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Feds: Sheriff's Dept. Discriminated Against Blacks in Antelope Valley

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The Justice Department today announced preliminary agreements with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to make broad changes to policing in the Antelope Valley and enforcement of Section 8 housing. The agreements are the result of a two-year civil rights probe which found that the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff's stations engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, seizures, and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law. In addition, DOJ investigators found a pattern or practice of discrimination against blacks in its enforcement of the Housing Choice Voucher Program -- Section 8 housing -- in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The federal probe of Antelope Valley sheriff's stations found:

  • that blacks, and to a lesser extent Latinos, are more likely to be stopped and/or searched than whites, even when controlling for factors other than race, such as crime rates;
  • the widespread use of unlawful backseat detentions, which violates the Fourth Amendment and LASD policy;
  • a pattern of unreasonable force, including a pattern of the use of force against handcuffed individuals;
  • a pattern of intimidation and harassment of black Section 8 residents by LASD deputies, often in conjunction with county housing investigators; and
  • inadequate implementation of accountability measures to intervene on unconstitutional conduct that allowed these problems to occur.

"We are encouraged by the response of Los Angeles County to our findings," said Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
"While our investigation showed significant problems in LASD's Antelope Valley stations, we are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that will provide meaningful and sustainable reform," he said. "We look forward to continuing our positive partnership ... and believe this work will help restore the community's confidence in fair, equitable, and effective law enforcement."

The proposed changes set out in a statement of intent include a revision of LASD's stop-and-search and use-of-force policies and training, and increased community outreach.

In addition to its investigation of LASD, the DOJ investigated the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster to determine whether there has been a systematic effort to discriminate against blacks.

As a result of the findings, a complaint is expected to be filed in federal court against the county of Los Angeles, the Housing Authority, LASD, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale for alleged violations of federal law.

Through ongoing negotiations, all parties are seeking to avoid contested litigation and resolve the matter in an agreement to be entered as an order of the court, prosecutors said.

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