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CA attorney general launches civil rights probe of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department

California’s attorney general announced the launch of a civil rights probe Friday into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, an embattled law enforcement agency that has been at the center of several controversial shootings in recent years and allegations that deputy gangs routinely engage in misconduct. 

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the inquiry will seek to determine whether the Sheriff’s Department engaged “in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.”

“There are serious concerns and reports that accountability and adherence to legitimate policing practices have lapsed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” he said in a statement. “We are undertaking this investigation to determine if LASD has violated the law or the rights of the people of Los Angeles County.”

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The statement did not mention any specific incidents. In a statement, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he looks forward to the probe and has previously requested Becerra monitor department investigations.

“Our Department may finally have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations, and recommendations on any areas we can improve our service to the community,” he said. “During my administration, we have routinely requested the State Office of the Attorney General to monitor our investigations, as we will provide immediate access to all information in our possession.”

The California Department of Justice said Becerra, who is President Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has not made any determinations about specific complaints or allegations. He noted that the probe is not a criminal investigation. 

“As opposed to a criminal investigation into an individual incident or incidents, a pattern or practice investigation typically works to identify and, as appropriate, ultimately address potentially systemic violations of the constitutional rights of the community at large by a law enforcement agency,” the agency said. 

In this Sept. 17, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva comments on the shooting of 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by deputies following a scuffle, during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. The California Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

In this Sept. 17, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva comments on the shooting of 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by deputies following a scuffle, during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. The California Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation to determine whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

The sheriff’s department has garnered headlines in recent years for a number of controversial deputy-involved shootings, including the death of Andres Guardado. Guardado, 18, a security guard at an auto body shop, was fatally shot five times in the back in June 2020 while running from two deputies.

The deputies were patrolling and said they saw Guardado with a gun. The teen ran and was shot in an alley. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide. 

A whistleblower inside the department testified under oath that the two deputies were crooked cops and prospective members of “The Executioners,” an alleged gang within the department’s Compton station that controlled the station through force, threats, work slowdowns and acts of retaliation. 

Other gangs made up of deputies have been documented in other sheriff stations through the county. Villanueva has come under fire from leaders about deputy misconduct and an alleged lack of accountability. Some have called for his resignation. 

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Other incidents include the arrest of a reporter covering an anti-police demonstration after the ambush shooting of two deputies and allegations the department covered up a complaint about a deputy who shared pictures of the helicopter crash site where Kobe Bryant died. 

Most recently, the department was scrutinized after the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee, who died after being shot multiples times by deputies following a foot chase. 

Villanueva has accused the county Board of Supervisors of engaging in a “proxy war” against him for “exposing corruption at all levels of county government.”

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