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Motion to create civilian oversight commission for LA County Sheriff's Department fails

A motion to create a civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department failed to pass on Tuesday.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
A motion to create a civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department failed with a 3-2 vote.

The only supporters on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina.

The sheriff's department has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and the ongoing federal investigation of jailhouse abuse. After the sudden resignation of longtime Sheriff Lee Baca, Orange County Undersheriff John Scott was named interim sheriff. Supervisors also hired an inspector general to serve as the department's independent watchdog.

A rally organized by the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails was held in downtown L.A. ahead of the vote.

"Although there's been many reforms, such as the Office of Inspector General, that isn't the end-all-be-all," said Patrisse Cullors, part of the coalition.

The supervisors have been split on a structure that would bring citizens to the table. That's a pivotal point since state law limits the power of any such civilian board. It would have no legal teeth.

"No legal investigative authority, only limited access to sensitive department materials, if any, and no meaningful way to implement any recommendations it might make," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The proponents, Molina and author Ridley-Thomas, say legal teeth or not, a board would provide public access and work with Max Huntsman, a former district attorney and now the department's first inspector general. Molina says Huntsman should be working faster in reviewing 3,000 sheriff's incident reports.

"I have read some of those reports," said Molina. "They are sloppy, they are not well done. There is no accountability. It is clearly a pathway to cover up some of the issues."

Jim McDonnell, a candidate for sheriff, says it's better to work in tandem and start forming a board now. The interim sheriff, John Scott, has said he supports the civilian oversight commission, but believed it was not the right time. He advises waiting until the inspector general's office is up and running. A new county sheriff will be elected in November.

Backers say there will be another vote after new supervisors are elected. Ridley-Thomas said virtually all the candidates to replace the termed-out supervisors have expressed support for this measure, so he says he's very confident that when it does come up again, it will pass.

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