Supervisors Heed Community Call for Sheriff Accountability on November Ballot
LOS ANGELES — After years of organizing by civil rights groups and families of victims of sheriff's deputy violence, today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted (4-1) to finalize the placement of a measure on the November ballot that, if approved, would amend the county charter to give the board the power to remove a sheriff for serious violations of the public trust.
The history of the L.A. Sheriff's Department is marred by violence and corruption that continues to this day. Multiple news reports and studies have confirmed the existence of "deputy gangs" within the ranks and management of the LASD that promote harassment and brutality within the department, in the jails, and in neighborhoods that deputies patrol. Despite these reports, current Sheriff Alex Villanueva has refused to meaningfully address deputy violence, going as far as to defy lawful subpoenas issued by county oversight authorities.
"The unfortunate reality is that Los Angeles has experienced multiple sheriff's administrations that have flouted the law to the detriment of the public," says Melanie Ochoa, director of police practices at the ACLU of Southern California. "They have obstructed civilian oversight and criminal investigations in order to conceal deputy violence against the public and they have refused to comply with court orders. This measure ensures that sheriffs know that if they violate the law and harm the public, they can be stopped."
In response, civil rights groups and families impacted by deputy violence formed the Check the Sheriff coalition, which published a list of demands for sheriff accountability, including this charter amendment.
"For over a decade, I’ve been fighting for an ounce of justice for my son who was beaten to death by sheriff’s deputies," says Helen Jones, mother of John Horton, who was killed by sheriff's deputies in the L.A. jails in 2009. "Family after family, the sheriff’s department has brutally stolen our children’s lives. Enough is enough. We must hold the sheriff accountable once and for all."
Although the law requires the board to supervise the sheriff, it currently has limited power to ensure that the sheriff faithfully performs their duties. Other counties have adopted similar measures to provide for greater civilian oversight and accountability.
The approved measure, if passed, would amend the charter to grant the board the authority to remove the sheriff for cause by a four-fifths vote, after providing the sheriff an opportunity to be heard. The ballot language specifically defines cause to include violations of law related to a sheriff’s duties, flagrant or repeated neglect of duties, misappropriation of funds, willful falsification of documents, or obstructing an investigation.
"No sheriff should be above the law. But in L.A. County, there is a vacuum of accountability," says Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, executive director of Dignity and Power Now. "This common-sense measure would curb the unbridled authority of the sheriff — an official with a badge and gun overseeing one of the largest paramilitary forces in the country."
Read the ordinance, which includes the approved ballot language: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/171180.pdf