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.