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7 L.A. County sheriff's deputies are relieved of duty after Christmas party brawl

The deputies were at a gathering Friday in Montebello for Men's Central Jail employees when a fight broke out in a parking lot. At least two people were injured. No arrests have been made.

December 16, 2010|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

A Christmas party for Men's Central Jail employees turned ugly when a brawl broke out that resulted in seven Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies being relieved of duty, officials confirmed.

Roughly 100 guests, including sheriff's supervisors, had gathered Friday night in Montebello. The party was winding down near midnight when local police received an anonymous 911 call reporting a fight at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall, officials said.

It was unclear if alcohol was involved, but sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said "it was a Christmas party, one could assume there was" drinking.

At least two people were injured, though no one was hospitalized and no arrests were made. When local police arrived at the parking lot where the brawl occurred, it appeared that all of the deputies involved had already left, officials said.

"I was surprised to hear it was deputies," said Lt. Michael Bergman of the Montebello Police Department.

No gunshots were fired, but the jailers may have been armed during the brawl, officials said. "Deputies that have their badges also have guns, so that will certainly be looked at," Whitmore said.

The Sheriff's Department has a policy against its deputies being armed while off duty and drunk. It's unclear if that policy was violated Friday night, but Michael Gennaco, who heads up the Office of Independent Review, the department's watchdog agency, said that would be looked at.

Relatives and friends of deputies may have also attended the Christmas party, but only deputies were involved in the brawl, Whitmore said. Department officials declined to name the deputies involved, but he confirmed that seven had been relieved of duty this week with pay pending internal criminal and administrative probes.

"They've been asked to clean out their lockers," Whitmore said.

Gennaco said the holiday brawl was an embarrassment for the department.

"Deputies are supposed to be peace makers, not law violators. And they're not supposed to be assaulting their fellow co-workers," he said. "It's done more than shake the public trust. I think it's shaken the inner trust of the department when you have this kind of work-related violence going on."

Some sort of argument preceded the fight, officials said, but it was unclear whether workplace tensions had existed before Friday.

Montebello police handed the investigation to the Sheriff's Department this week, saying the case would have "put an unnecessary burden" on Police Department detectives. Whitmore assured a speedy and thorough inquiry.

"This investigation will go wherever the evidence leads," he said.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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