County OK of U.S. deal is expected
Supervisors will vote amid allegations that sheriff ’s officials in Antelope Valley targeted minorities.
Los Angeles County supervisors are expected to approve a settlement Tuesday with the Justice Department over allegations that sheriff ’s officials systematically targeted minorities in the Antelope Valley.
After a two-year investigation, the Justice Department in 2013 accused the county and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale of waging a campaign of discrimination against African American residents, particularly those living in lowincome subsidized housing.
Federal officials said some sheriff ’s personnel in the Antelope Valley had engaged in a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional and unlawful policing regarding stops, searches and seizures, excessive force, and discriminatory targeting of voucher holders in their homes.”
That targeting often took the form of teams of armed sheriff ’s deputies accompanying county housing agency investigators on surprise inspections of Section 8 subsidized rental units, looking for violations of housing rules. Some city and county officials at the time argued that the compliance checks were needed to root out abuses in the program.
The federal investigation also found that African Americans were disproportionately more likely to be stopped and searched than other residents, and that deputies had used excessive force against handcuffed detainees.
The details of the proposed settlement have not been publicly released, but a county official who would speak only on condition of anonymity said the settlement requires the Sheriff ’s Department to comply with
a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress. County sources said Justice Department officials are expected to announce the agreement at a news conference Wednesday.
The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The Justice Department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.
The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement that will pertain to the L.A. County Housing Authority. That agreement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.
A spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley, declined to comment before Tuesday’s vote, which will take place behind closed doors.
Community activists in the Antelope Valley said relations with the Sheriff ’s Department have dramatically improved as a result of the federal investigation and a separate lawsuit filed by community groups in 2011.
Palmdale resident V. Jesse Smith, one of the founders of the Community Action League, an advocacy group for low-income residents in the Antelope Valley and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Sheriff ’s Department, said that relations have improved dramatically since then.
One of the terms of the private lawsuit settlement with Lancaster was the creation of a working group composed of city officials, members of the action league and NAACP.
The group meets monthly to talk about community concerns. Dealings with the sheriff’s stations in Palmdale and Lancaster have also improved dramatically, Smith said.
The reforms resulting from the lawsuit and federal investigation, he said, have “broken down the walls of distrust, and we’re finally able to have a dialogue rather than a monologue.”
Maria Palomares, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, who represented plaintiffs in the private lawsuit, said her organization, which used to be flooded with complaints about the Section 8 raids, is no longer getting calls from residents contending that deputies show up “with guns blazing.”
Palomares said she still hears complaints of racial profiling in the Antelope Valley, but she said the Section 8 compliance checks are no longer used “as a tool to discriminate against black and Latino families.”
Sheriff Jim McDonnell declined to comment, and representatives of the Justice Department’s civil rights division could not be reached.
L.A. COUNTY sheriff ’s deputies, county Housing Authority investigators and parole agents search Section 8 apartments and homes in Lancaster.