Crime & Justice

LA Sheriff's Antelope Valley settlement agreement in AG's crosshairs

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. The federal consent decree grew out of the Justice Department's conclusion that his deputies engaged in ongoing unconstitutional conduct in the Antelope Valley.
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. The federal consent decree grew out of the Justice Department's conclusion that his deputies engaged in ongoing unconstitutional conduct in the Antelope Valley.
Erika Aguilar/ KPCC

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The review of federal agreements with law enforcement ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to include the agreement designed to end alleged misconduct by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies in the Antelope Valley.

That has raised concerns among some Antelope Valley law enforcement watchdogs, who say the agreement has done some good. 

Four years ago, the Justice Department found Sheriff’s deputies in the Antelope Valley were engaged in "widespread" harassment of the mostly minority residents of low-income housing. Justice concluded that deputies "engaged in a pattern or practice of misconduct" that included "the use of unreasonable force" and unconstitutional pedestrian and vehicles stops, some of which "appeared motivated by racial bias."

In 2015, the sheriff agreed to sweeping reforms, including better training, a new policy on use of force and measures to prevent "biased or discriminatory conduct."

"Things have gotten a lot better," said Reverend V. Jesse Smith, who lobbied for federal intervention.

But deputies still sometimes harass minorities or treat them rudely, he said. "That still happens."

That's why the settlement agreement should stay in place, said Smith.

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment.

The settlement agreement differs from a consent decree mainly in that a federal judge issues a consent decree and is the final arbiter regarding compliance.

It was a federal consent decree in the wake of the Rampart scandal that played a key role in transforming the LAPD, said attorney Gerald Chaleff, who oversaw implementation of the decree. 

"It required the LAPD to do things it otherwise would not have done," said Chaleff, who now consults with other police departments operating under federal consent decrees.

Under its consent decree, the LAPD tightened its use of force policy, created strict protocols for use of force investigations and dramatically improved training. It also created a sophisticated computer program to provide an early warning about officers who may have problems with use of force.

Consent decrees provide "an outside view of what’s going on in a department," said Chaleff. They also force cities and counties to spend money on reforms to avoid being in contempt of court.

Sessions has suggested the current decrees around the country amount to unnecessary  federal meddling in local police departments. He’s argued the bad behavior of a few cops should not force dramatic changes at otherwise solid agencies.

This story has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly characterized the Antelope Valley settlement agreement as a consent decree.