Investigation Finds Rampant Harassment Of Minorities By Los Angeles County Officials

Since local authorities are disputing the accuracy of the findings, it could be awhile before victims receive the $12.5 million awarded in damages.
By @katierucke |
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    A Los Angeles County Sheriff's officer stands by his car in Santa Monica, Calif. on Saturday, June 8, 2013. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

    A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officer stands by his car in Santa Monica, Calif. on Saturday, June 8, 2013. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

    After Black and Latino residents of Los Angeles County reported they were victims of racial harassment and intimidation by local law enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department awarded the victims $12.5 million in damages. But since local officials are disputing the accuracy of the federal government’s findings, it could be awhile before the victims see any of that money.

    According to the Los Angeles Times, the Justice Department found in its two-year investigation that local Antelope Valley authorities discriminated against Black and Latino residents who qualified for low-income subsidized housing. Specifically, the report found that the sheriff’s deputies conducted “widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions and [used] unreasonable force” against those living in Section 8 housing.

    The investigation followed a June 2011 lawsuit filed by residents.

    According to attorneys for the residents, they filed the lawsuit to “ensure people can seek a better life for their families free from harassment and fear.”

    Police targeting and using more aggressive force against minorities, specifically Blacks, is a phenomenon occurring throughout the United States. An April 2013 report from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that at least 313 Black people were killed by police in 2012, which amounts to the death of one person every 28 hours.

    While the Justice Department’s investigation did not record any officer-involved shootings, federal officials reported that officers would often dress in full SWAT armor, guns drawn, when they accompanied housing inspectors on surprise inspections of subsidized housing.

    While deputies went with housing inspectors 70 percent of the time while visiting residents of Section 8 housing, deputies only went along with housing inspectors 8 percent of the time when inspecting non-Section 8 housing.

    “They treated people here like they had no civil rights,” said attorney Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor of law emeritus.

    According to Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, one sheriff’s supervisor told federal officials during their investigation that he believed all Black residents in the Antelope Valley area were gang members. He added that deputies would often search homes of Black people before the residents understood their Fourth Amendment rights.

    Perez shared that on one occasion a deputy took a photograph of luxury vehicles found in the garage of one family’s Section 8 home and posted it on an “I Hate Section 8” Facebook page. The home was vandalized with “I hate Section 8” comments, profanity and racial slurs. The family’s young son also had urine thrown at him and was called a racial slur.

    After the incident, the family moved back to the inner city of Los Angeles.

     

    Who signs the check?

    Roger Granbo, the assistant county counsel at the County Counsel law office in Long Beach, Calif, said that the $12.5 million would be shared by those that the federal government deemed had their civil rights violated.

    Two cities in Los Angeles County, Palmdale and Lancaster, have been tasked with footing the bill, along with the county’s housing authority and the sheriff’s department. Whether they will actually pay the $12.5 million remains to be seen.

    Since the Justice Department has not shared some of the findings from its two-year investigation, Granbo said the county “has no intention of paying its share of such a large amount of compensation,” at least not without having a discussion first.

    R. Rex Parris, mayor of Lancaster, said his city would not pay, either. He called the Justice Department’s accusations “nothing but hot air.”

    “If the county wants to pay millions, let them do it, but Lancaster isn’t going to pay 10 cents of it,” Parris said. He added that the federal government has not helped the city reduce gang violence, but that the city’s “approach to gangs, subsidized housing and other social issues” has helped reduce crime.

    The city of Palmdale released a statement saying the city “has not been asked nor has it agreed to any participation in this proposed settlement,” and highlighted that the settlement was between federal and county officials. However, unlike Los Angeles County and Lancaster officials, Palmdale officials said they have scheduled a meeting with Sheriff Lee Baca to discuss the federal government’s accusations.

    Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Sheriff Baca’s office, said that department did not want to comment on the federal government’s accusations or findings, but shared that the department “adamantly disagreed” with them.

     

    Embedded racism

    County officials are particularly interested in viewing a statistical report that reportedly illustrates that Blacks and Latinos were more likely than Whites to be stopped or searched by law enforcement.

    According to an August 2011 report from CNN, Blacks and Latinos made up about 60 percent of the population in Lancaster and 70 percent of the population in Palmdale.

    Perez told federal officials that a Palmdale councilman said he wanted to ensure those who qualified for Section 8 housing “did not swarm the valley.” Parris also publicly said that it was “unfair” that Blacks more often qualify for Section 8 housing than Whites and encouraged residents and city officials to “wage a war” against the program.

    While city and county officials try to get out of paying the harassment victims, V. Jesse Smith, president of the Antelope Valley Chapter of the NAACP, told the Los Angeles Times the victims deserve every dollar.

    “This [money] will better the lives of a lot of people who have been the victims of injustice,” he said.

    City and county officials have requested talks with the federal officials in charge of the investigation.

    “These negotiations are going to be very critical,” Granbo said. “We’re willing to sit down with them and work something out, but that could be a very tedious process if we don’t know what those findings are based on.”

    However if the talks go sour, the cities and county could end up taking the federal government to court.

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