Latino activists stepped up pressure Wednesday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by forming a coalition of 20 civic and professional organizations in favor of such a panel.
Representatives of such groups as the Assn. of Mexican-American Educators, the Mexican-American Grocers Assn. and La Comision Feminil de Los Angeles, a feminist group, gathered near historic Olvera Street to demand that an independent body look into the workings of the 7,500-member department in the wake of a recent rash of controversial shootings involving deputies.
The activists termed Sheriff Sherman Block's formation last week of his own blue-ribbon panel, which includes several prominent Latinos, as "window dressing" and inadequate.
"While Sherman Block, being the politician that he is, moved quickly to attempt to divert further attention to his department, the fact is that he personally appointed a committee whose mission is still quite unclear, still has no investigatory powers and has not yet even met," said coalition chairwoman Gloria Romero.
"We maintain that there is a need for a full-scale, sweeping and independent investigation of the Sheriff's Department similar to the Christopher Commission (which probed the Los Angeles Police Department)."
Since the Aug. 3 fatal shooting of Arturo Jimenez at the Ramona Gardens public housing project in Lincoln Heights, several Chicano groups on the Eastside have issued similar calls for a Christopher Commission-type body to look into the Sheriff's Department.
Three other deputy-involved shootings also have prompted proposals for an independent investigation, the latest being the shooting of a man in a Willowbrook park on Labor Day.
Despite the move by the County Board of Supervisors to ask the Grand Jury to look into the four shootings, the Latino activists at Wednesday's news conference contended that an independent body convened by the supervisors is needed.
"Our demands are very basic," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of a nonprofit immigration agency in East Los Angeles. "We want justice. We want the rights of citizens to be respected by law enforcement."
At least one county supervisor who is sympathetic to the activists' concerns said through a spokesman that it is too early to say if an independent commission will become a reality.
"Obviously, there's a large constituency that's not comfortable with the committee appointed by Block," said Robert Alaniz, spokesman for Supervisor Gloria Molina. "But the reality is, a majority of the supervisors is not willing to go forward with an independent review. That may change with the direction that (Block's) blue-ribbon commission takes."
A spokesman for Block declined comment.