Three’s a Charm: Feds Launch Another Probe of L.A. County Jails

Monday, September 09, 2013
Sheriff Lee Baca

The “Sheriff of the Year” is apparently not held in as high a regard by the U.S. Department of Justice as the National Association of Sheriffs, who bestowed the honor upon Los Angeles County’s top law enforcement officer, Lee Baca, in February.

The Justice Department announced last week that it was beginning a civil rights probe of the Sheriff’s Department, according to the Los Angeles Times, which quoted from a letter sent to L.A. County officials that said federal officials had “become increasingly concerned about use of force and alleged abuse by jail deputies and staff.”

The investigation of the “pattern and practice of inmate” abuse, which will also look at how the department treats mentally ill prisoners, will overlap another FBI investigation that was scheduled to end sometime later this year. That one, begun in 2011, is focused on excessive force and other bad stuff by deputies.

The Times, which has been pretty good about digging out details of Sheriff’s Department probes by federal authorities (they get a lot of practice), called that investigation “tight-lipped.” But they speculated that the probe went beyond jail practices “to deputy cliques and allegations of corruption” that could involve supervisors. 

A tangential federal inquiry focused on treatment of an FBI informant who was allegedly unmasked by deputies who then hid him from the feds by shuttling him from jail to jail using different names. When caught, the sheriff’s department said they were hiding him from corrupt deputies who might do him harm.

A third investigation, into alleged department civil rights abuses in Antelope Valley communities north of L.A., was recently concluded. That two-year federal investigation found that deputies harassed minority groups on a regular basis, unlawfully detaining them, using excessive force and conducting illegal searches.

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 Sheriff’s Department denied the allegations even as the Justice Department said they were taking steps to halt the practices.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

U.S. Launches Probe into Abuse at L.A. County Sheriff's Jails (by Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times)

Federal Probe of L.A. County Jails Expected to Wrap up This Year (by Robert Faturechi and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times)

L.A. Sheriff Denies Federal Claim of Discrimination . . . but Agrees to Stop Doing It (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

L.A. County’s Beleaguered Top Cop Is Nation’s Sheriff of the Year (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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