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LA County Sheriff's Dept. Is Under State Investigation For Possible ‘Unconstitutional Policing’

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. (L.A. Sheriff's Department)
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California’s Department of Justice has launched a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into “credible reports” of excessive force, retaliation, and other misconduct at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, including reported incidents involving management, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today.

“This is a pattern or practice investigation,” he told a news conference. “It’s aimed at identifying and addressing potential systemic violations of the rights of the people of L.A. County.”

While declining to comment on the specifics of the allegations, Becerra said the state decided to investigate after a “thorough review” of “credible information, reports [and] evidence.”

Besides looking into whether the department has engaged in "unconstitutional policing," the investigation “also comes in response to the absence of sustained and comprehensive oversight” of the department, the DOJ said in a news release.

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Sheriff Alex Villanueva has frequently clashed with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and the County Board of Supervisors over accountability and oversight.

He has also come under fire from critics for rehiring deputies who had been fired for misconduct, for deactivating disciplinary proceedings against deputies accused of using excessive force, and for tolerating secret deputy cliques, some of which have been accused of violence. The department is also facing lawsuits alleging deputies used excessive force against protesters during last year's George Floyd demonstrations.

Becerra said officer shootings are beyond the scope of the inquiry, since it is a civil investigation. He didn’t comment on what steps might be taken if the DOJ determines there has been wrongdoing, although similar investigations into other California police departments have led to legal settlements to change certain practices.

Noting that the Sheriff’s Department is the largest in the nation, Becerra called on it to be “transparent, accountable and to cooperate with our investigation.”

In an emailed statement, Villanueva welcomed the inquiry:

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“As Sheriff, I look forward to this non-criminal ‘pattern and practice’ investigation. Our Department may finally have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations, and recommendations on any areas we can improve our service to the community."

President Biden has nominated Becerra to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. The Attorney General said his office will continue with the investigation after his departure.

The DOJ is requesting anyone with information relevant to the investigation to contact its Civil Rights Enforcement Section at Police-Practices@doj.ca.gov.

READ OUR FULL REPORT ON THE STATE'S INVESTIGATION:

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