Public Barred From Sheriff’s Dept. Inquiry : Law enforcement: Panel appointed by Block allows him to attend but bars county supervisors from joining inquiry. Moves raise questions about independence of group.
A citizens panel investigating the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has voted to bar the public from its monthly meetings but will allow Sheriff Sherman Block to participate in the closed-door sessions.
The decision by the advisory panel, whose 25 members were appointed by Block to study his embattled agency, came Monday night as the committee--with the sheriff present--established the ground rules for its unprecedented inquiry.
Committee co-chair Gloria Allred said the group, which will review the Christopher Commission recommendations and a sheriff’s staff report on how to implement those findings, agreed to hold its regular meetings behind closed doors in order to streamline the investigation.
“I think it’s always an issue of whether the presence of the sheriff could affect the ability of the members to have a free and open discussion,” said Allred.
She said members have not been inhibited by Block’s presence and said that if any conflict arises, Block will be asked to leave, as he was when the panel elected its officers.
“I’m satisfied . . . that the committee feels that it can be open and has demonstrated in its discussions and statements to the sheriff in his presence that members feel free to agree or disagree with his policies,” Allred said.
The committee’s other co-chair, Julian Nava, agreed and said the panel is also exploring the possibility of holding public hearings. But he said members are “split virtually down the middle” over the issue.
While Nava said he and Allred favor public hearings, others believe that the differing views of committee members “constitute sufficient public input for our task.”
Committee members also shelved a proposal that would have allowed the Board of Supervisors to appoint its own members to the advisory group.
At the same time, Block said he will seek a grant to help pay for the costs of the ad-hoc group, Allred said.
The actions quickly drew fire from critics who alleged that the committee was demonstrating its lack of independence from Block.
“I think all of this has the earmarkings of a totally biased group,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said. “It has all the markings of a very slanted position that could consequently result in very slanted recommendations.”
Supervisor Ed Edelman also voiced concerns and said the group had “stiff-armed” the county board by siding with the sheriff and refusing to allow the supervisorial appointments.
“I’m concerned about how the Sheriff’s Department has been operating,” he said. “I’m not saying necessarily that it’s been bad, but I think there’s enough there to look into, and I don’t know if this committee is going to have the power and independence to do it.”
Block could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The fight over the committee rules is only the latest since Block first named his panel in September in a surprise announcement. At the time, Block told the Board of Supervisors that he had selected the group of community leaders to advise him how to implement the Christopher Commission recommendations, which were made after Los Angeles Police Department officers beat Rodney G. King.
The Christopher Commission had its own staff of attorneys, was independently funded and barred Police Chief Daryl F. Gates from its secret sessions. During its 100-day inquiry, the commission also conducted a series of public hearings before issuing a report that concluded that some LAPD officers engaged in racist and sexist conduct and used excessive force.
Block said he is attempting to identify his own problem officers in the aftermath of several controversial shootings by deputies and a money-skimming scandal that has led to the suspension of more than 30 deputies and criminal indictments against 18 of them.
By creating the panel, Block also said he saw no need for an independent commission to investigate the Sheriff’s Department.
Block’s presence is needed to help the panel understand the structure and policies of his department, Allred said.
She said the committee also has formed separate task forces to review the department’s complaint process, discipline, personnel policies, training and accountability. Block will not attend those meetings “where the real work of the committee will be done.”
Gloria Romero, chairwoman of a coalition of about 22 civic and professional groups calling for an independent investigation of the Sheriff’s Department, said the committee is only “window dressing.”
“They meet once a month in secret with Sherman Block without any independent staff,” she said. “It’s a charade and a farce.”
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