LA County Probation

LA County Probation Chief Terri McDonald Unexpectedly Announces January Retirement

LA County Probation Chief Terri McDonald, photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

In a surprise letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation Chief Terri McDonald informed the board on Tuesday that she would be leaving her post as the head of the nation’s largest probation department on January 18, 2020.

“It has been a profound honor to serve as your Chief Probation Officer and I thank you for the opportunity,” McDonald wrote in her September 18 letter. “Because of the experience I have had leading this incredible department in this amazing county, it is with mixed emotions that I inform you of my intention to return to retirement.”

Probation Chief Terri McDonald at opening to Campus Kilpatrick, WLA

When she was asked to take the role of chief in the fall of 2016, McDonald said she had committed to a three-year assignment “because I would be leaving my family after only just returning home following assisting in the jails.”

McDonald’s family lives in Northern California.

Chief McDonald said in a statement emailed to WitnessLA that the job has been “rewarding and exceedingly important,” yet “the impact to my family has been unfair and it is time to return home.”

Among the accomplishments and changes she listed that occurred during her tenure was the fact that adult and juvenile populations served by probation have reached record lows, allowing the department to close down a list of juvenile facilities.

“We have closed eight Probation camps and one juvenile hall since 2017, and opened Campus Kilpatrick where we have demonstrated a commitment to provide trauma-informed care to the youth in our charge, while also beginning to eliminate the usage of OC Spray,” McDonald wrote.

Department of Public Works Director Mark Pestrella, Probation Chief Terri McDonald, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Arts Commission Executive Director Kristin Sakoda, and Office of Diversion and Reentry Director Judge Peter Espinoza. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

McDonald also pointed to the work being done to convert former Camp Gonzales into a voluntary “residential vocational education center,” and to the opening of the Reentry Opportunity Center located in South Los Angeles where probation clients can access the tools needed “for long-term success” in reentry back into their communities in a sort one-stop-shopping supportive environment, that has already been much praised as a model that should be replicated.

Future Challenges

McDonald is leaving at a time of great transition for the department.

The board’s vote on the creation of the Probation Oversight Commission  (along with the consideration of whether the new POC should have subpoena power) is tentatively scheduled to take place the first Tuesday of October.

And the report about the possibility of “transitioning” Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system “out of the Probation Department into another agency” is also due to show up in the coming months.

The scheduled phase-out of the use of pepper spray in the county’s youth facilities is another potentially bumpy road that lies ahead.

And those are only a few of the upcoming challenges.

McDonald told the board she knew that “much work that remains to be done,” and that she was committed to assisting  “with a smooth transition” as well as to “supporting the on-going efforts in any way possible” after she returns home.

By our math, that leaves the board exactly four months to find and swear in McDonald’s replacement.

In the email WLA received, the chief wrote in emotional tones about how “the men and women who make up L.A. County Probation have a passion for service that is second to none.”

She also wrote that she will remain “fully focused on the many challenges and opportunities that are before this Department until my last day.”

More as we know it.

Retirement Notification Terri McDonald


  • C: If she was so dedicated why would she leave so abruptly? Reminds me of when Stonich abruptly left LASD. Four months is all the time she left for her replacement? Didn’t she know months ago that she was leaving? Didn’t she have a family last year? We all know she is leaving because she has failed, miserably! Why no comment about her accomplishments when she was a fake chief on LASD? If you dig, just a bit, you’ll find out the real reason. But, if true, that she misses her family then I wish her well. If she is having a family emergency she should leave immediately, wouldn’t you? Maybe she is ill and must leave? Ok, then just have transparency and let us pray for her health?

    This is one more reason why the BOS must stay out of LASD. Baca was forced, politically, to put her in as chief, remember? And how did that turn out? Why did she leave LASD? Isn’t that news?

    Under her management how many kids died or were left to be abused and/or neglected? I truly wish people who are ill, mentally unable or familial issues who decide to step down. We we all understand these reasons. But………I apologize if I’m wrong!

    Last, Celeste do you really believe she did a good job?

  • She left abruptly because she has been playing in the pile of trash for a long time. Did she not expect to get dirty playing in a pile of trash? Comical

  • Interestingly, the media never found her nor Mitchell to blame for the complete deterioiration of our facilities. They instead chose to demonize the hardworking staff, who had to put up the the deplorable conditions and complete lack of leadership. But I guess thats par for the course when you’re a pollitically correct figurehead. Tough times ahead for this department….

  • Meanwhile in other Los Angeles County news, Sheriff Villanueva said that he will assess the Mitrice Richardson case from the beginning.

    The deceit and coverup by Lost Hills Station sworn personnel concerning her death is mind boggling.

  • CD: What proof do you have. After death the LASD lied and lied. That was Baca, Tanaka, the commander, captain and lieutenant. And BTW who was the Attorney General of Calif at the time? Um, let me think-YES KAMALA HARRIS who refused to reopen the case. The same Kamala Harris that hates cops! Found no wrong doing! The who was the big time civil rights lawyer that settled the claim? Can you say Leo Terrell? What new evidence(other than emotion) do you have. I agree that Baca and the others are jerks but….

  • The truth from the Sheriff’s side is yet to be told if there’s ant truth at all and the evidence is there but was ignored. Whether you like the Sheriff or not, I applaud hime for stepping up. 😉

    Stepping up to address the ELA Bandito’s issue in totality with resolution is a whole different story. 🙁

  • So, after she and Sheila Mitchell were called to a closed door meeting with the BOS on Tues she abruptly retires? Yeah, read between those lines. Anyone taking bets on how long before Mitchell announces the same? Not soon enough. What a shit show. Together they have systematically destroyed this Dept; we may never recover from the unethical practices and abuse heaped upon employees, all so that she could fulfill her promise to fire 5-7% of the workforce. Disgusting. Good riddance.

  • Big Red needs to walk a row and have piss thrown at her just as she forced the deputies to do as a result of her policies. Good riddens, loser.

  • Um- Not sure if we are talking about the same Kamala Harris. The one I know loved cops and there was no conviction she would not defend, even standing with lying prosecutors. If you have not seen the video of the Baca case before the 9th Circuit, I highly recommend it. Judge Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, calling out the AG’s office for asking the court to uphold a murder conviction when everyone knew the jailhouse informant (somehow prosecutors and cops have a way of finding cellies that invite confessions) and the prosecutor lied up their ass. The Kamala I know never thought there were too many arrests, never thought there was overcharging and never doubted any cop or prosecutor. The Kamala I know would have never been caught dead with anyone from BLM. That is, of course, until she runs for president, but even then she will not say a bad word about cops. I am not even sure she knew she was black until she decided to run for president. I think Willie thought he was with a white girl and she thought she was a white girl slumming it and living on wild side when she was with Willie. Then the ingrate talks bad about Willie after he opened the door wide for her and gave her his Rolodex. So, you guys can have her back. She aint going nowhere. I would even throw in Willie, if you want a twofer.

  • Thank goodness big red called a quits. She ran the sheriff’s department custody side into a bureaucratic nightmare with countless meeting and projects that resulted absolutely NOTHING. I have no doubt she did the same with probation.

    She really fooled the BOS, although I don’t think that is too difficult.

    As for CD, have fun at the storm the gate rally at Area 51. I am sure you will enjoy your time with the rest of the mass conspiracy theorist.

    You seem to have much more information than what was originally presented.

  • You guys got her now! She’s running for president on the Democrat Socialist party! That’s you! But, I do agree that she will say and do anything to get elected. Willie was one of yours also! Don’t put your creeps onto honest people.

    But is anyone surprised by a politicians behavior??

    Back on point: Red should leave now!

  • Stupid comment.

    The link provided by City Dweller abounds with facts.

    Exactly what fact is it that you are having trouble with?

  • Those have nothing to do with her death! Not usable in a court of law. Maybe in a kangaroo court but not in American courts! That’s why there has been NO PROSECUTION. Why is is this confusing you?

  • Old “Big Red” made out like a bandit. She’s going too not only collect her “big fat pension” from the CDC but also the LA County Sheriff’s Department and LA County Probation Department.

    Talk about a gorging on the government tit and not wanting to let go.

    A civil service retirement trifecta!

    What say you CF, or is your disdain, animosity and outright hate simply relegated to the low level line workers that make up the majority of the folks in law enforcement?

  • You guys have to make up your mind, Sheriff Villanueva is not your Magic Genie to only do what YOU want him to do.
    This particular case is one of many in which the Sheriff’s Department attempted to bamboozle the family and the public. Villanueva agrees to check it out further.
    The lying deputies involved, including the ranking officers remind me of O.J. Simpson.

  • IF what you say is true, City Dweller, and they re-open this investigation, and IF the investigation reveals department members lied, doesn’t it seem more likely this Sheriff will try to promote those liars, and make them part of his A team?
    After all, Sheriff Villanueva has already shown he is amenable to liars and brown nosers.
    Based on the “brown nosey” nature of your comments, my guess is you are already on that team.

  • Oh Boy:

    “If what you say is true…and they re-open this investigation….”

    A couple of days ago AV held a press conference announcing that he would re-open the investigation, then he changed his mind & announced there would be no investigation.

    Full particulars can be Googled: The Malibu Times–Mitrice Richardson.

  • Conspiracy – You’re absolutely right. Don’t know how the folks at the State felt about her but at the local level, it doesn’t appear that she had any fans. Nor does it appear that she cared about those that do the job. All about pleasing the Board and being politically correct. The importance of decency to all and common sense has left the building.

    One of these days the Board will hopefully be comprised of people that are humble enough to admit that they don’t know it all, respect the input of those doing the job and put people in place that understand the many, many nuances of the justice system in LA County. Until then, it will be one 3-5 year wonder after another, more new consultants, more commissions and ongoing change for the sake of same and employees that are in the position of trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing no one.

  • @ Oh Boy: Investigations already revealed lies by Lost Hills Sheriff Station personnel, read the link. I rest……

  • Big Red everything she touched went to shit in a hand basket. Telling the Sergeants I used a boat load of force in CDC. Too telling the deputies don’t use force on a violent suspect you might get hurt. Let the inmate hit you first before you can hit them back. Everything is Unicorns and Rainbows what a worthless POS.

  • Celeste, Thank You for sharing another wonderful article on the complete transformation and execution for success of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. It really took sometime to figure out if objectivity and compassion go hand in hand in your contribution to Justice, Transparency, and Insight. There was one flaw on the approach of many of the articles presented since the closure of SHU ( a name of lock up that came from CDCR). In all this time, finding staff within CEO’s office, in the halls, and outside to further your success has been quite beneficial. So since this is an article of closure for a Chief, lets look at the impact. 1st Red Bulletin- POC with Subpoena. It really is quite an interesting request. Formally incarcerated entities who practice transformational mentoring who have a mission to make change and remain informative want complete access to a law enforcement entity with no background checks, only outside looking in perspectives, and who negate the emotions, efforts, work of the only subject matter experts are lying within the Department you become to be disgusted with exist. Their story wasn’t told and you have made it a gleaming reality that you will never allow for it to be told through this forum or others. You are barely on the surface for the type of resilience it requires to stimulate human life and endeavor. So it is pretty daunting and a dark picture you have painted with your Witnessla brush but I don’t think you account for what is really happening. Oversight by another body. No one wants our kids the same way families are broken that these kids find themselves in adult situations. DMH, DHS, Diversion programs, and other stakeholders like the ARC who have clouded the truth. This scenario that is present with Probation is no one’s project and honestly I would have wished that the opposing entities treat it with more sense. The Board’s motion to remove OC is an amazing idea. Shiela Keuhl has no idea what it feels like being in the center of riot because of gang tension. What do you do? Are you going to research best strategies? Are you going to thumb through the RDA study? Are you going to call a Probation Commissioner or PRIT Member to comedown and help? Are you going to hop on the phone and call Celeste? The generated perception and labeling through bias, politics, and lack of respect for officers is quite clear. How is a proper solution to organizational change or progress going to occur if those items render themselves? The Department are masters in Behavior. It understands bad intentions, social climbers, over achievers, manipulation even via media, self serving, selfishness, hate, control, depression, abuse, and a multitude of real life events that an officer is dealing with at this very moment. While you sip on your next coffee looking for that next article to write on the Los Angeles County Probation Department, please title it “I’m sorry for letting you all down when I could have the chance to hear to create a balance approach ” Celeste, why did you leave them out of this? Why did Prit allow the same people to come to their meetings? Why was a juvenile justice platform of this magnitude created? A great deal of lawyers came out to play on this one. One last thing, the Probation Department can take the spin out of a spin doctor. Who does anyone think they are playing with right now? You will see the righteousness, integrity, and human focused core towards rehabilitation and continuity of care arise from these ashes. Or perhaps you will see the biggest rise in juvenile crime in LA History to the most at risk communities of the city occur. Future victims. We need to fix the homes and we need to catch these kids sooner. The rhetoric for PRIT should to have included the additional body with funding on the early in reach of kids, adopting schools and working with principals, and equipping programs from UCLA, USC, City Colleges, Art Institutes, Music Programs, Sports, Scholastic Achievements, and Life skills. The system will automatically phase out. Tax payers will be happy. Instead demolishing the last line of defense for community safety was the intended outcome. Achieved. Tell their story Celeste. You haven’t even seen the golden nuggets buried in this chaos.

  • Her resignation couldn’t come any sooner! Good riddance no one will miss you and your shit show…… Worse Chief Ever!!,

  • Blame goofy ol Leroy Baca for her introduction to LE. Thank Lee and his insightful thinking for enabling this IDIOT to destroy safe,controlled custody settings. It absolutely makes me want to vomit when I here the BOS rant and rave about her skillset…. Yes, I would say this to her face and more so!

  • It’s not necessarily so much that Terri “screwed things” up; if there were an underlying reason for her leaving, it would be that she had honestly tried to effect needed change and was not able to due to entrenched ignorance and refusal reverse the status quo with respect to her co-leadership. A leader is only effective as those she leads and led by.

    I knew Terri from her CDCR days, she was, and and still is, a solid woman, a solid professional. She cares about people and only seeks the do the right thing—always. Sometimes the forces against you may be so extreme that it may not, in the end, be worth the continued sacrifice and pursuit- Terri is a one Phenomenal human being. But everyone has got to know their limits- ya gotta know when to fold.

    If she say it’s family that she is considering- take her for her word.

    It’s really easy for you Monday Morning QB’s to judge.

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