In a 31-page report released on Friday, the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General reported they found multiple issues with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s handling of a gunpoint detention in Canyon Country last year.
The report stems from an Aug. 7, 2020, incident in Canyon Country in which three teenagers — two Black 16-year-olds and a white 18-year-old — were detained at gunpoint. A video of the incident was taken by a nearby witness and within hours had gone viral.
On Sept. 16, 2020, the Sheriff’s Department fulfilled the Inspector General’s request to provide evidence associated with the detainment and their investigation began, according to the report.
In their review over the last year, the IG examined the Sheriff’s Department policies regarding unholstering their firearms or pulling out their AR-15’s when detaining suspects.
“Per Sheriff’s Department policies, the act of unholstering and pointing a firearm is, by itself, not a reportable event; thus, absent a citizen complaint, deputies’ actions, similar to the ones which occurred in Santa Clarita, may never be brought to a supervisor’s attention due to a lack of documentation,” the report reads. “Sheriff’s Department policies and training tactics allow deputies broad discretion as to when they can deploy rifles.”
In addition to the use of force policies, the report states that the Watch Commander Service Comment Report — which determines the merits of a citizen’s complaints, makes findings on misconduct and memorializes pertinent evidence — had a number of serious issues.
Such issues included the absence of tape-recorded statements of the 15 deputies who were at the scene of the incident, as well as evidence of possible biases in the investigation that may have resulted in portraying the deputies’ actions in a more favorable light. It also states that the SCV Sheriff’s Station said they had not received any formal complaint regarding the incident, despite the social media posts, news coverage and calls from local leaders to investigate the incident.
At the time of the incident, the Sheriff’s Department contended they had identified one of the teenagers as a gang member, but that “by the Sheriff’s Department’s records the male had no criminal contacts with law enforcement” and no “criminal record.”
The fifth and final critique offered in the report reads that the two supervising Sheriff’s Department sergeants who went on the scene failed to properly investigate a possible assault, took no reports at the scene, and did not attempt to interview witnesses.
Based on the review of the documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department for this Aug. 7, 2020, incident, the Office of Inspector General made the following recommendations:
- The Sheriff’s Department should revise its policy to make the unholstering and pointing of a firearm a reportable use of force, with requirement for routine monitoring and auditing consistent with the monitoring and auditing of other uses of force.
- The Sheriff’s Department should revise its patrol rifle policy to include clear guidance as to the proper and improper deployment of a rifle. All deputies should undergo training consistent with any policy revisions. The deputy-involved shooting of Ryan Twyman in June of 2019 also raised concerns about the lack of policy and training on the use of rifles, yet no policy changes were implemented following that shooting.
- The Sheriff’s Department should diligently document and investigate citizen complaints. A report that is critical of deputy conduct or suggests that conduct fell below the reporting party’s expectations should be considered a complaint regardless of whether the reporting party designates it as a complaint. Treating all such service reports as complaints ensures that there will be a record of the conduct and an investigation. Allegations of racial bias should be investigated when race is mentioned.
- The Sheriff’s Department must ensure that personnel receiving complaints do not dissuade complainants or comment in a way that might be interpreted as minimizing the comments or discouraging the making of the complaint.
- The Sheriff’s Department should insist upon compliance with its Manual of Policy and Procedure; personnel directly involved in an incident should not conduct any subsequent inquiry or investigation about that incident.
- Efforts should be made to document favorable comments and unfavorable comments about the Sheriff’s Department to provide an impartial assessment of facts and evidence.
- The Sheriff’s Department should audio and/or video record all interviews, including interviews of Sheriff’s Department personnel.
- When documenting an investigation, the background of the involved parties should include only relevant information. If a deputy was unaware of a party’s background during an incident, it generally has no bearing on a deputy’s conduct.
- Labeling the parties to an incident as a suspect or a witness should not be done until the completion of the investigation.