DOJ: Deputies at LA County sheriff's stations in Lancaster, Palmdale discriminated (Update)

LA Jails

Reed Saxon/AP

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

A Department of Justice investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department found that deputies in the Antelope Valley "engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, and seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law." 

The DOJ, which made the announcement Friday, found that minority residents in Section 8 housing were targeted by deputies in the Lancaster and Palmdale stations.

"The sheriff's department adamantly disagrees with the DOJ's assertion," said sheriff's spokesperson Steve Whitmore on Friday. "We as a department stand resolute in the fact, in our belief, that the department has not discriminated against members of the public."

But Whitmore also said the department will work closely with the DOJ to assess if any changes need to be implemented.

When the DOJ investigation was launched in 2011, Whitmore said that the sheriff's department had already worked with an oversight agency and any problems had already been resolved.

"The department invited Housing Authority officials to give our deputies sensitivity training on Section 8 issues," he said. "Also racial profiling training by Museum of Tolerance was done."

Whitmore added that requests for deputies to join housing officials on compliance checks are evaluated before being granted.

Some findings from the justice department investigation include:

  • African-Americans, and to a lesser extent Latinos, are more likely to be stopped and/or searched than whites, even when controlling for factors other than race, such as crime rates;
  • The widespread use of unlawful backseat detentions violating the Fourth Amendment and LASD policy; 
  • A pattern of unreasonable force, including a pattern of the use of force against handcuffed individuals; 
  • A pattern of intimidation and harassment of African-American housing choice voucher holders by LASD deputies, often in conjunction with Housing Authority of Los Angeles County (HACoLA) investigators;
  • Inadequate implementation of accountability measures to intervene on unconstitutional conduct has allowed these problems to occur.

Some changes proposed by the DOJ include:

  • Revision of LASD’s policies, directives, training and practices so that stops, searches and seizures by Antelope Valley deputies are consistently conducted in accordance with the law.
  • A commitment to further strengthening and uniformly implementing protocols regarding HACoLA’s investigation of housing choice voucher holders’ compliance with program rules, including LASD deputy participation in those investigations.
  • Provision of training that will focus on how bias may occur in law enforcement activity, and on the effects of bias on subjects of law enforcement activity.  Training will also educate LASD and HACoLA personnel on federal and constitutional obligations, including the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
  • Revision of LASD’s use of force policies, training curricula and any relevant directives, bulletins or defensive tactics manuals to provide clear guidance about the reasonable use of force.
  • Continued and increased positive community engagement by LASD in the Antelope Valley, including participating in local community meetings, making itself available for community feedback, developing the Community Advisory Committees (CAC) and working with the community on the development of diversion programs.

This story has been updated. 

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