Whether Latino motorists are victims of racial profiling, singled out allegedly by members of a specialty highway enforcement squad of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is now the subject of two independent probes overseen by the county inspector general.
The probes were requested following recent media reports that almost 70 percent of motorists stopped between 2012 and last year were found to be Latino, two-thirds of whom had their vehicles searched — an incident rate much higher than motorists from other racial and ethnic groups.
Responding to a Los Angeles Times article, L.A. County 1st District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis called on complaint investigators of both the Office of the Inspector General and the Civilian Oversight Commission to look into the suspicion of racial profiling.
In a prepared written statement, Solis said: “I have fought my entire life to end disparate impacts such as racial profiling on people of color, including Latinos.”
“Racial profiling is a civil rights violation,” she said. “It’s deeply concerning that racial profiling could have been used on Latino drivers in L.A. County. The Civilian Oversight Commission and the OIG exist for this very reason, and I fully support their efforts during this review,” she said. “It’s a positive step that the sheriff concurs, and that his department will work with the COC and the OIG during this process.”
The LASD team at the heart of the probes is the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team created in 2012 to help take drugs off county streets.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he welcomes the scrutiny.
“I am proud of the critically important work being done by our Domestic Highway Enforcement Team,” he said a written statement.
Since the team’s inception in 2012, they have taken more than 3,500 pounds of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and Fentanyl off the streets of L.A. County, and rescued six human trafficking victims.
“Having said that, as someone who has dedicated my career to protecting the civil rights of all people, I am personally concerned about any allegation of racial and ethnic profiling and take very seriously questions about race and police procedures,” McDonnell said. “I look forward to working closely with the inspector general to examine any issues of concern.”
Similar sentiments were voiced by the county supervisor representing the Santa Clarita Valley.
“The sheriff’s enforcement team works to curtail the trafficking of opioids, methamphetamine and other drugs, which have had a devastating impact on my district, particularly the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys,” county 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.
“It also targets illegal guns and human trafficking — recently rescuing a kidnapped 16 year-old girl,” she said. “However, no innocent individuals should be subjected to unreasonable targeting or unconstitutional search and seizure, and the data cited by the Times is already under review by the OIG.”
As OIG investigators begin scrutinizing the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team they’re sure to find drug-seizing patrols carried out in the Santa Clarita Valley.
This past summer, the SCV Sheriff’s Station’s Domestic Highway Enforcement Team began leading the nation for the largest amount of heroin seized roadside this year, according to SCV Sheriff’s Station officials interviewed at the time.
As of June, the team had taken a street value of more than $80 million worth of drugs off the streets, according to Sgt. Dan Peacock at that time.
Peacock, who leads the local unit, revealed the team took 11 pounds of fentanyl off the street in a single haul in 2017, the largest roadside seizure in the nation last year, during a traffic stop on a typical patrol.
The Office of Inspector General was created by ordinance in 2014, to provide independent and comprehensive oversight and monitoring of the LASD and its jails.
Inspector General Max Huntsman reports directly to the Board of Supervisors and makes regular reports to the board on the Sheriff’s Department’s operations.
As a deputy district attorney, Huntsman was known for his anti-corruption efforts, having conducted investigations and prosecutions of numerous local county and city officials.
The Civilian Oversight Commission is less than 2 years old and falls under the auspices of the OIG, according to the inspector general’s website.
It was set up by Solis and District 2 Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to boost transparency and increase trust between communities and the LASD.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors appointed nine commissioners to serve on its panel and approved the hiring of its executive director, attorney Brian K. Williams.
The new commissioners include community and faith leaders, a retired sheriff’s lieutenant and attorneys with a broad range of experience — from former prosecutors and public defenders to professors and executives from nonprofit legal organizations.