Los Angeles County supervisors are expected to vote Tuesday on a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that sheriff’s officials systematically targeted racial minorities in the Antelope Valley.
After a two-year investigation, the justice department in 2013 accused the county and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale of waging a campaign of discrimination against African American residents, particularly those living in low-income subsidized housing.
Federal officials said some sheriff's personnel in the Antelope Valley had engaged in a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional and unlawful policing regarding stops, searches and seizures, excessive force, and discriminatory targeting of voucher holders in their homes.”
That targeting often took the form of teams of armed sheriff's deputies accompanying county housing agency investigators on surprise inspections of Section 8 housing, looking for violations of housing rules. Some city and county officials at the time argued that the compliance checks were needed to root out abuses in the program.
The federal investigation also found that African Americans were disproportionately more likely to be stopped and searched than other residents and that deputies had used excessive force against handcuffed detainees.
The details of the settlement slated for approval Tuesday have not been publicly released, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the settlement will require the sheriff’s department to comply a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to ongoing monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress.
The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The justice department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.
The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement agreement that will pertain to the Housing Authority. That settlement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.
A spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley, declined to comment prior to the vote.
Community activists in the Antelope Valley said relations with the sheriff’s department have dramatically improved as a result of the justice department investigation and a separate lawsuit that was filed by community groups in 2011.
Palmdale resident V. Jesse Smith, one of the founders of The Community Action League, an advocacy group for minorities in the Antelope Valley and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that the situation had improved dramatically since then.
One of the terms of the settlement with the city of Lancaster was the creation of a working group composed of city officials and members of the action league and NAACP.
The group meets monthly to talk about community concerns. Relations with the sheriff’s stations in Palmdale and Lancaster have also improved dramatically, Smith said.
The reforms made as a result of the lawsuit and DOJ investigation, he said, have “broken down the walls of distrust, and we’re finally able to have a dialogue rather than a monologue.”
Maria Palomares, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her organization, which used to be flooded with complaints about the Section 8 raids, is no longer getting calls from residents complaining of deputies showing up “with guns blazing.”
Palomares said she still hears complaints of racial profiling in the Antelope Valley, but she said the Section 8 compliance checks are no longer used as a “as a tool to discriminate against black and Latino families.”
Sheriff Jim McDonnell and representatives of the justice department’s civil rights division could not be reached for comment.
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