ANTELOPE VALLEY – The Justice Department Civil Rights Division on Friday (June 28) released a letter detailing its findings that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) Lancaster and Palmdale stations engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, and seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.
In addition, the Justice Department found a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in its enforcement of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as Section 8), in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The investigation, launched on Aug. 19, 2011, was brought under to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the federal Fair Housing Act.
The findings were based on a comprehensive investigation of LASD’s Antelope Valley stations, that included an in-depth review of documents and data provided by LASD and the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA), as well as extensive community engagement.
The division reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, including written policies and procedures, training materials, arrest reports and civilian complaints. The division also conducted interviews of Antelope Valley deputies and unit commanders, local government officials and hundreds of community members.
The investigation also included statistical analyses of the Antelope Valley stations’ search and seizure data of pedestrian and vehicle contacts for the entire calendar year of 2011.
The division’s investigation into the Antelope Valley stations findings include:
- African Americans, and to a lesser extent Latinos, are more likely to be stopped and/or searched 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;
- 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.
- Inadequate implementation of accountability measures to intervene on unconstitutional conduct has allowed these problems to occur.
Sheriff Leroy Baca and HACoLA Executive Director Sean Rogan were cooperative throughout the investigation and immediately began working with the Justice Department to negotiate a remedy to the problems revealed by the investigation, according to a DOJ news release.
“We are encouraged by the response of Los Angeles County to our findings. While our investigation showed significant problems in LASD’s Antelope Valley stations, we are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that will provide meaningful and sustainable reform,” said Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We look forward to continuing our positive partnership with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and HACoLA and believe this work will help restore the community’s confidence in fair, equitable, and effective law enforcement.”
The Justice Department and Los Angeles County have reached preliminary agreements to make broad changes to policing in the Antelope Valley and to the enforcement of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).
The proposed changes set out in the statement of intent include:
- Revision of LASD’s policies, directives, training, and practices so that stops, searches, and seizures by Antelope Valley deputies are consistently conducted in accordance with the law.
- A commitment to further strengthening and uniformly implementing protocols regarding HACoLA’s investigation of housing choice voucher holders’ compliance with program rules, including LASD deputy participation in those investigations.
- Provision of training that will focus on how bias may occur in law enforcement activity, and on the effects of bias on subjects of law enforcement activity. Training will also educate LASD and HACoLA personnel on federal and constitutional obligations, including the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
- Revision of LASD’s use of force policies, training curricula, and any relevant directives, bulletins, or defensive tactics manuals to provide clear guidance about the reasonable use of force.
- Continued and increased positive community engagement by LASD in the Antelope Valley, including participating in local community meetings, making itself available for community feedback, developing the Community Advisory Committees (CAC), and working with the community on the development of diversion programs.
In addition to its investigation of LASD, the Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation under the Fair Housing Act of the HACoLA, and the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, to determine whether there has been a systematic effort by these entities to discriminate against African Americans.
As a result of the Department’s findings, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights has authorized the filing of a complaint in federal district court against the County of Los Angeles, HACoLA, LASD, and the Cities of Lancaster and Palmdale for alleged violations of federal law. Through the ongoing negotiations, all of the parties seek to avoid contested litigation and resolve the matter in a comprehensive agreement to be entered as an order of the court.
(Information via press release from the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division.)
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