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Sheriff settles claim over racial profiling in campus raid

Department agrees to revise training and notify community college trustees after incident at L.A. Trade-Tech.

February 03, 2009|Richard Winton

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, settling a claim over detentions of minority students during a narcotics search at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, has agreed to revise its anti-bias training and ensure that its supervisors prevent racial profiling.

The Sheriff's Department, which patrols Los Angeles Community College District campuses, reached the settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to resolve a claim alleging the department stopped and searched dozens of African American students based on their race. The incident occurred Oct. 17 on the campus south of downtown Los Angeles.

Attorneys for the ACLU said that under the settlement, the Sheriff's Department will implement changes, including examining current anti-racial bias procedures and revising its policy to state that department officials within their power "guarantee racial profiling and bias-policing are not practiced."

"Our Constitution and laws protect the community against law enforcement harassment based on skin color, and this settlement is one step toward ensuring that the Sheriff's Department never allows that to happen again," said Catherine Lhamon, racial justice director at the local ACLU chapter.

The suit stems from an incident in which 14 deputies went to the campus allegedly looking for drug dealers and detained 33 black students. A Latino student who attempted to take pictures of the raid was also detained. Two people were arrested.

An investigation by the college district, which oversees the trade school, concluded that the student roundup constituted racial profiling: using racial or ethnic characteristics to determine whether a person is likely to have committed a crime.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore, however, said the department's internal investigation and the county Office of Independent Review found that the department did not commit racial profiling, but that the operation could have been better planned and conceived.

Whitmore said the department had been asked to respond to drug dealing on the campus.

Whitmore said that in addition to anti-bias training, the department will now make sure college officials are part of any policing event on a campus.

In the wake of the incident, Sheriff Lee Baca said that deputies who conducted the undercover sting operation, without the knowledge of campus officials, said they believed they were observing a narcotics sale in progress.

Hoping to keep the suspect in sight, deputies detained all the students surrounding the activity, Baca said.

The Sheriff's Department is now required to notify the college district's eight trustees before launching an investigation of alleged illegal activity on campuses, he said. Any such operation would require approval from the district's chancellor.

Michael Gennaco, head of the review office, said his investigation found that the raid was not a case of racial profiling but inept planning.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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