April 29, 2015 / 1:45 AM / 5 years ago

U.S. reaches anti-bias accord with Los Angeles County sheriff

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an accord on Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department to settle findings that the country’s largest sheriff’s department systematically harassed and intimidated low-income minority residents.

The settlement follows a scathing report on Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office abuses cited by the Justice Department in 2013, capping a two-year probe of policing practices in the Antelope Valley, an area of Mojave Desert communities north of Los Angeles.

The report concluded that county sheriff’s deputies, along with authorities in the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, routinely targeted blacks and Hispanics in a “pattern and practice” of unlawful traffic stops, raids and excessive force.

In particular, the report accused the sheriff and county housing agency investigators of waging a discriminatory campaign of surprise inspections and other actions against African-Americans living in federally funded Section 8 affordable-housing units in the area.

As part of the agreement, the county must pay $25,000 in penalties plus up to $700,000 in restitution to people who can prove they were targeted, Supervisor Michael Antonovich said in a statement. Claimants may receive up to $20,000 each.

Some county and city officials defended their conduct at the time, denying they engaged in discrimination and asserting that Section 8 compliance checks were necessary to ensure residents were abiding by the terms of the public assistance program.

But high-ranking Justice Department officials said their probe had substantiated allegations of bias and abuse, and the county ultimately agreed to negotiate a settlement with the federal government.

The agreement was approved by the Board of Supervisors by a vote of 4-1.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement the settlement called for 150 requirements that would implement “constitutional policing and robust training models” along with a measurement system to track progress.

“I welcome the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards,” he said. Officer training on racial profiling and Section 8 housing compliance had already begun, he said.

The Justice Department said in a statement the agreement does not resolve its claims against the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County or the cities of Palmdale or Lancaster.

“This agreement puts in place a structure that will foster lawful, bias-free policing in the Antelope Valley,” Vanita Gupta, who leads the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Steve Gorman, Alison Williams, Crispian Balmer

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