Los Angeles County D.A. to review controversial video of probation officers dogpiling teen
In 2020, L.A. County probation officer Oscar Cross was nearly fired for the alleged use of excessive force against a 17-year-old who was already being restrained by four other officers.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has launched a criminal investigation into the behavior of several probation officers seen piling on top of a teenager and bending his legs toward his head in a video first revealed by The Times last week.
Tiffiny Blacknell, chief spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors “have obtained a copy of the surveillance footage depicting the incident” and will assign a deputy district attorney and investigator to the matter.
In the footage, captured inside Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu in 2020, a 17-year-old boy can be seen arguing with several probation officers. He is forced face down onto a bed, where one officer grabs his neck and several others pile on top of him.
The teen — who asked that he only be identified by his first name, Beckham, because he was a juvenile at the time of the incident — said he was hungry and became upset when he wasn’t given access to food.
In the video, a probation department supervisor identified as Oscar Cross can be seen shoving the boy before the melee begins. During the struggle, four officers grab the boy’s limbs, force him onto a bed by his neck and place a knee in his back.
Once the other officers appear to have Beckham subdued, Cross can be seen grabbing the boy’s legs and bending his feet toward his head, yelling “stop resisting!” as the teen screams out for his mother.
Attempts to contact Cross have been unsuccessful. The probation department did not immediately respond to questions about the district attorney’s office investigation. The L.A. County Office of the Inspector General began investigating the incident last month after learning of The Times’ inquiries on the matter.
Criminal justice experts, and even some members of the probation department who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, have decried the actions depicted in the video as excessive force and “child abuse.”
The video is the latest in a lengthy stream of controversies the probation department has faced in recent years.
The Bureau of State and Community Corrections has repeatedly found the probation department “unsuitable” to house youths in recent years, and a class-action lawsuit filed last year alleged more than 70 girls were sexually assaulted by probation staff between 1985 and 2019. Last November, a Times investigation chronicled months of chaos and violence inside the county’s juvenile halls in the midst of a staffing crisis.
An internal disciplinary board initially moved to fire Cross in 2021, according to records reviewed by The Times, but Probation Department Chief Adolfo Gonzales overrode them and saved his job. Cross is still employed as a supervisor at Camp Kilpatrick, records show. Gonzales did not provide footage of the video to either the district attorney’s office or any of the oversight boards that monitor the increasingly troubled probation department.
The video sparked a small protest at Tuesday’s meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, where roughly a dozen youth advocates urged county leaders to cut the probation department’s funding and fire Gonzales.
“I stand before you outraged and in disbelief,” said Gloria Gonzalez, with the Youth Justice Coalition, her voice shaking. “I cannot understand how you all can sit there and allow and fund and fund and fund abuse, fund sexual assault without holding probation accountable. … What else do you need to wait for? Do you want someone to die?”
In a memo issued to his staff on Tuesday, Gonzales defended the decision not to fire Cross. While he described the force used as “not acceptable,” he said he believed sparing Cross’ job was reflective of the agency’s core mission of rehabilitation.
“I concluded that significant progressive discipline, not termination, was the appropriate response in this case. I made this decision based on several factors, including a review of the evidence, and consideration of the staff member’s service record,” the chief wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.
“I was also mindful of our central mission. We prioritize rehabilitation over incarceration,” he wrote. “We are in the business of giving second chances. That philosophy applies not only to our clients but to our staff — within reason.”
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