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Report details misconduct by L.A. County sheriff's deputies

The annual report by the Sheriff's Department watchdog includes the case of a deputy shooting at a motorist who had bumped his car and a case in which a deputy failed to report a shooting.

August 05, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • Michael Gennaco, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Office of Independent Review, answers questions at a news conference.
Michael Gennaco, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's… (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department watchdog released a report Thursday cataloging several serious examples of deputy misconduct, including one case in which a deputy shot at a motorist who bumped his car at a fast-food restaurant and another in which a deputy covered up a shooting that occurred during a foot pursuit.

The Office of Independent Review compiles the list each year. Officials said that they have not detected an increase in misconduct cases but that it was important to publicize the wrongdoing of officers in hopes of reducing such incidents.

"It gives the whole profession a black eye," said Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review. "We expect our law enforcement officers to enforce laws, not break them."

In the incident at the fast-food restaurant, a deputy in a McDonald's heard his car alarm go off and went outside to find that the vehicle had been hit. He and the other driver agreed to exchange information, but the other driver didn't want to alert police, prompting the deputy to pull his gun out and tell the driver he was a cop.

The other driver, surprised by the statement, got back in his car and drove off.

As the car pulled away, the deputy fired several rounds at it. The man wasn't struck, but his car was.

When investigators arrived, the deputy claimed he had reached into the other car while the other driver was trying to flee, and was dragged 15 feet before he started firing. The incident, however, was caught on tape, showing that he wasn't dragged. The deputy, a new hire then still on probationary status, was fired after he refused to cooperate with an investigation into the August 2010 incident in Stevenson Ranch.

A sheriff's spokesman said a case was presented to prosecutors, who declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence. The Sheriff's Department refused to release the former deputy's name, or those of any other deputies whose misconduct was mentioned in the report.

In another case, a deputy was on patrol when she spotted a man who matched the description of a burglary suspect. When she started questioning him, he bolted but was eventually arrested by other deputies. In her report, the deputy made no mention that she discharged her weapon during the chase. But when the suspect was at the station talking to a watch commander, he asked if "a deputy could shoot at him if he wasn't carrying a gun," the report said.

Investigators located witnesses who said they heard a gunshot, and they eventually found a bullet casing. The deputy resigned before her interview. Despite almost a dozen witnesses and ballistics evidence, prosecutors declined to file charges. According to the report, prosecutors said they couldn't prove the deputy didn't accidentally shoot her gun.

The report also cited the case of a deputy who placed a male minor in a headlock and escorted him down a staircase and out of a courthouse. The deputy's rationale: "to prevent a physical altercation," according to the report.

The incident began when the deputy put his hand on the youth's shoulder and told him his clothes were inappropriate for court. The boy, a defendant in a battery case, became agitated and told the deputy not to touch him. Soon after, the youth was convicted, and the deputy, worried that he would become hostile, told him to leave. The youth questioned why he had to, before starting to walk away. The deputy caught up and put the boy in the headlock.

The deputy was found to have used excessive force and was suspended for two days.

The incidents of misconduct were detailed in the Office of Independent Review's annual report, which discussed a number of subjects, including Taser use, in-custody suicide attempts and the slow pace of investigations into deputy shootings and use of force.

Also mentioned was an on-duty deputy who stopped at a spa in the middle of his shift. His midday foray was spoiled when sheriff's vice deputies entered the massage parlor for a license check, an operation in response to growing complaints about spas fronting as prostitution dens.

When confronted later by supervisors, according to the report, the deputy said the massage was for a work-related back injury. He was suspended.

Both Gennaco and sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore emphasized that the reports on misconduct cases are examples of department transparency and have helped address departmental problems before.

"Out of the 18,000 employees, the majority, scores of them … day in and day out, do their job above and beyond the call of duty," Whitmore said.

Other cases detailed include that of a jailhouse deputy who was suspended after allegations that he asked an inmate to have his visiting girlfriend "show me her" breasts, and that of two deputies who locked a third in the back seat of a patrol car for 20 minutes after she had delayed giving them a ride.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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