Settlement Requires LA County Sheriff to Pay Restitution for Harassing Minorities, Revise Policies to Eliminate Bias

On April 28, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department regarding allegations that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office had engaged in a “pattern or practice of stops, searches and seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law,” targeting racial minorities in particular.

The 4-1 decision was made by the board in a closed session, with the single dissent coming from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The settlement, which requires that $700,000 be set aside in a settlement fund and $25,000 be paid as a civil penalty to the federal government, comes after a two-year investigation of policing in Antelope Valley. The Justice Department had initially sought $12.5 million for residents who had had their rights violated.

In what is perhaps an even more promising move for residents in the sheriff’s department’s jurisdiction is that the 57-page settlement agreement includes 150 requirements for the implementation of better policing policies, as well as a system for tracking progress in eliminating racial bias and harassment.

The agreement explicitly lays out guidelines on how deputies can respond to common activities such as taking photos and videos that could capture police activity (whether on purpose or accidentally — people take as many photos every two minutes now as were taken in the whole 19th century, making it easy for police to end up in the background of photos even when they are not the intended subject).

Not only must police refrain from threatening or intimidating anyone exercising rights such as taking photos, the department is being required to revise its use-of-force policies such that force is only a last-resort option that may not be used against even resistant individuals provided they do not pose a threat to the public, police or themselves.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that retraining has already begun and that he “welcome[s] the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards.”