Since President Trump laid out his plan for mass deportations, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has gone out of its way to reassure the public it had strict limits on cooperating with immigration officials.
As the president and others demanded, among other things, that local police work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally, the Sheriff's Department took a defiant stand, saying ICE officers had to collect inmate information from a public website.
Behind the scenes, however, things were playing out differently.
Instead of keeping immigration officers at an arm's length, Sheriff's Department jail officials granted them access to the department's inmate processing facility, allowing them to set up an office with computers that provided "a constant flow of information regarding prisoners who were soon to be released," according to a report released Monday by the independent watchdog that oversees the Sheriff's Department.
In the report, Inspector General Max Huntsman also noted multiple incidents in which his inspectors observed sheriff's staff providing detailed information directly to ICE officers about inmates who were about to be released.
"We prioritize maintaining and increasing public trust and always endeavor to provide the public with accurate information. With respect to our statements that we were either no longer providing ICE with lists of individuals being released, or that we did not provide release information to ICE, those statements were not accurate," McDonnell wrote.
Huntsman's inquiry stemmed from a letter McDonnell wrote to county supervisors in January, in which he responded to a request for a detailed explanation of how the department shared information about inmates with ICE and how it handled requests from immigration officials to hand over people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Elected officials around the country had been asking such questions of police chiefs and sheriffs since Trump and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions had begun to threaten to withhold funds and other consequences for municipalities that did not honor ICE's requests for help. The cooperation was an important part of Trump's sweeping deportation plan that made nearly all of the estimated 12 million people in the country illegally eligible to be removed.
In particular, ICE wanted local police to hold on to flagged inmates for up to two days past their scheduled release date to allow immigration officers to take custody of them. ICE also wanted advanced notice before inmates suspected of immigration violations were released from custody.
McDonnell and other sheriff's officials emphasized repeatedly in public statements that the department adhered to state laws setting out ground rules for local police cooperating with ICE. The Sheriff's Department refused to hold inmates in custody for ICE, and inmate release information had to be obtained through its website, they said.
In one particularly pointed claim, the department took to Twitter in July in response to a Times article. "LASD does NOT provide release info to #ICE. Our public website has ALL inmate release dates. It's up to #ICE to vet the data," officials wrote.
In reality, Huntsman found ICE officers had been allowed to set up five desktop computers in an office in the Inmate Reception Center that was nominally reserved for officers from any outside agency to use. The computers were removed when Huntsman shared his findings with sheriff's officials, according to the report.
Huntsman also cited "multiple occasions" in which jail personnel gave ICE officers in the reception center printouts from an internal Sheriff's Department computer program that contained the birthdates and other identifying information about inmates who were set to be released from custody. The information, which was not publicly available online, made it easier for ICE officers to determine whether to take custody of the inmates.
That information sharing has since ceased, McDonnell said in his letter to Huntsman.
Through a spokeswoman, the Sheriff's Department did not make anyone available to comment on the report.