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?