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Vote on L.A. County Sheriff's Department oversight committee delayed

Los Angeles County supervisors held a heated discussion but postponed a vote Tuesday on a proposal to set up a permanent citizens commission to oversee the county sheriff's department, which is under federal scrutiny over allegations of abuse of inmates and poor conditions for the mentally ill.

The proposal is slated to return in three weeks for a vote, but a majority of board members indicated they opposed the plan.

County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina called for the commission after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that its civil rights division would investigate treatment of mentally ill inmates. Separately, the FBI is probing allegations of excessive force and misconduct within the jails.

"Continued allegations of excessive force, significant litigation costs, and a moral imperative to ensure constitutional policing in the county’s jails and communities justifies the establishment of a permanent oversight entity without delay," Molina and Ridley-Thomas wrote.

Separately, the county is in the process of setting up an inspector general's office for the sheriff's department, at the recommendation of a temporary citizens commission that recently reviewed issues of jail violence.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe said that establishing a permanent citizens' commission was premature and the board should focus on getting the inspector general in place.

"That is the linchpin, as far as I'm concerned, for how this board holds that department accountable," Yaroslavsky said. The recent ad hoc jail violence commission rejected a recommendation to set up a permanent citizens oversight commission, he said.

"They did not," Ridley-Thomas retorted.

"They did not recommend it," Yaroslavsky said. Ridley-Thomas and Molina argued that a permanent commission was needed to hasten the pace of reform in the sheriff's department.

"We simply have too much responsibility, too much on our plate, and I want to assert that the sheriff's department is too important to leave unattended," Ridley-Thomas said.

Molina said abuses in the department have been costly. The county paid $37 million to settle lawsuits relating to the sheriffs department in the 2012 fiscal year and $25 million in the first half of the 2013 fiscal year, she said.

The fifth supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, did not speak on the issue, but his spokesman said he opposed it.

The proposal is slated to return to the board Oct. 8 for a vote. Ridley-Thomas' spokeswoman, Lisa Richardson, said "behind-the-scenes developments, particularly with regard to the U.S. Department of Justice ... within the next few weeks, could result in increased support for [a permanent] commission."


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