21st Century Policing LASD

LA County Sheriffs Must Improve Treatment Of Families Who Lose Loved Ones in Deputy-Involved Shootings & Other LASD-Related Deaths, Says New Report

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

In the last five years, 207 people have died while in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, or in incidents involving lethal use of force by LASD deputies in the field.

Whatever the circumstances of such deaths, they are understandably deeply traumatic for family members.

According to a new report released by the LA County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) last Thursday, families of those who died, are very often left without adequate information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of their child, parent, sister, brother or other family member. Then, once told, families are often treated clumsily by law enforcement, and do not receive sufficient support to address the trauma they experience following the crushing loss of someone they love.

The report came about after the COC received what commission members described as a “substantial number of requests” from LA residents and community groups urging them to look into the ways the LASD interacts with the families of those seriously injured or killed after contacts with the department.

Community members were particularly insistent that, when comes to fatal use-of-force cases, those collaterally affected needed to be handled far more compassion and understanding than was too often presently the case.

The LA-based Youth Justice Coalition, which is active in justice reform all over the state, researched and wrote up their own “Family Member Bill of Rights,” which they gave to the COC, in the hope that the commissioners would push the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the sheriff’s department to adopt a similar set of principles.

[For the YJC’s suggested Family Member Bill of Rights see Appendix A in the COC report.]

In response to all of the above, the COC formed a special ad hoc committee to look deeply into the matter, and then to make recommendations.

In the course of its work, the committee conducted in depth meetings with LASD staff, plus with members of the coroner’s office, and other county agencies and departments. In addition, the committee dug into what kind of family outreach programs existed to help families following a serious injury or a death.

Most importantly, the committee members met with families who’d been through the kind of  devastating events the COC was probing.

“Hearing family members’ heartbreaking experiences illustrated that they are grieving victims, and they should be treated as such,” said Patti Giggans, a member of the special ad hoc committee, and also the COC’s new chair.

Sitting down with families who had lost loved ones, in addition to meetings with the various county departments and community organizations, eventually allowed the committee “to identify gaps in service,” said Giggans.

Among the problems that emerged were accounts of families getting information about the death of a family member that was confusing, contradictory, and woefully incomplete.  It didn’t help that the news was frequently not delivered in a “sensitive manner,” according to the report.

In some instances, families said that they were not told by the LASD that their family member was dead at all, but instead they heard the awful news from the media, or via community rumors.

In other cases, families got mixed information concerning the location of the body of their loved one.  And nearly every family the committee spoke with requested a much clearer explanation as to the protocols regarding “whether or not they are allowed to see the body, either at the scene, hospital, or at the morgue, and when that may occur.”

Another hot button topic for affected families and communities was the request for the LASD to withhold comments that were not directly pertinent to the investigation, particularly those sort of comments that tended to “discredit or vilify the decedent.”

Families and community members pointed to phrases like, “’he was a known gang member,” which they felt suggested prematurely that “the use of force might be justified based on that fact alone.”

Such comments only add to the family’s trauma, wrote the report’s authors.

“Whether the decedent is a gang member or not, such a fact is not relevant to the use of force.”

Furthermore, the report concluded, unnecessarily pejorative comments  diminish “trust between LASD and the community. This is especially true “in marginalized communities and communities of color,” some of whom have had a negative history with law enforcement.


The recommendations

After identifying what the committee members believed to be the primary systemic issues that have prevented timely, trauma-informed, and clear communication with families and communities following a sheriff’s department-related death, the commission voted to make the following seven recommendations (which are broken down in more detail in the report itself):

  1. Establish an entity consisting of a multi-disciplinary team capable of providing ongoing support, resources and transparent communication to families of the deceased.
  2. Hold continuous trauma-informed training for all Sheriff’s Department personnel who encounter family members.
  3. Maintain fairness and withhold judgement when the Sheriff’s Department provides information to the media, including the characterization of the subject of the investigation.
  4. Advocate for changes in current state laws regarding access to victim resources.
  5. Establish a program to assist families who experience a Sheriff’s Department-related death of a loved one with funeral costs and other expenses, including trauma and grief counseling.
  6.  Develop a pamphlet for family members of deputy involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
  7. Create a website and/or social media page that explains Sheriff’s Department procedures and protocol related to in-custody deaths and fatal deputy-related uses of force.

The value of change

“Losing a loved one unexpectedly is a traumatic event that requires an extensive amount of time to process,” the report concludes.  Although the details surrounding each in-custody death or fatal use of force vary, the common denominator is “the grieving family and the need for access to information.”

Effective communication with families following an in-custody death or fatal use of force, isn’t always easy, wrote the report’s authors, especially given “the unique pressures and legal requirements” that department members are expected to adhere to, “amidst an often highly charged and emotional scene.”   Thus the needed trauma-informed approach will likely require “a cultural shift within LASD,” according to the report.

But the commission believes that the payoff will be worth it, and that making the necessary changes will help build a stronger “unifying bridge between the community and LASD” by illustrating to the grieving families and the community “that their concerns regarding transparent communication are valid and require immediate attention.”

Following its approval on Thursday, the COC submitted the report to the both the LA County Board of Supervisors and the sheriff’s department for action.

According to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has already authored a motion on the topic, the report will be an important tool for the county.

“I commend the Civilian Oversight Commission for proposing supportive, common sense, trauma-informed solutions after hearing directly from grieving family members who have experienced loss after encounters with law enforcement,” he said—adding that the board will be giving the new COC report its “full attention” on October 9th, when his motion will likely come up for a vote.

“I look forward to fully realizing these recommendations,” said MRT.

The oversight commission members themselves sounded upbeat about the report being put to productive use, rather than becoming one more well-intentioned document luxuriating on one more county shelf.

“This process is a model example of the effective work the Commission can do through deep listening, research and inquiry,” said COC chair Patti Giggans.

Commissioner JP Harris, who is a retired LASD lieutenant, was similarly enthusiastic.  The report, he said, was “a great example” of how the community, the sheriff’s department, and the oversight commission can work together “toward the same mission—to make the system better and more humane.”

24 Comments

  • This where liberal and conservatives’ attitudes really diverge. Calling the families of suspects who tried their best to harm or kill deputies “victims,” especially in the context of the criminal justice system, is just plain lunacy. If the dead guy was the bread winner (or 211 artist as it were) then the family will just have to wait until they make some nuisance money from the wrongful death lawsuit – or, gasp – get a job. This is what makes #4 above a ridiculous goal. Leave the victim fund for actual victims of crime.

    Families tend not to be sympathetic toward law enforcement. In fact, don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, family life was the breeding ground for junior to become the gangster thug he grew up to be? They know damn well that junior engaged in a running gun battle with deputies. But then they offer up a photo of junior when he was 9 to the media, not the Facebook photos of him signing his gang affiliation, smoking a joint, and holding the very same gun he used to shoot at deputies with.

  • I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Little Johnny was interrupted last night during an attempted robbery. He shot at the police who returned fire killing your little boy. I know that little Johnny was a “confirmed” gang member, but not to worry. It was not relevant in the decision to use deadly force. The whole Department is deeply affected by the loss of your son. It is our understanding he was going to attend medical school as soon as he was released from probation. You will have to excuse me now….I have to advise the wife and kids of the death of their father who your son killed last night.

    • Bandwagon:

      1968 South Gate, Christmas Day: A 17 year old girl returning home from Christmas church services was broadsided by a FPK patrol unit responding to a silent burglar alarm in Cudahy.

      The girl died; the burglar alarm was false, as were most burglar alarms then; and not even an “I’m sorry this happened” to the girl’s parents

  • In the near future- Deputies kill criminal in commission of crime. Response team contacts family in order to console, offer assistance. Upon realizing family member was killed at the hands of the Sheriffs Dept, family flies into rage and attack Deputies. Deputies kill family member in self defense, arrest others finding it necessary to use force to do so. Witness la and Mark Ridley Thomas condemn the obviously racist practice of harassing family members of criminals killed by law enforcement. Millions are handed out, no one cares.

  • My response was to the narrow issues of deputy involved shootings…. obviously there are other circumstances which dictate a compassionate response. Please don’t read too much into my comments….

  • The first half of this statement I will agree with. “In the last five years, 207 people have died while in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, or in incidents involving lethal use of force by LASD deputies in the field.” The second half, incidents involving deadly force, really. Mr. and Mrs. parent of the year. Sorry, your son was killed because he failed to follow the lawful orders of a police officer and stop, put his hands up, lay on the ground, etc., and made the conscious decision to aim his firearm at the officers. He lost.

    At a traffic stop while conversing with the officers, then opens the door, pulls out his gun, and shoots at the officer. He gets killed and law enforcement should have a consolement unit.

  • I have ZERO compassion for the families of scumbags!! ZERO.

    When someone innocent gets killed, by our hands or other circumstances, then we need to show the utmost sympathy and compassion. Sometimes we lack that.

    • Your 2nd paragraph is on point. No argument there. Though not killed with a bullet but assassination of character would be the already mentioned Cherie Townsend. Shouldn’t the Sheriff be the first one to set an example for his troops. The Los Angeles County payouts continue….

  • The notification of any death should at the minimum, respectable. The notification of death and tragedy concerning victims and those of innocence even more so , requires professionalism and compassion. Look at the latest incident involving Cherie Townsend who was falsely accused of a high profile murder in Rancho Palos Verdes. The details and treatment of Ms. Townsend by LASD arrest is shocking.

  • I agree with Ownership, no sympathy for scumbags and the families of scumbags, such as those that shoot unarmed person because they “fear for their life.” No sympathy for scumbags that shoot persons unarmed because they confused a cellphone for a gun. I agree, no sympathy for scumbags that walk into the wrong apartment and shoot innocent black people they confuse for intruders. I think we are on the same page, Ownership.

    • CF, you are the backbone of every social justice entity. They love their cop haters. Just point on the dolly where the mean po-po touched you.

  • CF.., Thank god!!! It’s taken long enough for me to reach you. You were a tough one. Usually I can convince people I’m always right far quicker.

  • What is the break down of the 207? How me many deaths were in patrol and how many in custody. I bet the vast majority of the custody deaths were from natural causes.

    Love to hear all the positive comments from CF as usual.

  • Who’s going to pay for all these recommendations? The youth justice coalition? I doubt it. The ACLU? I doubt it.
    The department will just create a new unit with 1 captain, 4 lieutenants, 12 sergeants, 20 deputies, and 10 civilian staff members. All sworn staff members will have to get take home cars, county cell phones, and county lap tops because obviously they’ll have to be on call and respond from home. Their on call and responses will all require overtime.
    It’s okay, the department will “rob Peter to pay Paul”. Patrol won’t get staffed, carping by station detectives will go up, cars will be filled with either “OT Reduction” or “Closed” and their overtime money will be reallocated to the new unit.

  • What is the difference between this sight and the fokkks news comment section? Not much…The “Deputy Sheriff” character is obviously a high school loser. His label is his, identity…

  • Are you kidding, thank you for inviting me to comment. By natural causes, do you mean , for example, blacks that die more often from chokeholds than “normal” people? Or, when people like Eric Garner die of a heart attack after being choked by some cowboy and 5 other security guards?

    Been there Done That, WE are going to pay, the public, the same ones that pay your salary right now. I am sorry you might be losing your overtime. Im sure it hurts that you will not be able to suck the government teat and milk the system.

    • @CF
      Know one is arguing that you (taxpayers) pay our salary. What been there is saying is true. It’s not about someone losing overtime. It’s about you, the taxpayer, losing the most important service of all and that is patrol deputies. The department will pull from patrol to fill these special projects. Which means fewer patrol deputies, which means increased response times, decreased arrests. When you have more deputies working special admin projects then patrol thAt is a problem.

  • CF: Right as usual. You mean Mr Garner who refused a legal lawful order and decided to resist arrest? “Normal people” comply with the police and go home st night.

    • “Normal people” comply with the police and go home at night……. I beg to differ with you. Years ago Axel Rose spit on my T/O’s jacket after talking shit. Needless to say after Axel was “B slapped” he was booked and he did not go home that night. So much for normal people. You may not agree but crime and punishment differs based on race.

  • Obviously Axel didn’t qualify for “normal” which resulted in his arrest. Assholes come in all shapes, colors, etc…….African Americans for example only represent approx. 13% of the population, yet account for almost 40% of the arrests annually nationwide. Race is not an excuse for criminal behavior.

    • Agreed on your last sentence and double standards is unacceptable in sentencing, example: Whites with powder cocaine and Blacks with crack cocaine. They’re all bad and should be sentenced equally but they’re not (of course) depending upon sales or personal use. I’m not siding with either just pointing out a flaw.

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