Houman Fakhimi

DOJ: Illegal Racial Profiling by L.A. Sheriff's Department

A two-year investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Justice has revealed a systematic pattern of illegal racial profiling by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department allegedly targeting black public housing residents.

Our Santa Ana criminal defense lawyers are obviously disappointed to learn this development, though it's not entirely surprising. We know that illegal racial profiling occurs throughout California, as well as the rest of the country.

When it can be proven, it can provide substantial grounds upon which to have the majority of evidence suppressed and the entire case thrown out. Under some of the more egregious circumstances, it can even be grounds upon which to file a civil rights lawsuit.

Proving it, though, can be more challenging than it might seem at first. That's why this DOJ investigation and its subsequent findings are noteworthy.

In this case, federal authorities began their probe of the substations in the Palmdale and Lancaster divisions of the Mojave desert, some 70 miles north of Los Angeles, when numerous complaints were made by minority residents, alleging law enforcement discrimination.

What the DOJ found was that the L.A. Sheriff's Department had consistently applied unreasonable force with minorities. Over a 12-month period, approximately 180 citizen complaints were made in this regard to local officials. However, the agency only ever bothered to investigate one of those complaints.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr. said that while the results were troubling, his office had received some encouraging response from the sheriff's office, to include increased training and an overhaul of internal investigation protocol.

Despite this, the sheriff maintains racial profiling never actually took place. It's difficult to understand how the sheriff's office intends to fix a problem that it won't acknowledge exists.

Over the last three years, entire Antelope Valley has had the highest rate of crime in the greater Los Angeles area.

In Palmdale, two-thirds of the city's 150,000 residents are black or Hispanic. But percentage-wise, Latino and black residents were far more likely to be stopped and searched than other ethnicities in the area. In many cases, deputies were often released without ever being cited, calling into question the legitimacy of the initial stop.

Additionally, the DOJ reported a number of documented cases where deputies unnecessarily placed black individuals in the backs of patrol cars for petty offenses. This is a clear Fourth Amendment violation.

In one case, officers reportedly placed a woman who was a victim of domestic violence in the back seat of a cruiser. This in turn led to the agitation of the suspect, which led to a physical struggle between the suspect and the officers which then led to the victim ultimately being pepper-sprayed because she too became upset. As the DOJ noted, unjustified detentions serve only to diminsh trust and contribute to the tension between citizenry and law enforcement.

Even worse, the deputies were found to have intimidated and harassed black residents of public housing while enforcing a housing voucher program. These checks were designed to ensure that public housing residents were complying with the terms of their residency. In the course of these checks, there were documented cases where as many as nine deputies would go with housing investigators. In some cases, all nine deputies approached with guns drawn.

Sure, the residents provided consent to the investigators to search their home. But how meaningful is that consent when nine armed deputies come to your home with firearms drawn? Any illegal substances found therein after that fact could be suppressed in trial on this basis because officers did not have warrants to conduct these searches.

Stops, seizures and searches stemming from a racial bias must not be tolerated, and we are dedicated to ensuring you are not convicted after being targeted by law enforcement on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual identity.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Santa Ana.

Additional Resources

LA Sheriff's Dept. Unlawfully Targeting Blacks, According to DOJ, June 28, 2013, By Greg Risling, Associated Press.