LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are failing to follow public health orders requiring them to wear face coverings while on the job, the Office of the Inspector General said Monday.
“The lack of face coverings puts not only the public at risk but the very law enforcement personnel who are responsible for protecting our community,” Inspector General Max Huntsman wrote in a letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. “Failure of sheriff’s department personnel to wear face coverings erodes public trust and increases the likelihood that members of the public will also fail to follow this life-saving practice.”
Both statewide and county health orders mandate the use of face coverings, and the sheriff’s department issued its own face covering order on April 15 — well ahead of state and local officials — that applies to all employees in contact with other employees or the public “unless in a situation where a facial covering inhibits officer’s safety.”
Huntsman said deputies have refused to comply and there has been a lack of enforcement, leading him to report the issue to the board and a watchdog agency that oversees the sheriff’s department this past Friday.
“Office of Inspector General personnel have responded to the scene of multiple deputy-involved shootings at which no or very few departmental personnel have been masked, despite interacting with members of the public or being within six feet of others,” Huntsman wrote. “In some instances members of the department had masks but were not wearing them with the nose and mouth covered as required.”
Numerous videos have also circulated online showing deputies without face coverings, including while responding during mass protests earlier this summer.
Huntsman said he sent a letter to Sheriff Alex Villanueva about the issue on June 25, but failed to hear back.
Huntsman’s letter also called for subpoenaing records to get to the bottom of allegations that the department booked a party at the Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood earlier this month — despite state orders prohibiting bars from opening. The department has previously denied the allegations, calling them “categorically false,” and claiming that the video appeared “to be a hoax perpetrated by social activists.”
But according to Huntsman, the company booking the venue said the party was for the benefit of the sheriff’s department, though the group that owns the bar said the event was not booked directly by the department.
“Should this event have been organized or attended by sheriff’s department personnel, the lack of compliance with state mandates is another example of department personnel disregarding a state directive and sending the public a message that sworn deputies are above the law,” Huntsman wrote.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a total of 816 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)