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Report condemns Sheriff's Department for use of force

By
JENNIFER ROWLAND

LOS ANGELES -- A searing report released Monday on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department revealed 'disturbing evidence' of excessive force and a failure to discipline rogue officers but refused to pin the blame on the sheriff.

The report, prepared by retired Superior Court Judge James Kolts and a team of attorneys, concluded that while Sheriff Sherman Block has made attempts to reform the department, the LASD 'has not reformed itself with adequate thoroughness and speed.'

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'There is disturbing evidence of excessive force and lax discipline in that department,' Kolts told reporters at a news conference.

Cases highlighted in the report were culled from personnel files and court records. Attorney Merrick Bobb, who headed up much of the investigations, said most of the excessive force was used against minorities.

The report backs up similar findings released last month by Amnesty International, which reported on both the Sheriff's Department's and the Los Angeles Police Department's use of force.

The Kolts report also mirrors conclusions of the Christopher Commission Report released last year on the Police Department.

The Christopher Commission report -- which Bobb also worked on -- was borne of the controversial beating of black motorist Rodney King by four white officers. The report found evidence of racism and excessive use of force in the department, and held former Police Chief Daryl Gates responsible for abuses.

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But Kolts and county Supervisor Ed Edelman on Monday sought to underplay Block's role in the findings in the Sheriff's Department, saying the sheriff had acted on his own to investigate abuses and had put into place reforms within the past two years.

Block, who is serving his third term as sheriff over the 8,000 deputies in the department, was in Sacramento Monday and declined to comment on the report.

The Sheriff's Department has jurisdiction in 87 incorporated cities and several incorporated areas, and serves a population of approximately 9 million.

'As manager, as head of the department, I suppose (Block) has to accept some responsibility,' Kolts said. 'But this is something that's gone on for a number of years.'

Nonetheless, Kolts said: 'Our respect for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has been tempered by a sobering conclusion that large numbers of incidents of unnecessary force situations have occurred and are still occurring in Los Angeles County.

'The department has had too many officers who have resorted too quickly to violence and excessive force, and these officers have not been properly disciplined.'

In addition to excessive use of force and lack of discipline, the Kolts study found deputies often intimidated citizens who attempt to file complaints about their treatment. Furthermore, Bobb said the District Attorney's Office has failed to aggressively prosecute most of the deputies in cases brought before the courts.

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District Attorney Ira Reiner refused to comment on the findings.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs denounced Kolt's report, saying it failed to consider many recommendations that are already established policies of the Department. The association contended recommendations by Kolts are 'too costly.'

'The report goes on to outline administrative and patrol practices to establish a staff-intensive 'champagne and caviar department,'' the association said in a written statement. 'Unfortunately, Los Angeles County has a 'beer and peanuts' budget that precludes such costly changes in departmental procedures.'

The county Board of Supervisors requested Kolts to do the study last December after they questioned LASD's growing costs in court settlements. Bobb said the department has paid out $18 million in the past five years in settlements for excessive use of force cases.

The call for the study also came at the heels of public outcry over four separate deputy-involved fatal shootings last summer.

The study documents those and other shootings, and exposes problems with the department's hiring, acountability, training and use of trained dogs.

It recommends outlawing headstrikes except in cases requiring deadly use of force, and also calls for an expanded Internal Affairs Department to handle citizen complaints and officer-involved shootings.

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Within hours of its release, the report was the target of criticism.

County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a champion of conservative causes on the board, said the report is 'a backdoor attempt by the liberals to undermine the Sheriff's Department.'

Gloria Romero, president of the Hispanic Advisory Board to the Los Angeles Police Commission and co-director of the Coaltion for Sheriff's Accountability, said that while the report provides 'impressive documentation' of conditions that she said have always existed, it falls short of making the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors responsible.

'You cannot indict a department the way they did and then go on to say the head of the department had nothing to do with it,' she said.

Romero and others said the report also failed to recommend a citizens oversight panel, such as the commission that currently oversees the Los Angeles Police Department.

'(The department) needs civilians who can independently take a look and investigate complaints and set the tone,' said the Rev. James Lawson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership of Los Angeles.

The report does recommend citizen community groups to work with the 23 substations in instituting a policy of community policing. But community leaders say that is not enough.

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'The Sheriff's Department, not unlike the Police Department, cannot police itself,' said Karol Heppe, director of Police Watch.

Heppe and others are calling for the county supervisorsto hold public hearings to discuss the report's recommendations.

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