failed $265,000 festival experiment: A timeline

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks speaks during an April 2010 press conference about the Wellness & World Music Festival. (Crystal Chatham, The Desert Sun)

When the city signed a $250,000 deal with Tony Clarke to put on the Wellness and World Music Festival, the event was billed as a “world-class signature event” that could brand the city using its signature mineral springs.

But with one month until show time, the city announced the festival would be postponed — just days after the city handed over the final payment to the producer.

A Desert Sun investigation found that, when the city first hired Clarke in December 2009, it did not verify Clarke’s claims that he was an internationally known producer. It also paid Clarke an additional $15,000 to conduct a feasibility report on the festival.

The city did not solicit bids for the contract, skipping a series of steps outlined in its municipal code that call for a competitive recruitment process and thorough vetting of potential contractors before signing a consulting or professional services contract.

It eventually fired Clarke and vowed to revive the festival plans. On Tuesday, the City Council officially abandoned those plans.


Here’s a deeper review of how the plan progressed:

Dec. 1, 2009: Desert Hot Springs inks a $250,000 deal with Tony Clarke and his Tresed Ventures to be the primary sponsor of the first Wellness and World Music Festival.

Dec. 22, 2009: The city begins payments to Clarke with a $75,000 payment for “out-of-pocket” expenses.

June 28, 2010: Organizers announce that reggae singer Ziggy Marley will headline the festival. Health/lifestyle personalities; yoga trainers; and best-selling authors such as Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee and Dr. Steven Gundry will also join.

Aug. 19, 2010:  The final $25,000 wire transaction is made, completing the $250,000 contract. The city’s then-liaison with Clarke, Laura Green, added in an email exchange among city staff: “I guess we’re all in. … Deep breath.”

Sept. 7, 2010: With weeks to go before the Oct. 9-10 show time, but no ticket sale details announced, City Manager Rick Daniels announces a postponement, saying “we over-reached. We tried to do too much in too short a time.”

Jan. 4, 2011: Producers Baruch/Gayton Entertainment Group, which is named in the contract to co-produce the festival, back out of the festival. “There have been financial problems with Tony. He owes us money. He owes others money, who we have brought into the project,” Wayne Baruch told The Desert Sun at the time.

Jan. 16, 2011: The Desert Sun publishes a front-page investigation into the festival. Among the findings was that the city never verified any of Clarke’s claims of being a world-famous producer who has worked on major record labels and produced events with the likes of Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson and Nirvana.

March 1, 2011: The City Council met for at least the fifth time in closed session to consider a lawsuit against the promoter. Back in open session, council members argued over whether to reschedule the music festival for the fall.

March 15, 2011: Clarke signs legal paperwork to end his contract with Desert Hot Springs. As part of the agreement, Clarke will hand over all work on the festival. That includes parking, security and staging plans, as well as deposits on unspecified key talent and sponsors.

Aug. 30, 2011: In documents released to The Desert Sun under the public records law, Clarke claims he spent at least $247,321 on the festival. It lists broad categories like office supplies, professional services and travel.

May 24, 2011: The City Council chose five advisory committee members — two others were separately chosen by a city commission and a hotel advocacy group — to act as a festival advisory committee that would decide who could replace the festival producer.

Nov. 14, 2012: After meeting for more than a year, and reviewing three rounds of producers’ proposals, the advisory committee asks to be disbanded.

Dec. 4, 2012: The City Council agrees to disband the festival committee, without any comment.

California churches rake in lease money by hosting cell phone towers

In this November 2010 file photo, Palm Springs residents protested over a proposed tower at the Center for Spiritual Living.

Churches across California are raking in as much as $4,000 a month by hosting cell towers, according to a new report from California Watch, a nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative reporting group:

Across the state, wireless companies are installing an increasing number of cell sites inside church steeples and bell towers. With the growing use of tablets, smartphones and other wireless devices, the wireless industry has approached churches because of their height and residential locations, where putting new towers would be difficult.

Hiding cell phone towers has been done across the country as cell phone carriers “have a hard time finding places to build new towers,” NPR reported in July.

It’s been considered in the Coachella Valley.

In the fall of 2010, T-Mobile wanted to ink a deal with the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Springs. The carrier would have paid $1,500 monthly for a tower on the property.

The Planning Commission, and eventually the City Council, rejected the plan to the celebration of more than a dozen residents who had protested against it.

In January 2010, Cathedral City residents successfully rallied against a T-Mobile proposal to build a cell tower encased in a 60-foot cross at Community Presbyterian Church.

Does your church have one? Let me know below or @TDSKateM.

White House petitions to legalize marijuana, repeal Defense of Marriage Act meet threshold

Remember those petitions from all 50 states that have popped up on the White House website, asking to secede from the U.S. after President Barack Obama won a second term in office?

The media coverage of those petitions likely helped fuel the popularity of signing the petitions — and now several non-political petitions have demanded the attention of the White House.

More than 25,000 people — the threshold for the Obama administration to respond — have called for the U.S. to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

More than 29,000 have signed a petition started by a Missouri man that calls for the federal government to legalize marijuana.

The Obama administration hasn’t responded to petitions since its reelection. We’ll keep an eye out.

Among other non-political petitions:

The petitions are part of “We the People,” a section of the White House website that allows people to post open petitions:

From the beginning we’ve said that if a petition gathers enough online signatures, policy officials here at the White House and across the Administration will review it and issue an official response. In this first year we’ve had 116 petitions cross the threshold and 103 have already received a response.  And, despite the fact that only a small percentage of the over 50,000 petitions have crossed the signature threshold, you’d probably be surprised to hear that 1.1 million people or 39% of users have received a response.


Riverside County jails break record of 6,001 inmates released early

Riverside County jails have released a record number of inmates early this year and prepared Wednesday to send more inmates out the door early.

So far this year, 6,183 inmates have been released early countywide due to overcrowding. That surpasses the county record for most inmates ever released in one year — 6,001 inmates in 2007.

“It’s not something we brag about,” Chief Deputy Raymond Gregory told my colleague Erica Felci. “It shows the mass of this huge crisis.”

There are 3,906 beds countywide.

All 353 beds at the jail in Indio were filled this morning, and Gregory was working on a plan late Wednesday morning about which inmates would be released early if the jail is overcrowded tonight.

“It kind of shows that we don’t nearly have the correct size for the activity we have in Riverside County,” said Gregory, who oversees jails for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The Supreme Court has given the state until June 2013 to reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates. The state has warned it does not expect to meet that deadline.

To make matters worse, the already overcrowded county jails now must house most felons — except for those jailed for a serious, sex or violent crime — who previously would have been sent to state prison.

The state Legislature handed that responsibility to counties last year as part of a broader state budget plan to close a $26.6 billion gap.

Sheriff Stan Sniff has repeatedly warned that Riverside County jails, like many across the state, would be “overwhelmed” by the burden of housing felons.

“The system is so overloaded. We’re not close. We’re way, way, behind. That’s what’s added to our misery, when you’re seeing some terrible surges in crime,” Sniff previously told us.


Related story: Gov. Jerry Brown has also battled a federal court order to lay out a timetable for reducing the nation’s worst prison overcrowding. See more here.

One in seven drivers has drugs in their system, California Office of Traffic Safety finds

One in every seven weekend drivers had drugs in their system, according to the first-ever statewide survey of alcohol and drugs in drivers.

The California Office of Traffic Safety announced its survey results Monday. It concluded 14 percent of drivers tested positive for drugs, nearly double the 7.3 percent of drivers who had alcohol in their system.

About half the drugs — 7.4 percent of drivers, or just more than those with alcohol — were marijuana, while 4.6 percent of drivers tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications that can impair driving.

“Drug-impaired driving is often under-reported and under-recognized and toxicology testing is expensive,” the state agency wrote in a press release, which continues:

“This federally funded survey is the first of its kind ever undertaken by a state,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the Office of Traffic Safety. “These results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem.”

It’s important to note that the OTS campaigns for drugged driving to receive the same national attention drunk driving does, and that the results came from drivers who voluntarily agreed to be tested.

More than 1,300 drivers agreed to provide breath and/or saliva samples at roadside locations. They were set up in nine unspecified California cities between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Under a new law, the specific kinds of DUI — alcohol, drugs or some combination of the two — will be categorized under separate violations, meaning it will be easier to track DUI arrests.