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LA County settles federal civil rights case

Settlement followed findings that the country's largest sheriff's department harassed low-income minority residents.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an accord on Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department to settle findings that the country's largest sheriff's department systematically harassed and intimidated low-income minority residents.

The settlement follows a scathing report on Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office abuses cited by the Justice Department in 2013, capping a two-year probe of policing practices in the Antelope Valley, an area of Mojave Desert communities north of Los Angeles.

The report concluded that county sheriff's deputies, along with authorities in the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, routinely targeted blacks and Hispanics in a "pattern and practice" of unlawful traffic stops, raids and excessive force.

In particular, the report accused the sheriff and county housing agency investigators of waging a discriminatory campaign of surprise inspections and other actions against African-Americans living in federally funded Section 8 affordable-housing units in the area.

As many as nine deputies would accompany investigators on housing checks, sometimes with guns drawn.

Some county and city officials defended their conduct at the time, denying they engaged in discrimination and asserting that Section 8 compliance checks were necessary to ensure residents were abiding by the terms of the public assistance program.

But high-ranking Justice Department officials insisted that their probe had substantiated allegations of bias and abuse, and the county ultimately agreed to negotiate a settlement with the federal government.

The agreement was approved by the Board of Supervisors by a vote of 4-1.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement the settlement called for 150 requirements that would implement "constitutional policing and robust training models" along with a measurement system to track progress.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the settlements mandate community engagement and outreach efforts, including informing residents of their right to refuse searches.

The Sheriff’s Department must also ensure that investigations by housing authorities are not being used “to harass residents in their homes or motivate residents to relocate.”

The agreement will also provide money for people whose rights were violated. That figure has not been revealed, but the Justice Department had sought $12.5 million.

Senior Assistant County Counsel Roger Granbo said he could not discuss details of the settlement.  However, according to the Daily News, the deal "calls for $700,000 to be placed into a settlement fund for victims of discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Another $25,000 must be paid to the federal government as a civil penalty."

The agreement is the second major settlement in less than six months since McDonnell took office and promised to reform the scandal-plagued department. Former Sheriff Lee Baca abruptly stepped down last year after 18 subordinates were charged with federal crimes ranging from beating inmates and jail visitors to obstructing justice.

In December, supervisors approved a settlement requiring federal court oversight and a new use-of-force policy in a class-action lawsuit brought by jail inmates who claimed they were savagely beaten by guards.

Wire services

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