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A.G. Becerra Launches Civil Rights Investigation of L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

Attorney General Xavier Becerra. | Courtesy photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Friday that he is launching a civil rights investigation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), the largest sheriff’s department in the United States. The investigation will seek to determine whether LASD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. “The California Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation comes on the heels of allegations of excessive force, retaliation, and other misconduct, as well as a number of recent reported incidents involving LASD management and personnel,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “Today’s action by DOJ also comes in response to the absence of sustained and comprehensive oversight of LASD’s operations.”

The department has been plagued by reports of gangs among its ranks, controversial shootings and ongoing troubles with the Civilian Oversight Commission.

“There are serious concerns and reports that accountability and adherence to legitimate policing practices have lapsed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Becerra said. “We are undertaking this investigation to determine if LASD has violated the law or the rights of the people of Los Angeles County.”

In a statement Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he looks forward to the investigation. “During my administration, we have routinely requested the State Office of the Attorney General to monitor our investigations, and we will provide immediate access to all information in our possession,” he said. “We are eager to get this process started, in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Executive Director Brian K. Williams and Chair Lael Rubin issued a joint statement welcoming the investigation as “a step toward realizing our collective goal of a department that is transparent, accountable and one which operates in a manner consistent with our constitution.”

Under the California Constitution and California, the attorney general is authorized to conduct civil investigations into whether a law enforcement agency has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law. As opposed to a criminal investigation into an individual incident or incidents, a pattern or practice investigation typically works to identify and, as appropriate, ultimately address potentially systemic violations of the constitutional rights of the community at large by a law enforcement agency. With regards to LASD, the attorney general has made no determinations at this time about specific complaints or allegations or about the agency’s policies and practices.

The attorney general encourages anyone with information relevant to this investigation to contact DOJ’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section at Police-Practices@doj.ca.gov.

January 22, 2021

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