Supervisors launch probe into use of force, pepper spray, at juvenile halls

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County supervisors have called for investigation into the use of force, and particularly the use of pepper spray, on kids placed in juvenile halls and probation camps.

Citing a recent report on the increased use of pepper spray on juveniles in county facilities and, specifically, how pepper spray use tripled between 2015 and 2017, supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation calling for an immediate probe.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn to direct the inspector general and chief probation officer to investigate client and staff safety concerns in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps, one of which, Camp Joseph Scott, is in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Supervisors specifically requested information on the use of pepper spray at county facilities.

The inspector general and the chief probation officer are to report back to the board with their findings in 45 days.

In a document prepared by Ridley-Thomas and Hahn explaining their motion, the supervisors point out for their fellow supervisors that: “In the past several months, issues have been raised around the use of force, assault on both youth and staff and the high use of pepper spray.

“These incidents underscore the need for further oversight, reform and institutional accountability.”

The pair referred to data released in March that showed the use the pepper spray in the county’s juvenile halls had tripled between 2015 and 2017.

One of the concerns addressed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger was over probation staffers hesitant to use pepper spray in fear of being fired or disciplined for doing it.

“Some of the individuals we have in custody have serious challenges,” Barger said at the end of staff reports about the issue.

“Are our services provided at risk?” she asked. “We need to be cognizant of the population we’re serving. And, we have to make sure we don’t jeopardize the welfare of our employees.

“Some (employees) feel if they do take steps to protect themselves that they will be fired,” she said.

Sheila Mitchell, assistant chief probation officer, told the board that since the March statistics were compiled, there has been a recent 20 percent reduction in the number of pepper spray incidents

“There is still much work to be done,” she said.

Public defender Ricardo Garcia said: “My priority is to protect my clients’ rights. A close second to that is their safety and well-being while in custody.

“Any abuse of my clients is unacceptable,” he said. “Any abuse of them while in custody is something I would not sit idly by and accept. It is something I would address immediately upon being brought to my attention.”

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