Today the ACLU of Southern California, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Japanese American Citizens League, and California Women's Law Center announced the six-figure settlement of a significant retaliation lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD), and asked that Los Angeles County take immediate steps to make sure that such misconduct does not recur. In a letter to each of the county supervisors, the civil rights groups will call for the creation of an independent review process, so that the LASD can prevent similar incidents and avoid its own version of the ongoing LAPD scandal.
The settlement of over $138,000 includes damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and interest, and puts an end to the Moriguchi v. County of Los Angeles litigation. This case arose from a racist drawing that was posted on an official bulletin board of the Metrolink office of the LASD. The caricature depicted an Asian face with eyes slanted shut and exaggerated buck teeth, wearing round wire-rim glasses, with the words 'ah so!' next to his face. After Deputy Moriguchi, at that time a 10-year veteran with an impeccable record, raised his concerns with his superior officers, he alleges he was subjected to retaliation, including false misconduct charges, his locker being raided, and his girlfriend being followed by another LASD officer.
The Sheriff's department's actions reveal a classic 'code of silence' designed to stifle internal criticism, much like what has recently come to light in the LAPD. On July 20, 1999, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury returned a unanimous verdict that defendants had illegally retaliated against Moriguchi for speaking out. Although the county initially appealed, it has now dropped its appeal.
In an attempt to improve the working conditions in the Sheriff's department, Moriguchi was willing to withdraw all of his claims for money damages, if the county would agree to set up a civilian review board to examine complaints of discrimination and harassment. The county rejected Moriguchi's proposal.
Civil rights groups join Moriguchi in calling upon the county to revisit this issue and, in particular, to set up an independent office external to the Sheriff's department, so that officers are free to speak up about other officers' misconduct without fear of retaliation . In an open letter to the Board of Supervisors, civil rights groups urged that this issue be put on the board's agenda no later than March 28, 2000.