The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division initiated a civil investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department on August 19, 2011. The investigation focused on allegations of unconstitutional conduct by deputies at two stations located in the Antelope Valley cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, California. DOJ proceeded under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,42 U.S.C. § 14141 (Section 14141), and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,42 U.S.C. § 2000d (Title VI). These laws authorize the United States to file a legal action when it has reasonable cause to believe that a law enforcement agency engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. In addition, the investigation was also founded on the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631.
On June 28, 2013, the Civil Rights Division issued a findings letter to the LASD. The letter explained that DOJ had found that LASD's Antelope Valley stations engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures, including the use of unreasonable force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Title VI. DOJ found, as well, that deputies assigned to these stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act, by targeting certain residents who possessed housing vouchers.
Although the County denied the allegation of unconstitutional conduct, simultaneous to the findings letter being made public, the parties entered a "statement of intent" to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement to be negotiated between the County of Los Angeles, and the U.S. The statement of intent explained that "[t]he Agreement to be negotiated is intended to ensure that: 1) LASD personnel in the Antelope Valley engage in practices that comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States; and 2) the objectives of LASD's Core Values and Trust-Based Policing program are realized in the Antelope Valley community." The "statement of intent" indicated that the parties intended to reach a final settlement agreement by August 30, 2013.
In the event, settlement negotiations took quite a bit longer. It was not until April 28, 2015, that the Department of Justice filed, simultaneously, this lawsuit and its proposed settlement agreement. The case was filed in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Central District of California.
Per the complaint, the DOJ brought this action under the Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act (42 U.S.C. § 14141) and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act as amended by the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. § 3601). The DOJ alleged that the County violated the 14th Amendment and the Fair Housing Act by engaging in the conduct described in its June 2013 letter. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the County:
(a) detained individuals without legal authority
(b) engaged in a pattern of unreasonable force in violation of the 14th amendment
(c) stopped and searched African American and Latino residents on impermissible considerations of race and ethnicity in violation of the 14th amendment
(d) violated the Fair Housing Act through by targeting African American residents participating in the Housing Choice Voucher Program
(e) failed to create adequate accountability systems to curb unlawful policing
The DOJ sought declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages.
Under the terms of the settlement, filed the same day, within four years the County will:
(a) create procedures to stop the practice of and detect discriminatory stops, searches, and seizures, as well as training on appropriate practices and the terms of the Settlement Agreement
(b) ensure bias-free policing through training and monitoring of its practices across the County
(c) create and implement a housing non-discrimination policy, as well as a mechanism for documenting all incidents involving voucher holders
(d) enhance its data collection, analysis, and reporting methods to better assess its programs and improvement
(e) enhance community engagement through increased transparency and community feedback mechanisms
(f) revise its policies on use of force to encourage alternatives and de-escalation, prohibit certain actions, promote reporting on all incidents of use of force, and provide for supervision, training, and analysis
(g) create and implement policies to ensure accountability through personnel complaint review procedures, analysis of personnel data, and mentorship
(e) comply with stipulated monitoring requirements and assessment procedures
Further, the Settlement required the County to pay $700,000 to those harmed by its violations of the Fair Housing Act and $25,000 in civil penalties.
The Court approved the settlement agreement on May 1, 2015 and a supplemental settlement agreement on July 21, 2015. The supplemental settlement agreement established the terms and schedule for awarding damages to individuals harmed by the County's violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The case is now placed on the Court's inactive docket, and Court retains jurisdiction over the settlement's enforcement. The case will be closed with prejudice once the settlement is fully executed. - 03/05/2015
Marcy Blattner - 04/05/2015
Virginia Weeks - 01/23/2017