Are LA Sheriff's Deputies Harassing The Families Of People They Shoot And Kill?

Davielle Johnson, left, and Michael Twyman, right, the girlfriend and uncle, respectively, of Ryan Twyman, a 24-year-old father of three who was killed by deputies in Willowbrook on June 6, 2019. (Frank Stoltze/LAist)

The Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Tuesday directed the county's inspector general to investigate complaints that deputies are harassing the families of people they fatally shoot. The nine-member civilian panel also called on the sheriff's department to initiate its own inquiry into the allegations.

Concerns center on deputies operating out of the department's East L.A. Station and Century Station in South L.A., areas that have seen controversial shootings in recent years.

DELETED VIDEO?

One of the allegations claims the sister of 18-year-old Paul Rea, who was shot to death by deputies in June, was unnecessarily arrested during a Dia de los Muertos vigil and jailed overnight in East L.A.

The incident is described in a Nov. 18 letter to the commission and district attorney Jackie Lacey sent by the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and Centro Community Service Organization.

According to the letter, around 10:45 p.m., a deputy sheriff drove by the vigil slowly and "taunted Paul Rea's family and friends by making a rude hand gesture through the open window of his patrol car."

About a half hour later, "several patrol cars arrived at the memorial site, and deputy sheriffs proceeded to arrest two of Paul's friends," the letter says.

It claims that Rea's sister, Jaylene Rea, recorded the arrests with her cell phone, and when one of the friends who was getting handcuffed handed her a blunt (a hollowed out cigar filled with marijuana), she too was arrested.

"Immediately and without warning, the third deputy sheriff, who was approximately 6 feet tall and weighed approximately 200 pounds, walked up behind Jaylene, who is just under 5 feet tall, grabbed her wrists and bent her arms upward behind her back, causing her to yell in pain and bend over to alleviate the tension on her arms," the letter says.

When she was released, Rea discovered that deputies "had deleted the recordings of the arrests that she had taken from her phone, even though she had not given them permission to access her phone," according to the letter, which says she eventually recovered the footage from cloud storage.

When asked about the allegations, Assistant Sheriff Steve Gross said he doesn't know anything about them. "We get complaints all the time," he told KPCC/LAist.

Gross promised the department would look into the allegations about Jaylene Rea and other complaints.

"THEY GLARE AT US, THEY UNCLIP THEIR HOLSTERS"

Lisa Vargas, the mother of Anthony Vargas, a 22-year-old fatally shot August 12, 2018, told commissioners earlier this year that deputies have been "intimidating my family left and right."

She said deputies followed her niece "from East L.A. all the way down to the Compton area." Her niece ended up getting off the freeway and going into a Walmart, Vargas said.

Other members of the Vargas family told KPCC/LAist on Saturday that they had been harassed at Sheriff Alex Villanueva's town halls as they sat holding protest signs with photos of Anthony.

"They stand alongside us, they glare at us, they unclip their holsters," said Stephanie Luna, Anthony's aunt. She said family members were denied entry to a town hall in Altadena because deputies demanded they show identification with a zip code from that area.

Gross said the department may have issued a flyer saying only local residents would be allowed at town halls but maintained "we've never done that enforcement to my knowledge at the door."

"THEY ... FLIP US OFF"

Family and friends of Ryan Twyman, a 24-year-old father of three who was killed by deputies in Willowbrook June 6, also report being harassed in front of the family home or during rallies to protest the shooting.

"They will drive by and stare at us or laugh or flip us off," Davielle Johnson, Twyman's girlfriend, told KPCC/LAist Tuesday.

The shooting was caught on video and has sparked national protests. And like the other families, the Twymans have filed a legal claim against the county.

The civilian commission has received approximately 10 complaints of harassment from relatives of people fatally shot by deputies, according to Executive Director Brian Williams. It's unclear how many families have experienced harassment, he said.

The ACLU has demanded Lacey drop charges against Jaylene Rea.

"They taunt us. They act like we did something wrong," Leah Garcia, Paul Rea's mother, told the commission Tuesday.

"I'm scared," Garcia said. "I'm afraid for my other kids."

The inspector general must report back to the commission on the allegations within 60 days.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Anthony Vargas' mother. LAist regrets the error.