LA Settles Claims That Police Harass Minorities

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Uncle Sam reached a six-figure settlement with Los Angeles on claims that its sheriff’s department systematically harassed low-income minorities living in Antelope Valley.
     In addition to $700,000 in victims’ compensation, the county owes a $25,000 fine under the settlement to the U.S. government.
     Though the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has not admitted to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, it agrees to train its deputies on stops, searches and detention so that they are bias-free, based on reasonable suspicion and not related to race.
     The settlement – which county supervisors approved 4-to-1 in a closed-door session Tuesday – comes less than two years after the Justice Department released a report that accused the county of waging a campaign of discrimination – including unconstitutional stops, seizures and excessive force – against blacks and Hispanics in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale.
     The settlement appeared with a simultaneously filed federal complaint by the government that says, quoting expert analyses of stop-and-search activity, “African-Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latinos, are more likely to be stopped or searched than whites in the Antelope Valley for reasons that appear due at least in part to race or ethnicity.”
     Data also show that police stop blacks more for offenses where officers have the greatest discretion, according to the complaint.
     “Such charges include offenses such as crossing against a traffic light, jaywalking, failing to yield right of way, or walking on the wrong side of the street. With regard to highly discretionary pedestrian stops and searches, regression analysis of LASD data for 2011 indicates that an African-American pedestrian in Lancaster is over 25 percent more likely than a white pedestrian to be stopped for a discretionary offense,” the complaint states.
     The Justice Department says that LASD’s officers in Antelope Valley use unnecessary excessive force against individuals who have already been taken into custody and handcuffed.
     Officers “strike handcuffed individuals in the head and face without adequate legal justification,” the complaint states.
     The government also accuses the LASD of harassing and intimidating black residents who hold Section 8 housing-choice vouchers, with the intent to terminate them from the Section 8 program and pressure them to move out of Antelope Valley.
     “LASD’s role in the enforcement of the voucher program’s rules was motivated, at least in part, by the unsubstantiated perception among some members of the Antelope Valley community, including public officials, press, residents and deputies themselves, that African Americans in the voucher program had brought increased crime to the region,” the Justice Department says.
     Voucher holders in Antelope Valley “were subjected to far more intrusive and intimidating searches of their homes, and in some cases, harsher administrative or criminal consequences of those searches, than voucher holders elsewhere in the county,” the complaint states.
     Lapses in accountability at Antelope Valley sheriff’s stations caused these violations of department protocol to be tolerated, the Justice Department says.
     During one year, only one misconduct complaint was formally investigated out of the 180 received from residents.
     “Among the other 179 complaints were several allegations of significant misconduct, including unreasonable force and discriminatory policing. LASD minimized the seriousness of discrimination complaints by failing to investigate any as a serious complaint that could potentially result in discipline,” the Justice Department says.
     The LASD’s handling of the complaints “allows deputies, even those with histories of serious civilian complaints, to evade investigation and discipline, which fundamentally undermines meaningful accountability,” the complaint states.
     Under the settlement, which a federal judge must still approve, the LASD agrees to implement comprehensive reforms to ensure lawful policing. It will be subject to an independent monitoring team that will oversee the reforms, which LASD intends to implement within four years.
     Vanita Gupta, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, applauded the agreement for putting “in place a structure that will foster lawful, bias-free policing in the Antelope Valley, and ensures compensation for persons harmed by past unlawful conduct.”
     LASD has already begun to implement many of the negotiated reforms under the leadership of Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who said the settlement agreement will allow the department to “look to the future, rather than the past.”
     McDonnell, who took office in December, noted that the department has already implemented one-third of the settlement agreement’s approximately 150 requirements.
     “But let me be clear that I will not be satisfied, nor should others be satisfied, until we are in full compliance with the high bar that we have willingly taken on – and I welcome the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards,” McDonnell said.
     The agreement does not resolve the Justice Department’s claims against the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County or the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale for related conduct under the Fair Housing Act.
     Those parties are continuing to work toward a resolution, the Justice Department said.

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