LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a number of motions designed to push Sheriff Alex Villanueva to be more transparent and cooperative with the Office of the Inspector General’s investigations into fatal shootings by sheriff’s deputies.
“L.A. County has been facing an epidemic for years: systemic violence, brutality, and racism at the hands of law enforcement agencies,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said. “We have seen too many loved ones from our communities of color killed by law enforcement and have witnessed these very same agencies subsequently conduct their own investigations into these matters.
“Recent civil unrest, both nationally and locally, underscore the public’s deep-seated distrust in law enforcement agencies. This distrust is exacerbated by the lack of transparency in how these agencies conduct their investigations into these cases.”
Solis’ motion, asking the sheriff to release evidence from fatal deputy shootings as quickly as possible, was passed. The motion also asks the department to provide the OIG with immediately access to all related records and further asks the sheriff to provide written justification when video evidence is not released or autopsy results are placed on a security hold. The motion also asked the department to “repurpose” its information bureau to comply with laws on transparency.
“As someone who truly does believe in public safety, I think it’s more important now than ever to have that transparency front and center,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to continue to request that this OIG be allowed to oversee the very department the office was created to monitor.
“And by the way, that predates the sheriff that is in that office now, this is something that dates back to … Sheriff Baca and also under Sheriff McDonnell,” she said. “We’ve had several deputy-involved shootings recently with absolutely no transparency to the public.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that the board was not asking for a rush to judgement when deputies fatally shoot people, but rather an investigation done outside of the sheriff’s department, saying that the independent investigation was essential to public confidence in the results.
“Anything that seeks to remove the option for independent investigation reeks of, implies, cover-up,” Ridley-Thomas said. “That’s the very thing that we are seeking to avoid … we have to continue to press this case. This sheriff has to abide by the law.”
In his comments to the board, Villanueva seemed to reject the independence of Inspector General Max Huntsman and also suggested that the board itself should be subject to oversight.
“I support the notion of oversight in its entirety, however, it has to be independent oversight and the efforts from the Board of Supervisors fall far short of independence,” Villanueva said. “I would support an inspector general who was voted on by the public at large, so he’s not beholden to your political interests.”
Ridley-Thomas also proposed expanding a unit within the Public Defenders Office that tracks misconduct and the use-of-force by law enforcement officers countywide.
“The epidemic of police shootings of unarmed individuals is an unrelenting outrage that has rightfully provoked a much larger conversation around the twin objectives of promoting public safety and investing in community well-being,” he said.
The board directed Sachi Hamai, the county’s chief executive, to report back in 30 days with a plan for expanding and funding the unit.
The board also committed to move forward with a probation oversight commission, first proposed in 2017 and approved last October. The unit will be established within the OIG.
“We are having a national conversation about the importance of effective oversight and accountability in our criminal justice system, and that must apply to our probation system as well,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “As the Probation Department undergoes major changes, we need to get this oversight commission up and running so that it can start the important work ensuring that the young people in our charge get the best care and support possible as they work to get their life back on track.”
The motion also directed staffers to immediately resume recruiting for an executive director for the commission.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)