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Sheriff’s deputies not wearing masks as required, L.A. County inspector general says

Deputies stand guard during a protest outside the sheriff's station in Compton on June 21.
A couple of deputies wear masks while standing guard during a protest outside the sheriff’s station in Compton on June 21.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are failing to follow public health orders that require them to wear masks on the job, giving the impression they are above the law, the Office of Inspector General warned.

“The lack of face coverings puts not only the public at risk but the very law enforcement personnel who are responsible for protecting our community,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said in a letter Monday to the Board of Supervisors.

“Failure of Sheriff’s Department personnel to wear face coverings erodes public trust and increases the likelihood that members of the public will also fail to follow this life-saving practice.”

Huntsman said he reported the issue Friday to the board and a watchdog agency that oversees the Sheriff’s Department. Both statewide and county orders mandate the use of face coverings, and the Sheriff’s Department issued its own order mandating face coverings on April 15 — well ahead of state and county rules.

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That internal order applies to all employees in contact with other employees or the public “unless in a situation where a facial covering inhibits officer’s safety.”

Huntsman said deputies have refused to comply and there has been a lack of enforcement.

“Office of Inspector General personnel have responded to the scene of multiple deputy-involved shootings at which no or very few departmental personnel have been masked, despite interacting with members of the public or being within six feet of others,” he wrote. “In some instances, members of the department had masks but were not wearing them with the nose and mouth covered as required.”

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Numerous videos also have circulated online showing deputies without masks, including while responding during mass protests earlier this summer. Huntsman sent a letter raising the issue to Sheriff Alex Villanueva on June 25 and allegedly received no response.

A total of 816 employees of the Sheriff’s Department have tested positive for the virus, according to the department’s website.

Huntsman’s letter also called for subpoenaing records to get to the bottom of accusations that the department may have booked a party at the Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood early this month, despite state orders prohibiting bars from opening.

Various social media posts claimed Los Angeles Police Department officers and sheriff’s deputies were in attendance. The LAPD promised to review video to see if any of its officers were there.

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The Sheriff’s Department denied that the people shown in the video were their employees, calling the allegations “categorically false” and adding that the video appeared “to be a hoax perpetrated by social activists.”

Bars have been closed by order of Gov. Gavin Newsom since late June as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Huntsman said the company booking the venue said the party was booked for the benefit of the Sheriff’s Department. However, the bar’s owner/operator, 1933 Group, issued a statement to Eater Los Angeles saying it was not booked by the department directly.

“We were approached by an individual who requested to book a private event to honor a group of first responders. It was not a booking by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department directly, and we cannot confirm whether LASD staff were present,” the company said in its statement.

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“Any claims put forth on social media are not substantiated, as we have no evidence that LASD individuals were at the event,” the statement continued. “Our team places the upmost importance on COVID safety standards, and we did everything possible to provide our staff and guests with two outdoor spaces that completely complied with current safety precautions and social distancing expectations.”

That did not seem to satisfy Huntsman.

“Should this event have been organized or attended by Sheriff’s Department personnel, the lack of compliance with state mandates is another example of department personnel disregarding a state directive and sending the public a message that sworn deputies are above the law,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman’s letter asked that the board or the Civilian Oversight Commission issue a subpoena for information about who booked and attended the party.


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