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2 supervisors call for probe of sheriff's hiring

The action comes after a Times investigation revealed that officers were hired from another agency despite records of misconduct.

December 02, 2013|By Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston
  • Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he would meet with the Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general and ask him to look into the department's hiring.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he would meet with the Sheriff’s… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

Two Los Angeles County supervisors called Monday for an independent probe of the sheriff's hiring practices in response to a Times investigation that revealed dozens of officers were hired despite histories of serious misconduct.

"I'm very, very bothered by what happened," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "Sometimes people slip through the cracks, but this seems to be a disproportionately high number who slipped through the cracks."

The Times reported over the weekend that the Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers from a disbanded county police force known as the Office of Public Safety in 2010 even though investigators found significant misconduct in their backgrounds. Internal sheriff's files showed that jobs were given to officers who falsified reports, accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work, committed theft and solicited prostitutes. Twenty-nine of the roughly 280 hires had previously been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies.

"The Sheriff's Department needs to take a look at each and every one of these hires to see what remedies they have," Yaroslavsky said, "and they need to do it immediately."

He said he would meet with the Sheriff's Department's new inspector general and ask him to look into the 2010 hiring campaign and the sheriff's hiring practices in general.

"This should be one of the first things he looks at," Yaroslavsky said. "The sheriff needs to be sure this kind of situation does not reoccur."

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also called on the incoming inspector general to investigate the hiring of the county officers. He said in a statement that the Board of Supervisors "was assured that full background investigations would be conducted and only those qualified would be hired by the Sheriff's Department… Those who deviated from the process should be exposed and held accountable."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman, who was recently selected as the sheriff's inspector general, said in an interview with The Times that he was troubled by the paper's investigation, particularly the finding that dozens of officers who had showed evidence of dishonesty were hired.

"The hiring of people who have not been honest is a dangerous thing to do," said Huntsman, who is expected to start his new role as watchdog next year. "A use of force can be placed in context.... It may or may not reoccur. But dishonesty, that's always going to be a problem."

Gary Wigodsky, a Los Angeles County deputy alternate public defender, agreed. Jurors often view officers as objective witnesses, he said, "but if they are not honest, then that changes everything…. It really does get to the integrity of the system."

Huntsman said he has not yet determined the specific areas he wants to examine. But he said he considers the hiring matter an important one and said that if the supervisors want him to investigate it, he will.

"At a minimum, we would ask questions, gather information and hopefully make suggestions on how to avoid this in the future. Even though I think some of those suggestions are pretty obvious: Don't do this," said Huntsman, who currently prosecutes public corruption cases.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the inspector general should determine on his own what to examine. But he called on the agency to improve its hiring standards.

"The vast majority of the members of the department are decent," he said. "When you get too many that are viewed as problematic, it completely robs the department and its members of their credibility and their effectiveness."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Monday that the department was continuing its own review of the 2010 hirings. Sheriff Lee Baca, who declined to be interviewed, has said through Whitmore that he was unaware officers with significant misconduct had been hired.

One law enforcement expert said he was surprised to see the Sheriff's Department made some of the hires highlighted in The Times investigation.

"I'm incredulous when I see these hires," said Roger Goldman, a law professor at St. Louis University who specializes in state licensing of police. "Either they were willfully blind or they actually knew what was going on."

California is one of half a dozen states that doesn't have the authority at the state level to decertify an officer for bad behavior. In some states, misconduct such as dishonesty would prevent officers from being hired in the first place, Goldman said. That's because previous law enforcement agencies would be obligated to report misconduct to the certifying state agency, which makes the ultimate decision to revoke officers' licenses.

Merrick Bobb, who monitors the Sheriff's Department for the county Board of Supervisors, said it was "deeply discouraging" that officers with past misconduct were allowed to join the agency.

"One thinks of a police department as a group of highly trained professionals with high ethical standards who make crucial life and death decisions. To have people of apparent ethical shortcomings … does damage this core principal," he said.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

ben.poston@latimes.com

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