A two-year federal investigation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department found deputies harassed minority groups in the Antelope Valley, northeast of L.A., on a regular basis, unlawfully detaining them, using excessive force and conducting illegal searches.
A letter from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca cited a “pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures.”
A spokesman for the sheriff denied that the department discriminated but the Justice Department noted that it has already begun to implement federal recommendations to halt the practices. “We stand resolute that we have not discriminated against members of the public,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told the Associated Press. “We haven't seen any racial profiling.”
The list of abuses included the use of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI. Deputies were also found to have violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African-Americans.
They were accused of intimidating blacks and others while accompanying local housing investigators checking on low-income people who used government vouchers. There were reports of up to nine deputies, with guns drawn, intimidating residents during surprise inspections meant to ensure that the occupants were abiding by government-subsidized housing rules.
The economically depressed Antelope Valley, home to the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, has a history of racial intolerance. African-American families were routinely shepherded to segregated communities in the 1960s, and a migration of blacks and Latinos to the area in the 1980s exacerbated already simmering racial antagonism. Between 1990 and 2010, the racial makeup of Lancaster shifted from 79% white to 49.6%. The African-American population tripled to 20.5% and the Latino/Hispanic community more than doubled. Palmdale underwent similar changes.
The feds reported finding “discrimination against Antelope Valley residents on the basis of race by making housing unavailable, altering the terms and conditions of housing, and coercing, intimidating, and interfering with their housing rights, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).”
Blacks and Latinos were also routinely stopped and searched more frequently than whites, but were often released without being cited, revealing “biased law enforcement.” Deputies regularly detained community members, “including domestic violence victims and minor traffic offenders,” and illegally stuffed them into the backseat of patrol cars. Minorities made up the “vast majority” of people in use-of-force incidents who were handcuffed in violation of the department’s own guidelines.
The lengthy investigation into the Sheriff's Department's Lancaster and Palmdale stations in the Mojave Desert, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, found the nation's largest sheriff's department investigated only one misconduct complaint out of 180 made by residents over a one-year period.
There was no shortage of complaints. Federal officials said that the Antelope Valley had the highest rate of hate crimes in Los Angeles County in 2010.