LANCASTER — Many promises have been made by candidates in the Los Angeles County sheriff’s election regarding change and accountability following the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.
But no candidate has made mention of the 2010 wrongful shooting of a homeless Lancaster couple by deputies, which has become one of the clearest examples of the need to rein in irresponsible behavior.
So says Michael Garcia who handles public relations for the Law Offices of David Drexler. Garcia contacted The AV Times to raise concern with how campaign promises have missed their target in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s election.
“Candidates have turned up their rhetoric and promises of increased public trust and ‘bringing change’ to the LA County Sheriff’s Department and its culture,” Garcia said; but “in spite of the rhetoric and promises by the candidates, not one of them has commented on this case – a case we believe to be as good of a case study of Sheriffs Deputies’ impropriety as any.”
Drexler, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney, represented Angel and Jennifer Mendez in Federal court last year in the wrongful police shooting action against the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the County of Los Angeles.
The Mendez’ were a young homeless couple in Lancaster who were shot multiple times by Sheriff’s Deputies on Oct. 1, 2010. According to the couple’s lawsuit, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies conducted warrantless raids on two separate single-family residences on 18th Street West in Lancaster.
Jennifer, who was pregnant, was shot in the back, and Angel lost his leg as a result of his bullet wounds.
“Deputies had no search warrant and had no good reason to fire on the Mendez’s,” Garcia told The AV Times in an email. “The level of misconduct proved in court was unparalleled in this type of case.”
Sheriff’s candidate Todd Rogers said he was aware of the case, but because he is currently serving as Assistant Sheriff to the Sheriff’s Department, he could not comment on pending litigation.
However, he did say that he would like to address any “us vs. them” attitudes that may exist within the Sheriff’s organization – or even within the community toward law enforcement.
“We must institutionalize community policing principles everywhere in the county to build the level of trust and engage in an honest and open dialogue about how we can work together to ensure constitutionally sound policing practices and the safety of our personnel,” Rogers said in an email to The AV Times. “I will lead the discussion on these issues.”
Agua Dulce-resident Lou Vince, who’s running for Los Angeles County Sheriff, said the Mendez’ should be compensated in that tragic instance of excessive force, but he also hopes that their experience will be a “catalyst for change” that is needed with the Sheriff’s Department.
“I do believe this is an important example of the change that needs to be addressed with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and its culture,” Vince said in an email to The AV Times. “Whenever the actions of members of the Sheriff’s Department are perceived to be, or found to be as in the Mendez case or the DOJ investigation, improper, excessive, biased, unfair or disrespectful, the trust of the diverse communities we serve is severely diminished. … We need to maintain the trust and respect of the public in order to be effective at what we do.”
If elected Tuesday, Vince said he would institute “community-based policing” so that the public is able to interact with frontline deputies, helping to build trust in the Sheriff’s Department. Also, he would not tolerate excessive force, seeking to “terminate any deputy found to have engaged in the use of excessive force,” he said.
In August 2013, U.S. Federal Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald found L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies had violated the Mendez’ civil rights and awarded the Mendez family $4.2 million, Garcia said. However, “the county’s attorneys have appealed the verdict, denying the Mendez’s money Angel desperately needs for his ongoing medical treatment,” Garcia stated.
Gerald Ryckman, a legal assistant with the Law Offices of David Drexler, said that both sides are currently preparing briefs for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and a final decision may take up to a year.
“Despite the detailed findings of Judge Fitzgerald, the County of Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are continuing to squander what could end up being millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in pursuing a frivolous appeal,” Ryckman said. “For nearly four years, the deputies involved have gone undisciplined and the Sheriffs Department has managed to keep the case off the public’s radar.”
Garcia regrets that the case has not been part of a necessary discussion for more accountability leading up to the Sheriff’s election this June.
“Unlike other sensational cases involving the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which have been quickly and appropriately settled, Los Angeles County Supervisors and Sheriff’s brass has worked to keep this particular case under the radar and away from the public so as to avoid public outcry,” Garcia said.