Sixty-six residents of a mostly minority neighborhood near Duarte have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, accusing deputies of conducting a series of illegal raids aimed at rousting suspected gang members.
The federal lawsuit, which names Sheriff Sherman Block and 40 of his deputies, alleges that officers on six occasions last summer improperly obtained search warrants, stormed at least 14 homes, ransacked property and terrorized residents, including a pregnant woman who later suffered a miscarriage.
The deputies, assigned to the sheriff's Temple City station, were directing the pre-dawn raids against members of a black street gang suspected of shooting at two patrol cars. But lawyers from the firm of Burton & Norris contended that no weapons were recovered and all suspects were released.
"The police were mad at the DuRoc Crips . . . so they just said, 'We're going to hit you where it hurts, we're going to jack up your families,' " attorney John C. Burton said after a news conference Thursday. "That's what this is all about. They (the Sheriff's Department) are the biggest gang of all."
But sheriff's officials denied that the raids were improper and said that a weapon believed to be used in one of the sniper attacks was found buried in the back yard of one of the homes, although detectives have not been able to link it to a gunman.
Officials also said videotapes of the searches were made by the department and were reviewed and approved by the Internal Affairs Bureau. The activity was part of an ongoing effort to fight gangs in the half-square-mile unincorporated neighborhood surrounded by Monrovia, Duarte, Arcadia and Irwindale.
Sheriff's officials say that they will not release the tape unless they are ordered to by a judge.
"The allegations of impropriety are unfounded, the allegations of false arrests are unfounded and the statements made by the complainants are contradictory and unsubstantiated," said sheriff's spokesman Bill Wehner.
Burton is the same attorney who handled a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department for the 1988 raid at 39th Street and Dalton Avenue that has cost the city $3.4 million in settlements.
He acknowledged that the incidents near Duarte did not cause nearly the same damage, but he alleged that residents still were subjected to broken doors, ransacked bedrooms and racial slurs that, according to the lawsuit, were part of a "pattern of intimidation, illicit law enforcement behavior . . . and constitutional violations."