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Youth’s choking by juvenile hall staffer prompted call to police, commissioner says

A portion of Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, where a staffer allegedly choked a youth in May, prompting a call to the police.
(Christina House / For The Times)

A supervisor at Central Juvenile Hall choked a youth aggressively enough to prompt another worker at the facility to call the police, a Los Angeles County probation commissioner said Thursday.

Speaking at a public meeting, Commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez-Sonoqui raised the May incident after several commissioners complained that the Probation Department had been slow to provide information about use-of-force cases in the county-run juvenile camps and halls.

“On May 31, a kid was choked by a supervisor at Central Juvenile Hall so bad that somebody within the [county] department of education called LAPD, and LAPD had to come to the juvenile hall and do an interview with the minor, but nobody here was notified about that,” Martinez-Sonoqui said.

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Probation bureau chief Dennis Carroll, who oversees the juvenile halls, confirmed in a phone interview that the department’s special investigations unit is investigating the allegation. He said the staffer involved had been moved to an assignment away from youths. Carroll said the youth had not been injured in the incident as far as he knew.

He said the incident had taken place outside of the hall’s school and that a staffer with the Los Angeles County Office of Education — a separate agency that runs schools in the juvenile camps and halls — had called the police.

“I don’t mind them calling, but what would happen normally is [the Office of Education] would alert the head of the facility,” Carroll said. “In our facilities, allegations happen, and then we have to go through the process of investigating.”

The youth involved was a 14-year-old boy.

LAPD officials did not respond to requests for information on the case. A spokesman for the Office of Education said he was unfamiliar with the incident.

Use of force in the juvenile halls, a perennial issue in the county, has risen to the forefront again since the alleged beating of a youth at another juvenile hall in April surfaced publicly last month. That incident, which involved four probation officers allegedly pummeling a 17-year-old probationer, was captured on video. The case was referred to the district attorney’s office by the Probation Department for criminal investigation.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison said the more recent incident has not been referred to the office.

After media reports of the April incident, probation commissioners complained that the department had not provided information about the case sooner.

County supervisors are also seeking more information about “critical incidents” in the juvenile lock-ups and how the department responds to them.

The Probation Department emerged last year from six years of federal monitoring of the camps and halls, prompted largely by reports of abuses that led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked this week for the board to commission a report from probation officials and other county staff on how incidents in the camps and halls are handled. Despite the departure of the federal overseers, he wrote, “recent incidents in the county’s juvenile justice facilities, including allegations of staff abuse, underscore that more reforms are needed to protect young people and promote institutional accountability.”

The Board of Supervisors voted in May to severely restrict the use of solitary confinement for juvenile detainees. Initial statistics provided by the department show that the number of referrals to solitary units and the time youths spend there have decreased considerably at most of the facilities over the last few months.

But some staff at the camps and halls have complained that they now have few options for disciplining minors who cause a disruption.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

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