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Board Presses Sheriff for Explanation

County supervisors react to report that 800 claims of misconduct by deputies were not probed by department.

October 16, 2002|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday demanded an explanation of why the Sheriff's Department failed to investigate more than 800 claims of wrongdoing by its deputies.

Supervisors also are seeking a legal opinion on whether deputies found to have engaged in misconduct as long ago as 1993 could still be disciplined today.

The disclosure of the failure to investigate was made in a report from the Office of Independent Review, a group of civil rights attorneys who investigate the Sheriff's Department and report to county supervisors.

The report is slated to be formally released Thursday, but supervisors have a preliminary version, which found that the Sheriff's Department failed to routinely review legal claims of misconduct. The agency has now changed its policy.

"We were always under the perception that the department had a handle on this vital issue," Supervisor Mike Antonovich said.

State law gives police agencies one year from the time they hear about possible officer misconduct to discipline those in question. The one exception, attorneys said, is when the officers are named in lawsuits and any swift discipline could be used against them in court. After the Office of Independent Review found a failure to review claims, the department began reviewing those filed since January 2001.

In his motion, which will be voted on next week, Antonovich asked that county lawyers study the limitations on discipline, including whether information more than a year old can be placed in deputies' personnel file. He also wants the Sheriff's Department to explain how legal claims could go unexamined for so long. "There was a breakdown," he said, "and I would like to know why and who is responsible for not following policy."

Supervisors and their aides also raised concerns about the relationship between the Office of Independent Review and Sheriff Lee Baca, who proposed it. The head of the office, former federal civil rights prosecutor Michael Gennaco, meets weekly with Baca, but his new report is the first he has given to the supervisors in the year since they unanimously created the office.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who is Baca's sharpest critic on the board, has asked for her own weekly meetings with Gennaco.

"It's too cozy," she said of the relationship between Gennaco and the sheriff, echoing private remarks by several supervisors' aides Tuesday.

"At this point in time," said Miguel Santana, Molina's spokesman, "it looks like the sheriff has a closer relationship with Mr. Gennaco than the board does."

Relations between the supervisors and sheriff have been increasingly tense. The board has clashed with Baca over department cost overruns and whether he properly disciplined deputies who were involved in the death of a mentally ill jail inmate.

On Tuesday they spent more than an hour criticizing the sheriff's purchasing policy.

In an interview last week, Gennaco said he wants to increase his communication with supervisors. He said state public meetings law made it hard to brief the entire board on personnel meetings.

"They have a history of dealing with the sheriff that I don't," he said of the board. "I think it is important for us to hear from them what their issues are."

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