As part of a quest to increase oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, Supervisor Gloria Molina believes the Board of Supervisors should have access to deputy-involved shooting investigations.
A motion scheduled for vote at the board's Tuesday meeting would ask the sheriff to hand over the investigation file on the 2013 shooting of a skateboarder in East L.A. Molina said a deputy involved in the shooting has six such shootings in his career – what she calls a large number compared to most law enforcement officers.
"We need to see what's going on, these officers are our agents," Molina said. "We have to pay out the lawsuits that are associated with it."
The Office of the County Counsel has said the investigatory files of deputies involved in shootings are confidential, and supervisors do not legally have access to it. If Tuesday's motion passes, they'll be instructed to research how the board of supervisors can obtain access.
According to numbers compiled by her office, the county paid out $37 million in litigation expenses during the 2012-2013 fiscal year in cases related to the sheriff's department. Of that, $10 million concerned cases involving use of excessive force on the patrol side of the law enforcement agency.
When a deputy is involved in a shooting, the sheriff's department dispatches its own internal investigators to the scene (as does the L.A. County District Attorney's Office). Those internal investigators compile the evidence the sheriff uses to determine whether a shooting falls within the department's policy on use-of-force.
The D.A. does not prosecute the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers who use force, including shootings.
When a shooting is found to be within the sheriff's department policy, a deputy can still be disciplined or retrained, but that information is confidential.
Many victims/suspects in such shootings and their families file lawsuits seeking damages. The county pays out millions of dollars in settlements and court judgments every year – even for shootings that are found to be "within policy."
Molina said access to the investigatory files – which would not be available to the public, but only available to board members – would allow supervisors to see whether or not the investigation was done well and to better determine fault in a shooting.
"While I'm not an expert in these investigations, I'd like to see what they're doing and why, for whatever reason, either there's discipline or there's not discipline," Molina said.
The larger issue, she said, is whether the newly hired Inspector General Max Huntsman will have access to such files. The Office of the Inspector General was formed to keep tabs on the sheriff's department and recommend policy changes.