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L.A. County probation agency chief steps down amid allegations of a romantic relationship with aide

Jerry Powers' resignation was accepted in a unanimous vote by county supervisors during closed session and is effective Jan. 4.

Jerry Powers’ resignation was accepted in a unanimous vote by county supervisors during closed session and is effective Jan. 4.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles County’s Probation Department chief, Jerry Powers, resigned Tuesday amid allegations that he had an inappropriate romantic relationship with one of his top deputies.

Powers’ resignation was accepted in a unanimous vote by county supervisors during closed session and is effective Jan. 4. The financial terms of his departure were not available, according to county spokesman David Sommers.

The Times reported Friday that county officials had hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations of a romantic relationship between Powers and his aide, Kym Renner, before and after her hiring, according to a high-ranking Board of Supervisors aide familiar with the probe. Powers hired Renner to be the department’s top budget and personnel official with a $160,000 salary.

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Additionally, county officials were looking into allegations that Powers bypassed the usual background checks to hire Renner, according to county managers with knowledge of the inquiry.

“Given the cloud that was over him because of this situation with [Renner], I think his resignation is a good idea,” said Jacqueline Caster, who is Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s appointee to the county’s Probation Commission. “It was becoming a distraction for the department.”

Supervisors had hired Powers, 52, in 2011 with a mandate to clean up hiring and disciplinary practices for the department of 6,500 employees. He earned $400,000 in salary and benefits. At the time, the agency had been faulted by federal authorities for misuse of force against juvenile detainees and for poor internal controls on employee conduct.

Powers and Renner, 42, have not responded to requests for comment from The Times.

Powers’ resignation marks the third time in five years that a probation chief has departed while trying to reform the department, which oversees 12,000 state parolees, 60,000 adult probationers and 20,000 juveniles — including nearly 1,000 in its juvenile camps and halls.

“He was unable to make enough of the reforms that we’ve needed,” Caster said. “Too many kids are rearrested soon after their release, and the department has not become rehabilitative enough.”

Earlier this year, researchers reported that one-third of juveniles are re-arrested within a year of their release, and Los Angeles County supervisors ordered a far-ranging audit of the county Probation Department, concerned about the progress it has made in improving conditions in its juvenile lockups.

A federal monitoring team recently ended its work, declaring that the department had carried out required reforms in the juvenile camps. But another review by the county auditor-controller found that the department had not fulfilled all of the mandated reforms.

The Justice Department began investigating conditions in the county’s 19 probation camps in 2006 after repeated reports of problems and abuse. Two years later, the county agreed to a settlement and series of reforms that included measures to prevent mistreatment of minors and misconduct by probation officers.

The year Powers took over the department, 74 probation officers and other department staff were arrested on charges including driving under the influence, theft and assault. He worked to weed out troubled employees, including Carl Edward Washington, a division chief of intergovernmental relations and a former state legislator. Washington was arrested on federal charges of defrauding banks by falsely claiming to be a victim of identity theft. He later pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

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Powers was credited with eventually reducing the number of problem employees, but leaders of the Probation Department employee unions — who sparred bitterly with him over his hiring and disciplinary decisions — said his reform message was undercut by the allegations about his relationship with Renner

John Tuchek, the vice president of the probation supervisors union, said he didn’t feel that the chief lived up to the same high standards he required of his employees. “I’m elated by the departure,” he said.

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