A group of civil rights lawyers Monday asked a federal judge to place restrictions on Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in Lynwood in order to halt "a pattern of violence, terrorism and destruction of property."
The deputies have conducted a campaign of "unrelenting terrorism against the black and Latino residents of this community," alleged one of the lawyers, Kevin Reed of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The attorneys' charges were outlined in a lengthy legal memorandum and 202 pages of declarations submitted in Los Angeles to U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr.
The declarations detailed alleged physical abuses, death threats, unwarranted shootings and arrests, ransacking of homes, uninhibited expressions of racial animosity and a host of other allegedly illegal activities by the deputies.
Hatter was asked to impose an immediate injunction on the Sheriff's Department to end what the attorneys described as the "wanton abuse of police power" by deputies in Lynwood.
Attorney George V. Denny III, of the Police Misconduct Lawyers Referral Service, described the Lynwood situation as only "a microcosm" of widespread problems of excessive use of force by the Sheriff's Department.
Denny called for creation of a special commission--similar to the Christopher Commission, which examined the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the beating of Altadena motorist Rodney G. King--to be formed to investigate the Sheriff's Department.
"If you could get a commission to go into it (the Sheriff's Department) with the depth and breadth that the Christopher Commission did," Denny said, "they would find practices that make the Los Angeles police look like choirboys and the discipline imposed by their superiors look Draconian."
The papers filed Monday were the latest chapter in a class-action suit filed in September. The original suit accused Lynwood deputies of engaging in a wave of wanton shootings, beating and excessive force from February to May in 1990. The lawyers asked Hatter to take over control of the Lynwood sheriff's station as the most effective means of stopping "an institutionally condoned reign of terror in Lynwood."
The Los Angeles County counsel's office filed a motion for dismissal of that complaint, but no hearing has been held.
On Monday, the plaintiff's lawyers said immediate action is needed because the beatings and other illegal activity continue. They asserted in court papers that "Lynwood deputies appear to consider the lawsuit a call to arms."
"As a deputy said to one of the plaintiffs: 'Who do you think you are to file a lawsuit against the sheriffs!' "
Sheriff's spokesman Deputy Patrick Hunter said the department had no comment on Monday's developments.
The original complaint contended that Sheriff Sherman Block, and other top county law enforcement officials, have failed to control deputies at the Lynwood station. The facility has about 150 sworn personnel covering a 7.6-square-mile area that includes Lynwood, Willowbrook, parts of Compton and unincorporated areas.
On Monday, Denny reasserted that Block has failed to discipline law-breaking officers and that Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner has failed to prosecute them. Calls to the district attorney's spokesman were not returned.
Block labeled the original suit a ploy by gang members to discredit his department. He denied the allegations, saying that for years deputies in Lynwood, and at the other sheriff's stations, have been punished for excessive force. He provided no specifics.
At the time, Denny said some plaintiffs were current or former gang members. He added that the vast majority of plaintiffs have no gang ties.
The papers filed Monday describe numerous incidents that transpired after the original suit was filed.
In one case, Jeremiah Randle, a black elementary school teacher, said his legs were seriously injured by deputies who kicked him after he was stopped June 24 in his new BMW convertible for reasons he still does not understand.
After giving the deputies his license and registration, Randle said he asked several times why he had been stopped.
Among the deputies' responses, according to Randle's statement:
"Shut the (expletive) up. I don't have to tell you anything." And, "Look, (racial epithet), I don't have to tell you (expletive)."
Randle was released, but cited for willfully obstructing an officer and for not having a license plate on the car although, Randle said, he said he told the officers the car was new and he had a temporary registration.
Another plaintiff, Elzie Lee Coleman, said Deputy Paul Archambault fired six shots at him last May 26, wounding him several times. Coleman said he was accused of brandishing a weapon, even though he said he was unarmed.
"My doctors tell me that I am no longer able to have children due to the gunshot wound in my scrotum," he said.