LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has suspended the operations of a highway enforcement team that stopped thousands of innocent Latino drivers in search of drugs on the 5 Freeway, prompting allegations of racial profiling, it was reported Friday.
The county inspector general had launched an investigation into the activities of the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team. The probe followed a report in the Los Angeles Times that almost 70 percent of drivers stopped from 2012 through last year were Latino and that two-thirds of them had their vehicles searched — a rate far higher than motorists of other racial and ethnic groups.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis asked the inspector general and the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to conduct the review of the enforcement team.
According to The Times, a day before the team’s operations were halted, Inspector General Max Huntsman reported to oversight commission members that the unit was not properly supervised and had violated drivers’ rights.
Deputies on the team have denied racial profiling and insisted that they base their stops only on a person’s driving and other impartial factors and former Sheriff Jim McDonnell has said he was proud of the team’s work, which included confiscating 3,500 pounds of drugs and rescuing six victims of human trafficking.
McDonnell was ousted in the Nov. 6 election by retired sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva, sworn in earlier this week, but the decision to suspend the unit’s operations was made on Nov. 16, while McDonnell was still in office, department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told The Times, which first reported the decision to halt the unit’s activities.
Nishida told The Times that data on the team’s work was being gathered and would be evaluated prior to any decision on resuming operations.