Sunday, June 07, 2015

Civil Rights Feds, L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. Settle Race Discrimination Charges That, Among Other Things, SWAT-Armored, Gun-Blazing Cops Used Section 8 Compliance Checks (aka "Section 8 Raids") For Possible Housing Rules Violations As Pretext In Campaign Of Harassment, Intimidation Targeting Mostly-Black Voucher-Holding Tenants

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • Los Angeles County supervisors [approved] a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that sheriff’s officials systematically targeted racial minorities in the Antelope Valley [northern Los Angeles County]. [See lawsuit: USA v. County of Los Angeles; go here for related letter from Justice Department to Los Angeles Sheriff's Department]

    After a two-year investigation, the justice department in 2013 accused the county and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale of waging a campaign of discrimination against African American residents, particularly those living in low-income subsidized housing.(1)

    Federal officials said some sheriff's personnel in the Antelope Valley had engaged in a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional and unlawful policing regarding stops, searches and seizures, excessive force, and discriminatory targeting of voucher holders in their homes.”

    That targeting often took the form of teams of armed sheriff's deputies accompanying county housing agency investigators on surprise inspections of Section 8 housing, looking for violations of housing rules. Some city and county officials at the time argued that the compliance checks were needed to root out abuses in the program.

    The federal investigation also found that African Americans were disproportionately more likely to be stopped and searched than other residents and that deputies had used excessive force against handcuffed detainees.


    Community activists in the Antelope Valley said relations with the sheriff’s department have dramatically improved as a result of the justice department investigation and a separate lawsuit that was filed by community groups in 2011.

    Palmdale resident V. Jesse Smith, one of the founders of The Community Action League, an advocacy group for minorities in the Antelope Valley and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that the situation had improved dramatically since then.


    The reforms made as a result of the lawsuit and DOJ investigation, he said, have “broken down the walls of distrust, and we’re finally able to have a dialogue rather than a monologue.”

    Maria Palomares, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles,(2) who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her organization, which used to be flooded with complaints about the Section 8 raids, is no longer getting calls from residents complaining of deputies showing up “with guns blazing.”

    Palomares said she still hears complaints of racial profiling in the Antelope Valley, but she said the Section 8 compliance checks are no longer used as a “as a tool to discriminate against black and Latino families.”

    Sheriff Jim McDonnell and representatives of the justice department’s civil rights division could not be reached for comment.
For the story, see Settlement expected over U.S. allegations that Sheriff's Dept. targeted minorities.

For the U.S. Department of Justice press release, see Justice Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Agree to Policing Reforms and Settlement of Police-Related Fair Housing Claims in the Antelope Valley.


(1) See U.S. orders $12.5-million payment to victims of racial harassment:
  • The nearly two-year federal civil rights investigation found support for allegations by Antelope Valley residents that black residents were targeted for surprise inspections of subsidized, or Section 8, housing. The checks, which were ostensibly to ensure that residents met the terms of their assistance, often involved deputies, some of them in full SWAT armor.
(2) Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles ("NLSLA") is a public interest law firm that provides free assistance each year to more than 100,000 individuals and families through projects that expand access to justice and address the most critical needs of Los Angeles’ poverty communities. Founded in 1965, NLSLA attorneys, based in offices, courthouses and clinics throughout Los Angeles County, specialize in areas of the law that disproportionately impact the poor, including housing, public benefits and healthcare.

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