​LA police to pay $725,000 to racial profiling victims

Reuters / Mario Anzuoni
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted the County’s Sheriff’s Department should pay out $725, 000 in a settlement with the US Justice Department (DOJ) over charges of systematic targeting of racial minorities in the Antelope Valley.

Under the agreement with the US Justice Department, the Sheriff’s Department and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale must give $700,000 to minority victims of police harassment and pay an extra $25,000 to the federal government as a civil penalty. The final settlement foresees a smaller amount of compensation payments than the initial DOJ demand, which originally came to $12.5 million, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

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The legal agreement with the DOJ doesn’t oblige the Sheriff’s department to admit its wrong-doing or to agree with the DOJ’s findings, but it requires the department to comply with a series of recommended reforms.

The public sees the fact the Sheriff’s department “admits no wrong doing” as the most controversial and disappointing aspect of the settlement.

“This settlement is not an indictment of the men and women in uniform assigned to the Antelope Valley, but rather a recognition that improvement was needed which presented an opportunity to make the Antelope Valley a better place to live and work,” LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich told the LA Times.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the settlement would help his department to perpetuate the success in “seeking the strengthening of the bonds of trust with the community we serve in the Antelope Valley,” as quoted by the LA Daily News.

“While much more work is ahead of us, this agreement highlights the positive strides the committed men and women of this department have already made on so many fronts, including training in regard to constitutional law and racial profiling awareness and policies regarding traffic stops, arrests and detentions,” Sheriff McDonnell added.

The 57-page agreement obligates the department to provide “bias-free policing” to revise its use-of-force policies and to clarify that deputies can use force only as a last resort. It also states that searches or stops can only be made based on “reasonable suspicion” and that “cannot be based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or perceived immigration status.”

The Sheriff’s Department must also ensure the investigations of housing authorities aren’t used for harassment of residents or forcing them to relocate.

It has been over three years since the Department of Justice began an investigation concerning racial profiling of minorities by LA County Sheriff's Department deputies in the Antelope Valley. The federal officials report on the results of the investigation was published two years after the start of the inquiry, in June 2013.

The investigation found that deputies were systematically targeting blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster. They also intimidated minorities living in subsidized housing with surprise inspections carried out by nine or 10 armed officers in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The report also states that Sheriff’s deputies “engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, and seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.”

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That is not the first such case in Los Angeles County: in 2012, the county also settled a similar suit from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over charges of police discrimination against residents of federally subsidized housing.

As a result of that settlement the Sheriff’s Department had to instigate a moratorium on “enhanced investigation agreements” with Palmdale and Lancaster.

The local community has reportedly witnessed a change in policing recently. "They're not harassing and stopping individuals for minimal offenses anymore," community member Emmett Murrell told AP.