The LA County Sheriff’s Department is the nation’s largest, with nearly 18,000 deputies and civilian staff. In recent months, multiple allegations of misconduct have surfaced, including fatal shootings, excessive force and retaliation. Community organizers have also held demonstrations to demand independent investigations.
In January, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that his office is analyzing the LA County Sheriff’s Department to identify potential civil rights violations. In conducting the investigation – which follows years of allegations – state officials will determine whether police officers have engaged in unconstitutional law enforcement practices, some of which top leaders stand accused of covering up.
LA Sheriff Comes Under Fire
Meanwhile, LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva has continued to resist the Board of Supervisors’ attempts to monitor his department’s activities, even amid calls for his resignation from a county-appointed watchdog group.
In December, the Office of the Inspector General released a 17-page report on the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s “unlawful conduct,” specifically alleging several instances in which Villanueva had supposedly disregarded laws, defied oversight and obstructed investigations into his conduct in leading the department.
According to the report, Villanueva believes that, as an elected official, his “power comes from the state constitution” and therefore is not subject to “charter, statute or ordinance.”
However, California law does not support the sheriff’s claim – a conflict that state Inspector General Max Huntsman has described as a constitutional crisis for Los Angeles County.
“Deputy Gangs” Within the Sheriff’s Department
Villanueva’s potential legal troubles are not the only controversies facing the sheriff’s department. The agency has also come under fire for its alleged “deputy gangs,” which a recent report from Loyola Law School numbered at 18.
In 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform urged the Department of Justice to investigate the department, asserting these deputy factions “adhere to white supremacist ideologies, belong to ‘criminal gangs’ and engage in an ‘aggressive style of policing’ motivated by racism.”
Investigators claim that, in allowing these groups to continue unchecked, the LA County Sheriff’s Department has created a violent culture, resulting in increased uses of force against community members.
One of the department’s most divisive shootings resulted in the death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado in June 2020. The following month, his family released the results from an independent autopsy, which found officers had shot Guardado five times in the back. In response, the coroner’s office launched an investigation that ruled Guardado’s death was a homicide.
As new information on this investigation becomes available, we will continue to keep our readers updated on developments in the California legal system.
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