LA County Sheriff’s Department under state investigation for possible civil rights violations

A+protester+confronts+Los+Angeles+County+Sheriff%27s+Department+deputies+during+a+protest+in+2020.

Emily Holshouser

A protester confronts Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies during a protest in 2020.

Emily Holshouser, Assistant News Editor

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Friday that the California Department of Justice is launching a civil rights investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to examine whether the department has engaged in a practice of unconstitutional policing.

The investigation will consist of interviews with deputies, members of oversight panels, local officials, community groups and more.

“There are serious concerns and reports that accountability and adherence to legitimate policing practices have lapsed at LASD,” said Becerra in a tweet.

Becerra has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as his cabinet’s Health and Human Services secretary.

The LASD has long been plagued with allegations of abuse, neglect and coverups. For months, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has denied those allegations and refused to attend meetings of the Civilian Oversight Commission, a watchdog group created by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“As Sheriff, I look forward to this non-criminal ‘pattern and practice’ investigation. Our Department may have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations, and recommendations on any areas we can improve our service to the community,” Villanueva said in a statement. “During my administration, we have routinely requested the State Office of the Attorney General to monitor our investigations.”

The LASD has been under intense scrutiny for recent deputy-involved shootings that resulted in civilian casualties, including the deaths of Andres Guardado and Fred Williams. Additionally, a report by the Loyola Marymount Center for Juvenile Law & Policy analyzed secret subgroups within the department and found evidence of violent deputies and aggressive policing.

“We applaud the attorney general for answering the call by grassroots groups and the families of those killed by sheriff’s deputies to launch an investigation into the pattern of unconstitutional policing by Sheriff Villanueva and the LASD,” said Andres Kwon, policy counsel for the American CivilLibertiesUnion of Southern California, in a statement. “The investigation should address past and ongoing misconduct, but more remains to be done.”

According to the release from the Attorney General’s office, no determinations have been made about specific complaints or allegations into the LASD’s policies or practices.