California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is launching a civil rights probe into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department following reported allegations of excessive force, retaliation and misconduct.
The civil investigation, which the attorney general is authorized to conduct under the California Constitution, will involve department attorneys and special agents to find out whether the nation’s largest sheriff’s department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, Becerra announced Friday during a news conference.
“There are serious concerns and reports that accountability and adherence to legitimate policing practices have lapsed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” said Becerra. “We are undertaking this investigation to determine if LASD has violated the law or the rights of the people of Los Angeles County.”
The Attorney General’s Office urged county residents to come forward with relevant information to the investigation, which is expected to consider information from community members and organizations, local officials, oversight entities, LASD and individual officers.
“It is critical that members of the public come forward with any information they may have that can assist us in this investigation,” said Becerra, adding that he hoped the department will cooperate.
In a prepared statement shortly after, Sheriff Alex Villanueva indicated that he and the department would work with the A.G.’s office.
“As sheriff, I look forward to this non-criminal ‘pattern and practice’ investigation. Our department may finally have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations, and recommendations on any areas we can improve our service to the community,” read Villanueva’s statement. “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. We are eager to get this process started, in the interest of transparency and accountability.”
The probe comes on the heels of several back-and-forth moments between the sheriff and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors over management. On Tuesday, the supervisors are expected to discuss their options for limiting the sheriff’s powers and ultimately removing him from office.
The sheriff’s position is elected, meaning he can only be removed from office via a recall effort or to vote him out in a regular election. His term ends in 2022. County Supervisor Kathyrn Barger said Friday she believed the board should not be making policy decisions despite not agreeing on several handlings of Villanueva.
“We still live in a society where the voters can vote someone in and they can vote someone out or they can recall, but to have political bodies decide that they don’t like the individual and want to take steps to remove, I think crosses the line,” said Barger.
The Sheriff’s Department has been accused of obstructing oversight and several incidents of misconduct, use of force allegations, including an incident in the Santa Clarita Valley: an August 2020 assault investigation and felony stop in Canyon Country where three teenagers were detained at gunpoint. As a result, department officials said they would review policy as it pertains to the deployment of the AR-15 rifle.
To date, the department has not responded to multiple attempts to receive updates on the incident or its policy. On Monday, city officials said they could not share information on the matter as they are under the auspices of confidentiality in regards to investigations regarding personnel matters within the department.