Justice Blasts L.A. Sheriff in High Desert

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Department of Justice demands that two High Desert cities in Los Angeles County pay $12.5 million for L.A. Sheriff’s deputies’ harassment of minorities in subsidized housing.
     The Justice Department last week released findings that officers in the Sheriff’s Department stations in Lancaster and Palmdale discriminated against blacks and Latinos in Antelope Valley.
     Antelope Valley, in northern L.A. County and southern Kern County, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, has a reputation as a locus of hate crimes.
     The Justice Department told Courthouse News the federal government will release details of any settlement, if and when the parties reach an agreement.
     The Justice Department said on June 28 that it had reached a preliminary agreement with the Sheriff’s Department to make across-the-board changes in the way it polices the Antelope Valley. The federal investigation revealed evidence of widespread discrimination, harassment and intimidation against African Americans in low-income subsidized, or Section 8, housing.
     Antelope Valley has the highest rate of racially motivated hate crimes in Los Angeles County. The Justice Department said in a findings letter that as early as the 1960s minority families were shut out of the area by racially motivated housing practices.
     As Antelope Valley housing became more affordable in the 1980s, black people and Latinos moved in. Racial tensions increased, with a series of hate crimes in Palmdale in the ’90s, the Justice Department said in the letter.
     “In 1990, during Palmdale city elections, an African-American female candidate’s campaign sign was spray-painted, ‘vote white.’ In 1997, three white youths allegedly murdered a black man in Palmdale so that one of the youths could earn a white supremacist tattoo,” the Justice Department’s findings letter states.
     “In the last decade, hate crimes have continued to take place: two black men were allegedly stabbed by a white mayoral candidate’s son, who was reciting ‘white power’ slogans the night of the crime; two homes in Palmdale were vandalized with racially offensive words and a swastika; and in August 2010, a predominantly African-American church in Palmdale was firebombed.”
     Racial conflicts persist.
     Elected officials, including Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris, were vocal in their hostility toward low-income subsidized housing residents, the Justice Department said.
     Parris told the L.A. Times that Lancaster would not pay a dime.
     “If the county wants to pay millions, let them do it, but Lancaster isn’t going to pay 10 cents of it,” Parris told the Times.
     The Justice Department said in its findings letter: “Racial stereotypes evident in past statements by some within Lancaster and Palmdale leadership are also reflected within LASD [Los Angeles Sheriff Department] ranks in the Antelope Valley.”
     Justice’s Civil Rights Division found an unreasonable pattern or practice of pedestrian and vehicle stops of black Antelope Valley residents, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and excessive force.
     Black people in Antelope Valley were stopped and searched at a 10 to 15 percent higher rate than whites in 2011, the Justice Department found.
     Justice also found evidence that deputies frequently detained people without justification in the back seat of squad cars.
     “Generally, an individual would not expect to be detained in the back seat of a patrol car when stopped for a minor vehicle infraction or while an officer writes a citation,” the findings letter states. “Similarly, a victim of domestic violence who has dialed 9-1-1 would not expect that the responding officers will confine her to the back seat of a patrol car as if she were a suspect. Unfortunately, many Antelope Valley residents have come to expect this unnecessary and unlawful treatment from LASD deputies as a matter of course.”
     Investigators accused deputies of using pepper spray against people who posed no threat. In one documented incident, Lancaster officers struck a handcuffed woman in the jaw.
     “Though the woman was exhibiting resistive behavior, a punch to the face under the circumstances was unreasonable, especially when considering the fact that four deputies – each 200 pounds or more – were holding down one woman who weighed much less than 200 pounds,” the findings letter states.
     Deputies harassed black people in subsidized housing, searching homes with help from Housing Authority investigators, who descended on homes with as many as nine deputy sheriffs in tow, the Justice Department said.
     “Deputies would routinely approach the voucher holder’s home with guns drawn, occasionally in full SWAT armor, and conduct searches and questioning once inside. In over 40 percent of the cases in which LASD’s files indicated the number of deputies involved, six or more deputies were present. The sheer numbers of armed, uniformed deputies who participated in many of the compliance checks call into question whether voucher holders were able to give meaningful consent to compliance inspections by HACoLA [Housing Authority of Los Angeles County] investigators,” the findings letter states.
     The Justice Department said deputies referred some subsidized housing residents to the district attorney for criminal charges of perjury and grand theft, “solely on the basis of violations of the voucher program rules,” after they had already been booted off the Section 8 voucher program.
     Low-income black people were also subjected to racist slurs after deputies passed information about them to third parties, the letter states.
     “For example, shortly after a compliance check conducted by HACoLA and LASD where they photographed luxury vehicles in the voucher holder’s garage, an LASD deputy sent those photographs to the administrator of the Antelope Valley-based ‘I Hate Section 8’ Facebook page,” the findings letter says. “Subsequently, the family’s home was vandalized with the message ‘I hate Section 8 you fucking niggers’ scrawled on their garage door, and the family’s son had urine thrown on him as the perpetrator yelled, ‘You dirty Section 8 nigger.’ The family relocated from Palmdale back to inner city Los Angeles for fear of further harassment.”
     The Justice Department said the Sheriff’s Department agreed to help resolve the issues, and will reach out to the affected communities to regain their trust.
     “We are encouraged by the response of Los Angeles County to our findings. While our investigation showed significant problems in LASD’s Antelope Valley stations, we are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that will provide meaningful and sustainable reform,” said Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
     The Justice Department investigated the Sheriff’s Department under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the federal Fair Housing Act. It looked at tens of thousands of pages of documents and interviewed residents, officials, and deputies.
     Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez signed the findings letter, addressed to Sheriff Leroy Baca.
     Lancaster, pop. 146,000, is 33.4 percent Anglo, according to city-data.com. Its median household income of $48,237 is 18 percent below the state median of $58,931. The median price of a house or condo there was $175,900 in 2009, 54 percent below the statewide median of $384,200.
     Palmdale, pop. 144,000, is 24.5 percent Anglo. Its median household income of $52,352 was 11 percent below the statewide median, according to city-data. The median price of a house or condo, $193,600, was about half the state median.
     All figures are for 2009.

%d bloggers like this: