A specialty team of detectives including a Santa Clarita Valley contingent that led the nation this year for the largest amount of heroin seized roadside has been temporarily shut down following an audit of the team by the county’s Office of Inspector General.
In October, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Domestic Highway Enforcement Team came under scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and became the subject of two independent probes overseen by the county inspector general.
On Nov. 16, the LASD suspended the team.
“We are complying with the Office of Inspector General’s audit on the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team and we’re also in the process of doing our own internal audit, which includes gathering data and reviewing procedures and protocols,” LASD spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said, citing an official statement issued by the LASD.
Detectives assigned to the local arm of the DHE led the nation for the largest amount of heroin seized in the past year. 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.
On Monday, Nishida said: “As of Nov. 16, 2018, the DHE team has been suspended until further notice.”
Asked for a response to the decision, Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the SCV Sheriff’s Station, said: “The DHE Team has been temporarily suspended pending an internal audit and review of the team’s work product and performance.”
Concerns about racial profiling by members of the DHE team prompted two county investigations.
The probes were requested by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors following 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 in October: “I have fought my entire life to end disparate impacts such as racial profiling on people of color, including Latinos.”
The Domestic Highway Enforcement Team was created in 2012 to help take drugs off county streets.
Since then, the team has 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.
In October, when the probes were suggested, 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger weighed the merits of getting drugs off the street against the civil rights of those detained.
“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,” she said at the time.
“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,” she added.
As OIG investigators began scrutinizing the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team they were sure to find drug-seizing patrols carried out in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Peacock, who led the local team before it was sidelined, 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.