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Lazy L.A. County Muffs Warrants, Class Claims

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles County wrongly arrests and re-arrests people on warrants meant for other people, because it refuses to use readily available systems that could properly identify them, a class action claims in Federal Court.

Lead plaintiff Reginald Lenard Smith seeks an injunction against Sheriff Lee Baca, District Attorney Steve Cooley, presiding Superior Court judge Patricia Schnegg, and the court's Executive Officer John Clarke.

The County's Countrywide Warrant System does not use identifying numbers from the California Department of Justice, the FBI and Los Angeles County bookings (known as LA Main numbers) even though they are "readily available," according to the complaint.

The county's refusal to use those numbers, which are matched to a person's fingerprints, means that people "who are not the subject of warrants are not only arrested on warrants meant for others, but can and are arrested again and again on the same warrants."

"Moreover, whenever someone is arrested on a warrant, the warrant is removed from the various data systems law enforcement uses to check for outstanding warrants," the complaint states. "So if the wrong person is arrested on the warrant, the warrant's intended subject will no longer face arrest on the warrant. In other words, because of defendants' indifference criminals get a free pass."

The class claims that Superior Court staff do not ask the Sheriff's Department to identify subjects by identifiers used by other agencies, and that the county fails to update the Countrywide Warrant System even after a person who was mistakenly identified is exonerated or cleared.

"Baca, Cooley, Schnegg and Clarke know or should know that hundreds if not thousands of persons have been wrongly held in L.A. County custody on warrants meant for others, yet defendants have not taken remedial steps to abolish the customs and practices alleged," the complaint states.

People are arrested on Superior Court warrants meant for others, cleared but then re-arrested "because defendants refuse to update the warrant database with the relevant information," the class claims.

"Plaintiffs also face collateral consequences as well. For instance, plaintiff Reginald Smith cannot obtain a passport because he is wrongly identified as the subject of a felony warrant for which he has been judicially cleared," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs want county officials to make sure that they are excluded as subjects of warrants after they have been cleared. They also want the court to order the county to train its personnel to include identifiers from other agencies, record aliases for the subject of the warrant, and include the names, birthdates, and fingerprint identifiers of those who are cleared.

The class is represented by Donald Cook.

Los Angeles County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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