LA County Board of Supervisors

LA County Supes Work to Bring Compassionate Support to Families Whose Loved Ones Die in Custody or When Deputies Use Fatal Force

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Since 2017, more than 100 people have died while in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or during encounters with LASD deputies who choose to use fatal force.

Often, the families of the deceased receive insufficient information about their loved one’s death, and little support in the aftermath.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took the next step in an effort to improve treatment and support for the families of those who died in custody or were killed by members of the sheriff’s department.

The motion, authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, calls for the creation of a multi-disciplinary Family Assistance Program “aimed at improving compassionate communication with and providing trauma-informed support to families” who have lost a loved one in an LASD-related incident.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Bryan Chan, LA County Board of Supervisors.

“When families and communities need to heal, it is incumbent upon us to marshal our resources to help them,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “A Family Assistance Program is not only humane, it can also improve police-community relations and prevent further violence.” Moreover, Ridley-Thomas said, “creating a Family Assistance Program is, at its core, about compassion and holding true to our values as a community, even in the face of crisis.”

Last August, at the prompting of a number of LA County residents and advocates in the community, as well as the LA County Office of Inspector General, the civilian commission overseeing the LA County Sheriff’s Department developed an ad-hoc committee to investigate how the LASD interacts with the families of those who are killed after contact with the department, the commissioners convened an ad-hoc committee to investigate the issue–with the goal of improving sheriff’s department practices.

That committee spoke with individuals and families that lost their loved ones, as well as community organizations and the county departments that communicate with and serve families after a deadly incident.

The committee members found that it was alarmingly common for families to be left without adequate information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of their child, parent, sister, brother or other family member. Additionally, 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 COC committee developed seven recommendations for the sheriff’s department:

  • Establish an entity consisting of a multi-disciplinary team capable of providing ongoing support, resources and transparent communication to families of the deceased.
  • Hold continuous trauma-informed training for all Sheriff’s Department personnel who encounter family members.
  • Maintain fairness and withhold judgment when the Sheriff’s Department provides information to the media, including the characterization of the subject of the investigation.
  • Advocate for changes in current state laws regarding access to victim resources.
  • 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.
  • Develop a pamphlet for family members of deputy-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
  • 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.

In October 2018, in response to the committee’s findings, the LA County Board of Supervisors directed the county CEO’s office, in consultation with the sheriff’s department and other relevant county departments, to return to the board with a plan for implementing the recommendations.

On Tuesday, with that report now in hand, the board voted to move forward with the Family Assistance Program.

“We were all moved by the stories and testimonies of members of our communities who have lost loved ones,” said Brian K. Williams, Executive Director of the Civilian Oversight Commission. “The creation of the Family Assistance Program illustrates how when we listen to one another, dialogue, and collectively work together, good things can happen. This is a great example of the work that the Commission is capable of.”

The motion directs the LA County Director of Mental Health to hire Family Assistance Advocates (FAAs) to act as the primary liaison for families grieving the loss of their loved one. The job of each FAA will be to “communicate timely updates to families, help families navigate the County’s process, identify resources that may be available to them, including funds to assist with burial costs, and provide crisis intervention, stabilization and grief counseling.”

The Sheriff, District Attorney, Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and the Directors of Mental Health and Public Health must also identify specific staff members who will collaborate with the FAAs to give families “timely, coordinated, and respectful information” about their loved one’s death and the investigative process.

The Family Assistance Program will also assist families with burial costs, offer trauma-informed services to the community in the wake of a law enforcement shooting–including counseling for witnesses–and will include a website where families can access important resources and information about law enforcement protocol surrounding in-custody deaths and fatal uses of force.

The plan includes the development of a curriculum for the LASD and Medical Examiner-Coroner that will provide traumatic grief-informed training.

“These families who lose a loved one through an encounter with the Sheriff’s department or die in custody under the jurisdiction of the County go through traumatic grief,” said Patti Giggans, L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission Chair and Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. The Family Assistance Program will ensure that families receive “timely information and a warm hand-off to services.”

Both information and access to services are sorely needed among grieving families, numerous speakers told the board on Tuesday.

The Youth Justice Coalition’s Kim McGill told the story of 20-year-old Jonathan Cuevas, whose mother found out about his death from friends and the news, rather than from a member of the sheriff’s department, after a deputy killed her son in 2010. The family had to hold car washes to pay for Jonathan’s burial, McGill said.

Another young man, Deandre “Trey” Brunston, died, unarmed, in a hail of 81 bullets in 2003. The deputies involved, McGill said, left Brunston bleeding on the ground without medical attention. Their K9, which caught some of the bullets the officers fired, was quickly “scooped up” by an officer. The department organized “an official sheriff’s funeral attended by hundreds of deputies to honor” the dog they shot, “but never met with [Brunston’s] family” or with the community.

Patti Giggans and Brian K. Williams of the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission. Photo by Bryan Chan, LA County Board of Supervisors

Jacob Jackson told the board about the circumstances surrounding the loss of his brother in 1994, the pain it brought his mother, and the absence of the older brother he wished he had grown up with. His mother, he said, found out about her son’s death from a message on the answering machine. “She asked for help from the police,” but “they ignored her,” Jackson said. The “support of FFA” would help families “have closure” in the aftermath of an in custody or use-of-force death.

Supervisor Hilda Solis recounted another story of the county’s failure “just a few days ago” to provide compassionate communication and services to the family of an 18-year-old who was killed by law enforcement.

“I’ve heard the same things related over and over again from family,” Solis said. “And in this case, what we have heard over and over again is that the family heard about the death through a network, and not through county resources, that they were confused and upset by the wait time to go and see their deceased loved one, and that they were deeply concerned about how he was portrayed in the media regarding his death.” This family “really needed support and follow-up services”–services that Solis “made sure” the Department of Mental Health addressed.


Photos by Bryan Chan, LA County Board of Supervisors. Main image: Jacob Jackson talks about the loss of his brother.

28 Comments

  • Family Assistance Program…FAP? What a PERFECT acronym (google it) for this INSANE program that’ll pay for the funerals of criminals. Does that include people who try to kill cops?

    Taylor, you never cease to disappoint. “…..more than 100 people have died…during encounters with LASD deputies who CHOOSE to use fatal force?” Your wording is purposely suggestive and your anti-cop bias is clear.

    With VERY few exceptions, it’s the SUSPECT who controls situations in which cops use deadly force. They are seldom innocent victims of police brutality. You should’ve used,”are forced” instead of “choose.”

    Like the shooting of the 17 yr old girl on the 91 freeway. Her family, her scumbag attorney and the media immediately vilified the police for killing an innocent “lifeguard at Knotts Berry Farm,” but we now know she was on anti-depressants, her father had called 911 because he thought she was suicidal and the video SHOWS her point a fake gun at the officers.

    https://ktla.com/2019/07/12/bodycam-video-shows-fatal-police-shooting-on-anaheim-freeway-warning-graphic-video-language/

    Are the supervisors setting up a fund for officers who are FORCED (or “choose” for Taylor) to kill kids because their families failed in raising them?

    As far as “Trey” Brunston, he was wanted domestic abuse and told cops he was wanted for murder, that he had a gun, said he would shoot the K9 if it was released, said he would shoot officers if they attempted to approach him, said he would shoot if he was shot with a bean bag round, said he was ready to die. Good riddance and I think it’s fantastic that the K-9 was honored for how he died.

    • “GOOD RIDDANCE?!!!”
      ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!
      YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT! WHEREVER YOU GOT YOUR SOURCES YOU A STUPID ASS PUNK! HE WASN’T A MURDERER! HE WAS A FATHER WHO LOVED HIS CHILDREN AND HAD A FUCKED UP LIFE AND THE COPS TREATED HIM LIKE A SUBHUMAN AND PINNED HIM WITH OTHER SHIT THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM! YOU DON’T HAVE THE BALLS TO SAY IT TO HIS SON’S FACE YOU FUCKING COWARD CAUSE THAT’S SOME SHIT THAT’LL GET YOU FUCKED UP!! I BET YOU A PUNK ASS WHITE BOY WHO LIKES TO TALK SHIT BUT TOO SCARED TO GET PUT IN CHECK FOR IT!

  • high school loser’s like this person up top are the people the county of los angeles is giving guns and badges to. The problem is him. 95% of ppl in la county jails are fighting there cases. I think the pigs call it “innocent until proven guilty” but the pig apostle has already passed judgement on these ppl. Calling them “criminals”…We’re giving these character’s guns and badges DUH!!! Why are things so f’d up? Just ask this guy…pigs are never accountable so dont expect a genuine response.

    • Spook, go back to calling yourself cf. it’s racist for you to dumb down your comments while impersonating a person of color. ( POC)

      • How about this…Dont talk tough online. Shoot me ur email. Lets setup a rendezvous. I want you to come with that same keyboard warrior you have right now. And if you dont shoot me that email ur new name is going to be Lt. Thong. You need to be humbled bc ur fingers spat out too much non-sense. LOSER lol

        • You’re on spook! Meet me on the corner of 3rd and grand av. In front of the museum of contemporary art. 3:00 pm sharp buddy. I’ll be wearing an Air Force uniform. Come wearing an orange blazer, plaid pants, and yellow boots so I’ll know it’s you. I may be held up, so give me an hour or two, but I’ll definitely be there, we’ll see who the tough guy is, tough guy

          • Oh we r going straight locations. Meet me at the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson. By the marathon store. Please have on a clown suit. lol I ur spooked buddy hahaha. AF uni lmaooooo Im scared now hahaha. Meet me their at 5pm sharp.

          • Sure spook, I’ll be there, wear a top hat and do jumping jacks so I know where to find you. Like I said, I might be a little late so pace yourself.

          • bitch ass LT THONG…Air Force uni. Just like the lasd. u try to spook ppl visually but Im not him. I check this regularly. When ur by the Marathon Store let me know f’n nincumpoop…And nothing said has to do with cf. Im not her loser. scratch the words. get to the marathon and message me

          • No pacing chump stick…ur still typing? No radios or backup here. Keyboard warrior shit is dead. Show up or shut up Ma’am…Im waiting

          • Hey I’m here, where are you? Flap your arms like a bird and start singing the national anthem so I can find you

    • @Spooked….Evidently, this article has some personal significance to you. This is quite evident by your personal attacks on the person who posted his / her personal comments about the article. First of all, you assume that the person who posted the comment has only acquired a high school diploma. Not sure how you were able to ascertain that information. Secondly, your biased term of “pigs”, which I presume is a derogatory reference to police officers, is immature.
      On the other hand, your emotional responses appear to cloud your judgement and thought process, which in turn, forces you to utilize the proper English term(s) to express yourself in a coherent, logical and lucid manner.
      Further, your statement of “pigs are never accountable..” is a pretty loose and unsubstantiated statement. Can you provide this forum with the empirical data and the source(s) you utilized to make the aforementioned statement? Furthermore, you may want to quit utilizing social media, only because it is reflective in your writing or lack of writing skills (i.e., ppl).

  • @LASD APOTLE, I agree that the article is clearly biased & a mixing of statistics that don’t fit. To the extent that the effort is one of sincere empathy I’d not argue, but characterizing LASD as the fundamental problem is not a constructive approach. As we all know, statistics are to be played with & the mix of the daily average of LASD jail population, approximately 20,000, & deaths in street encounters is the game here. You require LASD to house the most dangerous people of the community, a group that is far less healthy than the general population. Further you ask the LASD to counter substantial lawlessness & you throw out a number of “more than a 100 deaths since 2017”. How is this helpful, comparatively logical? If you look at US death rates, with a daily population of 20,000 you’d have somewhere near 200 deaths as a matter of course. If you considered the health of the jail population you’d have to project a much higher number. Now throw in the intersection of patrol deputies with those activity committing crime & you’d have to increase your number exponentially. I’d argue that LASD is & has been doing amazingly well statistically.
    Stop with the aspersions, if you want a more empathetic system have an adult discussion without the political grandstanding.

    • Hey Past: This is the 2nd time within a week that LASD Apostle has been “called out” for his immature post.

      Your last paragraph sums it all up in a nutshell.

  • I can remember while working in the LA County jails seeing inmates come in with a miriad of serious medical problems. They ranged from kidney failure requiring dialysis, diabetes, illegal substance addiction, mental health issues and cardiac problems to name a few. Of course, these same medical problems and pre-existing conditions are present in the general public, but at least from my experience the general public tries to keep itself somewhat healthy and avail itself of medical care and make life healthy choices.

    Does this mean a person’s medical history should preclude them from being a bad person or a criminal, and should it be the jail and it’s employees fault 100% if someone in their custody dies as a result of their pre-existing medical problems?

    A homeless person dies in the street, under a cardboard box and no one is to blame. That same homeless person commits a crime, goes to jail and dies while in custody and people want to scream abuse. Doesn’t make any sense.

    Services to the families of people who died while in custody or due to a use of force. As always, let’s just ignore the victims of crimes and paint a picture of police officers indescriminately killing people or contributing to their death.

    If guess if members of the US Congress can behave the way they do, and use hyperbole and lies to make a point, why should I expect any different from a fiction writer/reporter.

    Shameful…

  • What’s shameful is the BOS paying for this new program, yet not dropping a dime for a deputy’s funeral. Unless things have changed, the cost of a deputy’s funeral is paid by the Sheriff’s Relief Association. A program where department members contribute themselves. Shameful!!

    • GREAT point, Bandwagon. This is the strange world we live in….where the sheep take pity on the wolves and attack the sheepdogs.

  • How about some facts. How many have died of natural causes while in custody? Armed confrontations with deputies? Unarmed confrontations?

    Taylor you constantly leave out facts that tell the whole story. If you are going to write an article at least do some research. There are some of us that actually don’t believe everything we read.

  • Hey Celeste….as someone whose had posts blocked, “censored”, I have to ask what is your criteria? Is it purely based on your own personal beliefs and bias?

    After seeing some posts you let “slip through”, I’m perplexed.

    Oh…maybe you are just tired and it was an oversight.

    Hmph…

  • Celeste? Maybe you’re on vacation….

    Conspiracy is right, howabout AT LEAST blocking comments that are racist (INCLUDING those against whites) and primitives who challenge other commenters to fight.

    Don’t you think it’s a LITTLE out of control?

  • “LASD deputies who choose to use fatal force…” I am pondering what empirical data, led to the genesis of this statement? Evidently, it was a haphazardly, biased and ignorant statement. I believe Deputies and law enforcement personnel, in general, utilize deadly force when they are compelled (i.e., man with a gun) or when their own lives or the lives of others are in danger. Although this may appear to be a noble gesture by the BOS, it is a slap in the face to Deputy personnel and their families. Nonetheless, this is to be expected when you have DemonRats running the local government. Their hearts bleed for the criminal, while they chastise law enforcement.

  • Interesting article yesterday via Rueters. A major University conducted a study involving 900 officer involved shootings. The study found Hispanic and Black officers were just as likely to shoot people of color as white officers. The study also found the use of deadly force were more prevalent in high crime areas. Not a suprise there except it did not matter if the high crime area was white or black. The study would seem to contradict the theory of bias among white police officers against people of color. I am hoping Celeste will post the article on Witnessla to offer balance with other stories that offer different opinions.

    • Just read that article–it can be Googled; very interesting.

      Rueters is an out-of-country news service.

      Too bad we have to find out what is happening in this country by going to out-of-country news sources.

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