Crime & Justice

Sheriff’s lawsuits cost LA County $61M

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell hopes better training of deputies will help bring down legal costs in his department.
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell hopes better training of deputies will help bring down legal costs in his department.
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Legal bills wracked up by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for everything from bad shootings to wrongful terminations jumped 50 percent last fiscal year, compared to the year before, according to a new report. The county’s fiscal year ended June 30, 2014.

One county supervisor expressed alarm at the increase.

“Obviously its of concern,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis. “I’m not happy.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the Sheriff litigation costs at its regular meeting Tuesday. Across the county, legal expenses jumped 24 percent, including payouts from jury verdicts against the county, settlements, and attorney fees.

The county’s litigation expenses for fiscal year 2014-15 were $118.9 million – up from 95.6 million the year before. The five-year average is 105.2 million, according to a report from the County Counsel.

By far, the Sheriff’s Department accounted for the biggest portion of the legal bill: $61 million last year – up from $41million the year before.

That hasn't escaped the attention of L.A.'s new sheriff. 

“Some of the cases go back a number of years,” said Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was elected a little over a year ago after promising to clean up the department “Some of those situations, I believe, were avoidable.”

The sheriff said he hopes better training and supervision will reduce payouts under his watch.

Among the biggest payouts:

Not all cases involved alleged excessive use of force or negligence. A jury awarded $3.1 million to the family of Darren Hagger after finding he was wrongfully terminated for investigating the involvement of his fellow deputies. Hagger was fired after looking into drug trafficking activities and a homicide, according to the report.

Just last week, the Board of Supervisors paid out nearly $1 million to the family of a man who committed suicide inside Twin Towers jail. The family argued the county was liable because of poor mental health care and supervision at Twin Towers.

Solis said such payouts don’t happen in a vacuum.

“That’s a million dollars less that I could see spent on homelessness, on people that need healthcare services or for senior,” she said.