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California

Sheriff investigates ‘disturbing’ claims of deputy misconduct with youth in mentoring program

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating allegations of misconduct involving a deputy and a member of the agency’s youth mentoring program.

The “alarming and disturbing” claims were discovered during a countywide review of the agency’s Deputy Explorer program and appear to be isolated, the department said in a statement released Tuesday.

The department has opened administrative and criminal investigations into the alleged misconduct, officials said. A sheriff’s spokeswoman declined to detail the misconduct or identify who was involved.

The Deputy Explorer program is an educational opportunity for people aged 14 though 21, allowing them to work alongside deputies and assist with duties including crowd management, traffic control and handling community events. A goal of the program is to develop civic-minded young adults with the hope of one day recruiting some of them to become deputies.

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There are about 400 people enrolled in the program.

The department’s investigation follows a scandal at the Los Angeles Police Department in which an officer was charged last week with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old member of that agency’s cadet program. The ordeal was uncovered after three cadets were caught riding in stolen police cars.

“While the alleged involved employee was not directly assigned to the oversight or management of the Explorer program, any proven criminal or other acts of misconduct that violate public trust, and that of our Explorer program, and which jeopardize the hard work and years of service that have been put into building our revered Explorer program, will not be tolerated,” the Sheriff’s Department statement said.

Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the agency was carrying out a periodic review of the program, adding that the LAPD cadet controversy prompted the Sheriff’s Department to conduct “additional internal reviews” that ultimately led to the discovery of the misconduct allegation in the Explorer program.

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The Explorer program recently revised its manual, including a change that prohibits texting or emailing between youths and deputies who are not directly involved in the program.

Those revisions were prompted by a sex scandal involving a deputy and a 16-year-old girl at the Cerritos sheriff’s station in 2011, said Sgt. Kenn Roller, head of the Explorer program, in an earlier interview with The Times.

The manual also explicitly bars any unprofessional or romantic interactions between department personnel and explorers, including spending time together off-hours or at unauthorized social gatherings.

The youth volunteers — who wear tan-and-green uniforms that identify them as explorers — are allowed to ride in patrol cars with deputies, but the policies discourage placing female explorers with male deputies when a female deputy is available.

The rules prohibit explorers from riding with the same deputy more than twice in the same calendar month, and explorers may not request to ride with a particular deputy.

maya.lau@latimes.com

Twitter: @mayalau


UPDATES:

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10:25 a.m.: This article was updated on July 28 with the year of the Cerritos station sex scandal that prompted the Sheriff’s Department to revise its Explorer program manual.

7:15 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the department on how the alleged misconduct was discovered and background about the Explorer program.

2:05 p.m. This article was updated with information about administrative and criminal investigations into the alleged misconduct.

This article was originally published at 10 a.m.


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