L.A. County sheriff’s watchdog details deputies’ bad behavior
Amid criticism that it was failing to expose misconduct, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s watchdog presented a secret report to county officials this month detailing several cases of bad behavior by deputies.
A copy of the confidential report was obtained by The Times. In it, the Office of Independent Review takes credit for pushing sheriff’s officials to clamp down on a variety of misconduct — from unreported force on a jail inmate to a deputy who cursed at a citizen.
Michael Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review, declined to elaborate on what prompted his report to the Board of Supervisors.
After allegations of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct became the subject of an FBI investigation last year, some board members questioned how effective Gennaco has been in monitoring misconduct probes within the department.
In his report, Gennaco argues that his watchdog agency, paid for by the county, ensures “thorough and fair” outcomes for several hundred probes each year. In many of the cases in the report, Gennaco says his agency pushed for discipline against problem deputies despite reluctance from sheriff’s officials.
“Virtually every case is impacted as a result of [the Office of Independent Review’s] input,” the report states.
In one case, three deputies and a supervisor arrived at the scene of a three-vehicle crash involving an intoxicated off-duty jail deputy. But for several days after the crash, the deputies who arrived at the scene failed to tell their captain alcohol may have played a role.
The prosecutor on the case promised to review potential conspiracy charges, according to the report, but ultimately did not. When the case got back to sheriff’s officials for potential administrative discipline, they incorrectly assumed the case had passed its statute of limitations. The Office of Independent Review corrected them, according to the report, and an investigation is underway.
In another case, an inmate thought to be hiding contraband inside his rectum was forced to hover naked over a bucket until he defecated the item. At one point, the inmate put a blanket over his body and face. Worried the inmate was trying to excrete, then eat the contraband before deputies got to it, the jailer went to confront the inmate. The deputy said the inmate took a swing at him and had to be subdued with force.
Although the deputy’s use of force was found to be within policy, the Office of Independent Review took issue with the department’s practice of using a bucket to retrieve hidden contraband. A new policy is being developed as a result.
In another case, a deputy was involved in a road-rage incident, during which he and another driver got into a physical altercation on a freeway offramp. Prosecutors initially were considering charging the other man with assault on a peace officer, but dropped the case after a witness said the deputy was the “main aggressor.”
The Office of Independent Review lobbied sheriff’s officials to launch an administrative probe against the deputy, saying the incident raised “suspicion that the deputy might have anger issues.” Department officials refused.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said he was unaware of the report, but said in general the department welcomes its watchdog’s findings.
“The [Office of Independent Review] was created for this very purpose,” Whitmore said. “When the [office] says discipline is warranted, the sheriff takes that very seriously.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.
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