LOS ANGELES – The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to review its authority to fire or reassign sheriff’s deputies who have lied or misrepresented material facts in internal investigations.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl recommended reevaluating civil service rules and said any changes might also extend to social workers, paramedics, psychiatrists and other county employees with jobs that impact public safety.
“Civil service rules must reinforce the primary importance of public safety,” the supervisors’ motion stated. [Read it here.]
Ridley-Thomas said the question was whether the county’s disciplinary systems were effective enough.
“We have an obligation to address any gaps in a manner that is fair and transparent while, at the same time, honoring and respecting employee rights,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Inspector General Max Huntsman told the board, “Discipline can never be a substitute for training and supervision,” but added that firing dishonest deputies is essential to maintaining department morale and public trust.
Huntsman mentioned the recent conviction of former Sheriff Lee Baca for lying to federal investigators and cited failures by prior civil service commissions to fire deputies for cause.
“A deputy was not fired even after admitting to filing hundreds of false police reports,” Huntsman said.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell ran on a platform of reform, but Huntsman said the department’s system of discipline remains “dysfunctional on multiple levels,” and pointed to a shortage of internal investigators.
“The overwhelming majority of persons who work for the LASD are fair, honest and credible,” said Brian Williams, who oversees the civilian oversight commission, a watchdog for the department. “The overwhelming majority of deputies work hard under very difficult circumstances.”
Williams acknowledged that a few bad actors have the ability to “poison the entire system.”
The District Attorney’s Office keeps a “Brady list” of police officers and sheriff’s deputies who have a record of lying or acting dishonestly, according to the motion.
The list is named for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland which requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants.
Changes to civil service rules could include a clarification of the county’s right to fire someone named on the Brady list.
The county might also create similar lists for employees outside the LASD.
Two social workers and two supervisors from the child welfare department are facing criminal charges of child abuse and falsifying records in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale. And three probation officers are charged with assaulting teens at a Sylmar juvenile hall.
The board directed the county’s Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai to consult with employee unions before recommending which positions should be subject to an amended civil service rule.
The board also voted to increase pay and training for hearing officers on the county’s civil service commission.
A report is expected back in 60 days.