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DOJ Says LASD Routinely Violated Civil Rights in Lancaster & Palmdale, Now Wants County to Pay Residents $12.5 Million…So Where Was Department Leadership?

July 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

It seems like we’ve seen this movie before:

Sheriff Lee Baca, once again, ” embraces” a new round of department reforms pressed on him by an outside watchdog agency—in this case, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has painstakingly documented a pile of problems at the LASD stations in the Antelope Valley, that the sheriff is now cooperating to fix. But where was Baca during the years when all the reported racial profiling, the abusive practices, the civil rights and Constitutional violations that the DOJ has been investigating for two years were going on? Where was he when the string of civil lawsuits were being filed and settled, the resident complaints were piling up, and disregarded…?

Do those questions matter? Or is all simply forgiven?


FORK OVER 12.5 MILLION, SAY THE FEDS

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Department of Justice officials demanded that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, LA County’s Housing Authority, plus the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, pay $12.5 million to residents of the Antelope Valley who, according to the DOJ, had been subject to repeated and ongoing harassment, intimidation and civil rights violations by members of the LASD, the Housing Authority and a string of local officials.

(The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Richard Winton have more on the payout demand.)

Monday’s demand from the DOJ was a follow-up to the 46-pages of “findings” delivered to Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, as part of an agreement for widespread reform in how the department polices the Antelope Valley.

In single-spaced detail, the findings accused the LASD of:

a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures, including the use of unreasonable force, in violation ofthe Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title VI. We found also that deputies assigned to these stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”


PATTERN AND PRACTICE IN VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL LAW

Specifically, the DOJ accused LASD’s Lancaster and Palmdale station deputies of such violations as:

**Stopping and/or searching African Americans, and to a lesser extent Latinos, far more often 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.

NOTE: A “backseat detention” is when officers put someone in the backseat of a patrol car for a period of time. The DOJ report describes instances when someone pulled over for the smallest of vehicle infractions—like a broken license plate light.—would be put in the back of a patrol car and then questioned.

In another instance, the victim in a domestic violence situation was handcuffed and given backseat detention “for no articulated reason.”

** 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 HACoLA investigators.

The report then described how:

“….more often than not, multiple deputy sheriffs, sometimes as many as nine, would accompany HACoLA investigators on their administrative housing checks. Deputies would routinely approach the voucher holder’s home with guns drawn, occasionally in full SWAT armor, and conduct searches and questioning once inside.

And so on.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department disagrees with the findings completely, but is cooperating with the DOJ. “We stand resolute that we have not discriminated against members of the public. We haven’t seen any racial profiling.”


SO WHERE WAS THE LASD LEADERSHIP ON ALL THIS??

Curiously absent from the discussions of the DOJ’s findings is the observation that the responsibility for this alleged entrenched pattern of corrosive behavior on the part of department members in the Antelope Valley ultimately must come back to supervision and leadership. The DOJ investigated for two years, but there were plenty of earlier red flags—the piles of resident complaints that were routinely ignored, a bunch of high ticket civil lawsuits that alleged discomforting abuses, the reports of Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, who warned that matters were not well in Antelope Valley.

And then there were the tattoos:

Some Antelope Valley deputies wear tattoos or share paraphernalia with an intimidating skull and snake symbol as a mark of their affiliation with the Antelope Valley stations. Though there are varying interpretations of what these tattoos may symbolize, they provide an undeniable visual representation of a gulf between deputies and the community, and are an unfortunate reminder of LASD’s history of symbols associated with problematic deputy behavior.

As noted above, the DOJ and the LASD have reached preliminary agreements to make signicant changes to policing in the Antelope Valley, which include recruiting more African American and Latino officers to the area, participating in community outreach in order to engage residents in a “collaborative relationship,” revising training and use of force polices, and more.

Whitmore told the AP’s Greg Risling that the department now has an exhaustive process to determine whether deputies need to come out during housing inspections. Deputies also carry complaint forms when they are on patrol. The forms are also available at the front desk of the two stations.

In other words, as it was with the jails. Sheriff Lee Baca is now responding to external pressures to correct what needs correcting—all of which is, of course, good. But where was he (and other department leaders) earlier? Why were years of warnings ignored? Why does it take radical action on the part of the DOJ or the FBI or the press or a Citizens Committee on Jail Violence to force the changes that should have been put in place long ago?

Posted in Civil Rights, HACLA, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 57 Comments »

Welcome to 2012: Deeper HACLA Probes, MT Challenges Citizens United & More

January 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


CITY CONTROLLER WENDY GREUEL GOES AFTER FREE-SPENDING HOUSING AUTHORITY’S HIDDEN NON-PROFIT MONEY SOURCES

KCET’s local news show So-Cal Connected has done a killer job digging into the appalling spending excess mess running rife through the Los Angeles Housing Authority—HACLA.

However at first, City Controller Wendy Greuel was a little slower off the mark than we’d have liked in investigating HACLA aggressively (as the LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson points out here). But now the Controller has shifted into high gear—as evidenced by her announcement Tuesday that she has expanded her probe of HACLA to include the Housing Authority’s non-profit ventures, which she notes produced a tidy $15 million a year in net income—money that HACLA execs evidently thought was their own personal expense fund to raid at will for $2000 staff lunches, rampant high ticket travel junkets, endless limo use, personal gifts, “employee incentives” in the form of ipods and ipads, and more—all with seemingly no accountability.

Now Greuel aims to go deeper, her office said in Tuesday’s statement:

In a letter to HACLA’s interim President and CEO Doug Guthrie, Greuel indicated that her probe will expand to the enterprise activities run by the Authority that together produce a profit of more than $15 million a year. These activities include rental income for the 2,500 units owned and managed by HACLA’s nonprofits as well as the activities of the LOMOD Corporations and their subcontractors, which oversee the administration of HUD contracts.

This second phase of Greuel’s audit of HACLA follows last month’s announcement which revealed that HACLA officials were involved in wasteful spending, double dipping and irresponsible expenditures coupled with news of a $1.2 million payout to recently ousted Housing Authority CEO Rudolf Montiel.

NOTE: The video above, courtesy of Ron Kaye, show’s HACLA’s second ousted directer in a row, Ken Simmons, offering a retch-producing explanation of how all that lunch and limo money taken out of the agency’s non-profit earnings wasn’t, like, really stealing from the taxpayers or anything….

Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, dude.

Go Wendy!


THE STATE OF MONTANA’S SUPREMES CHALLENGE SCOTUS’S INFAMOUS 2010 “CITIZEN’S UNITED” RULING ON CAMPAIGN SPENDING

See, this is yet one more reason to love Big Sky country:

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal has an article on the matter but it’s hidden behind their pay wall, so go here to get it from Google News.

Here’s how the article by Jess Bravin opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 striking down federal limits on corporate and union political spending doesn’t apply to similar state laws, the Montana Supreme Court has found, renewing a legal debate over how sweeping the high court intended its ruling to be.

In a decision released late Friday, the Montana court held that the state’s Corrupt Practices Act, a century-old voter initiative banning corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates or parties, complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The justices voted 5-4 in Citizens United that corporations and unions had First Amendment rights to spend as they wished to favor or oppose candidates, regardless of the government’s view that such expenditures could corrupt elections for Congress and the presidency.

That last part about corrupting elections was what the Montana Supreme Court disagreed with. Corporate spending had, in fact, corrupted elections in the state, the MT Supremes ruled. And they had a list of instances to prove the point.

Their ruling will, of course, likely be appealed—to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eugene Volokh has moreand he predicts that SCOTUS will agree to hear the case, then reverse the MT ruling.


AS THE NEW YEAR DAWNS, A LIST OF STATES TALK ABOUT THE HIGH COST OF THE PRISON BOOM

Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law and Policy has compiled a list of articles from around the country in which the states’ newspapers talk about the need for sentencing and corrections reforms.

Below, for example, is a snippet of what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has to say:

Stepping away from a lock-em-up philosophy might have been the equivalent of political suicide in the 1990s, but that’s hardly the case today. Many leading conservatives — including Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and many others — support an approach that de-emphasizes prison for non-violent offenders.

Texas was among the first states to change course. In 2007, facing the need to spend $540 million to build new prisons expected to cost another $1.5 billion to run, the state decided to spend a fraction of the anticipated prison costs on alternative programs for non-violent offenders. Since the change, both the crime rate and the incarceration rate have declined.

In 2010, South Carolina adopted a reform package after lawmakers found that prisons were packed with repeat and non-violent offenders. The changes, projected to save up to $175 million in prison construction costs and $66 million in operating costs over five years, are designed to improve public safety. North Carolina also adopted sweeping legislation last year that will reduce spending on corrections with the goal of increasing public safety through programs that should cut repeat offenses.

[Georgia Gov. Nathan] Deal said changes enacted in other states will give Georgia models to consider. And so far, he said, he is hearing positive responses from lawmakers of all stripes. “As members of the General Assembly continue to see demands placed on them to appropriate more money for incarceration and see the numbers of inmates continue to rise substantially every year,” Deal said, “I think they’re certainly willing to embrace these changes.”

Yoooo-hooo, California lawmakers..…?! Why are you letting all these other more conservative state legislators move ahead of you, while you crouch behind your collective desks with your fingers in your ears, humming—hoping no one will notice?

I got news: We’ve noticed.


NOTE: PART 4 OF WLA’S DANGEROUS JAILS REPORT BY MATT FLEISCHER WILL APPEAR NEXT WEEK.

In the meantime, many, many thanks to those of you from the LASD—both actively working and recently retired—who have been giving us excellent tips, fact-checking help, guidance and encouragement as we continue to report. Please keep it coming.

Posted in City Controller, HACLA, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »