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LA County Sheriff's Department probed in bias case

August 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A federal investigation is under way into allegations L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies targeted black and Latino families in the Antelope Valley.

Federal officials promised at a Friday morning press conference in downtown L.A. that their investigation will be thorough. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said his department is openly cooperating with the investigation.

The investigation launched by the U.S. Justice Department surrounds allegations that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department has been discriminating against minority residents living in Section 8, or subsidized housing in Lancaster and Palmdale.

Black and Latino Section 8 residents have complained of surprise inspections at their homes, often involving armed sheriff's deputies.

The inspections are intended to ensure residents are meeting the terms of their Section 8 government subsidized assistance.

However, minority residents allege the aggressive inspections add a level of intimidation. They also claim that deputies often threaten to return with search warrants if the tenants do not consent to the search of their homes.

Civil rights lawyers argue that elected officials in Lancaster and Palmdale are onboard with the alleged aggressive inspections to drive minorities out of the government housing program. Lawyers are suing both cities, accusing them of waging war against low-income blacks and Latinos.

"We have not drawn any conclusions at this time, and as I've said many times to many stake holders, we will follow the facts where the facts lead them. If we identify problems, we will work collaboratively with all the stake holders to fix them," said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tom Perez.

Baca said the goal of his department is not to "enforce the law on the backs of the poor" who are obeying the law.

"What we hope to do is find a better way to allow for those who are poor to take full advantage of their civil rights," said the sheriff.

As far as the investigation goes, federal officials have not said how long it would take before they come back with some answers.

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