The county’s Office of Inspector General has reviewed a program meant to stem the flow of drugs into the Santa Clarita Valley and found Latino drivers were stopped at a much higher rate than drivers of other races — and recommended shutting down the program until strict guidelines are in place.
The Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General on Thursday released its 48-page report on the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team and found several problems with the program, which the report described as “constitutionally troubling.”
The report concludes: “The DHET should not be reinstated without the department’s first creating and then implementing strict guidelines, supervision and appropriate policies to govern deputies’ conduct.”
The OIG made 26 recommendations for reform if the DHET is to be reinstated.
In its present form, however, the program should not be reinstated, the report said.
The report concluded: “The DHET practices had a constitutionally troubling impact on Latino drivers. They were stopped and searched by the DHET at a much higher rate than drivers of other races or ethnicities.
“Furthermore, the rate of successful arrests and prosecutions of those stopped and searched by the DHET was low.”
From April 2018 to September 2018, OIG investigators reviewed and analyzed the DHET’s traffic-stop data that showed a specialized team of 13 deputies conducting 976 traffic stops involving 1,015 vehicle occupants on Interstate 5.
Of that total, 67.9% of the occupants of the vehicles stopped were Latino.
Additionally, out of 322 searches in which drivers agreed to a “consent search,” 81.7% were vehicles occupied by Latinos.
Of the 245 persons detained by the DHET in “back-seat detentions” to investigate whether those persons were involved in unlawful conduct, 216 — or 88.2% — were Latino.
Only 26 stops — or 2.7% of total stops —reviewed by OIG staff resulted in arrests (36 people arrested) and only 21 of those stops resulted in narcotics-related arrests.
Thirty-three — or 91.7% — of the 36 people arrested were Latino.
While the DHET was able to confiscate drugs, money and guns during the time period examined, its effectiveness is difficult to gauge, the report states.
The impact on Latinos, it states, along with other issues, has the potential to negatively impact the public’s trust in the Sheriff’s Department and cause concerns about the overall effectiveness of the DHET’s program.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said of the report Tuesday: “I appreciate the thorough analysis conducted by the Office of the Inspector General and encourage the Sheriff’s Department to work in collaboration with the OIG to reconcile any discrepancies in department protocols that would increase confidence and provide more standardized interactions with our community.”
Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, said: “The city of Santa Clarita contracts with LASD, who has oversight of the DHE team. The response would be more appropriate from LASD.”
Phone and emails requests for a response from SCV Sheriff’s Station Capt. Robert Lewis were not returned Wednesday.
I-5 Drug corridor
The DHET program was created in 2012 in response to an increase in the drugs moving through the I-5 corridor and into the SCV.
“Management staff (for the SCV Sheriff’s Station) began looking at the possibility that the I-5 corridor was being used as a thoroughfare to move drugs from the Mexican border to parts north and then to move drug proceeds and guns south to Mexico,” the report states.
During the initial three months, management staff reported that deputies seized $8 million worth of narcotics and more than $379,000 in drug monies and arrested 92 suspects.
OIG investigators, however, said the successes with the DHET program did not outweigh its problems.
DHET members presented 36 cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution in federal court. Those cases resulted from arrests that occurred between 2012 and 2017.
Out of those cases, the federal prosecutor secured 16 convictions.
Five of the cases were cash-only forfeiture proceedings, and three are still pending in federal court. Of the 36 cases, 11 were dismissed. Six of the 11 cases were dismissed on a motion by federal prosecutors both pre- and post-indictment, and the remaining five cases were dismissed by the court after defense motions to suppress evidence was granted.
The OIG’s review of all the dismissals indicates that the 11 cases were dismissed either because of concerns about the credibility of one of the DHET deputies or because the seizure of contraband by the DHET violated the Fourth Amendment.
Some of the OIG recommendations include:
- Any DHET deputy must receive training on drug trafficker interdiction.
- Any DHET supervisor must receive training on narcotic and specialized unit supervision.
- DHET deputies and supervisors must get annual training on search-and-seizure law.
- They must attend biannual training on racial profiling and cultural diversity.
- A written policy must be set down on DHET goals.
- The department must come up with a stand-alone policy clearly prohibiting racial profiling.
- The in-car video system purchased by the city of Santa Clarita for the DHET must be properly accounted for.
The OIG found that in 2015 the city of Santa Clarita bought four in-car video systems for the DHET, totalling $27,534. Investigators noted that any donation exceeding $10,000 must be first considered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
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