Crime and law enforcement in West Hollywood will be one of the major subjects on the City Council’s agenda on Monday, with an update on steps the city has been taking to follow the Obama Foundation’s “Reimagining Policing Pledge” and a report on uses of force by Sheriff’s deputies in WeHo over the last 10 years.
The City Council in June voted to adopt the Reimagining Policing Pledge. The Council also voted to hire an outside consultant to examine law enforcement practices in West Hollywood. The Reimagining Policing Pledge calls on local governments to review local law enforcement agency policies governing the use of force by deputies. It also calls on them to get input from communities about their perspective of and experience with law enforcement. And It says that information should be made public and use of force policies should be reviewed.
An item on Monday’s agenda brought forward by Mayor Lindsey Horvath includes a report of use of force incidents by deputies at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. It shows a tripling over the past 10 years in uses of force by deputies and resultant injuries that must be reported under LASD policy. There were 49 such incidents in 2010, with 16 of them resulting in injuries. There were 153 last year, with 48 of them involving injuries. So far this year there have been only 40 (with seven involving injuries), that low count might be a result of the enormous decline in reports of crimes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Sheriff’s Department reports that only four of those 965 incidents where deputies used force (323 of which resulted in injuries to suspects) led to an investigation of a deputy’s action. One of those involved an incident in 2015 in Universal Studios, which the West Hollywood Station also patrols and which may be the location of other reported uses of force.
The report doesn’t offer details about another incident that was investigated, which occurred in 2010. It notes that an incident in 2014 included a deputy-involved shooting was investigated. That is an obvious reference to the shooting by a deputy of 30-year-old John Winkler, who died, and the serious injury to his friend, Liam Mulligan, when they were fleeing an attacker in an apartment building at 939 Palm Ave. There was another incident in West Hollywood, again unidentified, which occurred in 2016. The report doesn’t note the death of 27-year-old Jonathan Pena, who was hit by a patrol car while walking on the sidewalk along Santa Monica Boulevard in October 2015. That incident was referred to the Los Angeles County Highway Patrol for investigation, and no findings have been made public.
The Sheriff’s Department recently said it is investigating another incident that occurred on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood on Sept. 25 that has gotten attention from media across the country and in the U.K. It involved a sheriff’s deputy who was videotaped slamming his riot shield multiple times into the ankles of someone lying on the street. That person apparently had been participating in a demonstration sparked by a Louisville, Ky., grand jury’s decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, in her apartment during a botched drug investigation. WEHOville has been told that that deputy, while he had been working in West Hollywood that night, was not assigned to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. That incident and claims from protestors of improper detainment by Sheriff’s deputies and lack of access of to counsel by those being held by the deputies have also been submitted for review to the L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission and the L.A. County Inspector General.
The report to the City Council notes that 133 claims for damages that apparently involved actions by deputies in West Hollywood have been filed with the Los Angeles County Contract Cities Liability Trust Fund Board and Oversight Commission over the past decade. However not all of those claims involved use of force by deputies. That commission, of which Mayor Horvath is a member, approves the settlement of claims and lawsuits for monetary damages. Those settlements, and payouts to settle lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department filed by people in the areas of Los Angeles County that the LASD serves, have resulted in an increase in the West Hollywood’s required contribution to the Liability Trust Fund from 4% (550,336) of the cost of the Sheriff’s contract in 2015 to 11% ($1.8 million) this fiscal year. The city pays roughly $19 million a year for services from 64 deputies and other personnel.
While law enforcement agencies are required under state law to disclose reports of discipline of deputies involved in such incidents, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva has refused to comply with requests for such reports, which has led to the Los Angeles Times and other media organizations suing him. WEHOville in January 2019, filed a request with Villanueva’s office for a report involving possible discipline of the deputies involved in the 939 Palm shooting but still has not received it.
Another report being presented to the City Council includes the L.A. County Inspector General’s analysis of the Sheriff’s Departments use of force policies and how they compare with the recommendations of “8 Can’t Wait,” which is a project of Campaign Zero, a non-profit organization that works to end police violence in the United States. 8 Can’t Wait is a list of eight policies that those working to reduce police violence say should be immediately adopted by law enforcement agencies. It says law enforcement agencies must have policies that:
- Require inclusion of a duty to intervene
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require de-escalation
- Require a use of force continuum
- Require warning before shooting
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Exhaust alternatives before shooting
- Require comprehensive reporting of use of force incidents
The Inspector General’s report notes that while the LASD says its policies largely comply with those recommended by 8 Can’t Wait, in many instances they don’t. It notes, for example, that the Sheriff’s Department has said that “LASD personnel are not authorized to use chokeholds, strangleholds, or the carotid restraints (performed with legs, knees, or feet).” But on the other hand, Sheriff Villanueva has said that carotid restraints, which temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain and are meant to render a subject unconscious for a time, can be used in exceptional circumstances.
Also the Sheriff’s Department says deputies should not shoot at a car or other vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is threatening the deputy with a weapon other than the car itself. “The LASD policy while discouraging shooting at a moving vehicle does not ban the practice,” says the Inspector General’s report. This policy is a good example of having a policy that is not adhered to and deputies who shoot at vehicles are not generally found to be in violation of it or held accountable.”
The report presented to the City Council asks that it consider the following questions:
- What is the current formal written LASD use of force policy? Does the policy exist in some alternative format, for example, on Twitter? Is the policy readily accessible to the public? Does it conform to the practices of the LASD Deputies? Is the LASD use of force policy in compliance with recent changes in state laws regarding law enforcement use of force policies?
- Does the LASD have formal written policies that reflect the minimal best practices outlined in the “8 Can’t Wait” recommendations, and are those best practices enough to address use of force issues within the Department?
- Should the city advocate for changes to the LASD use of force policies? If yes, what are those changes?
- Should the city consider amending its contract with the LASD to include requirements for compliance with the policy recommendations regarding use of force by law enforcement as part of our commitment to the Obama Foundation’s Reimagining Policing Pledge?
- What is the record of the LASD in holding Sheriff’s deputies responsible for compliance with the use of force policies? What is the record of the LASD with respect to the outcomes of investigated incidents? When a deputy is found to have been out of compliance with the LASD policy, how is the deputy held accountable?
- How does the LASD data regarding the prevalence of use of force incidents and the investigations of use of force incidents in West Hollywood compare with data for similar jurisdictions whether under the patrol of the LASD or another law enforcement agency?
- How and where is the LASD data regarding use of force incidents and investigations stored? Is this un-redacted data available to the cities that contract with LASD? What level of access does the City Council have to this data in order to make informed policy decisions for West Hollywood public safety measures?
- What is the process for a member of the public to file a complaint regarding a use of force incident? How are such complaints evaluated and adjudicated? For these complaints from the public, are the individual case results or the aggregate results released to the complainant or to the public?
- What is the administrative review process for use of force cases? What kinds of information prompt an administrative investigation into a use of force? Would it be desirable for the city to urge the LASD to make available publicly the transparent practices for use of force reporting at our local station? How does the LASD guarantee accountability in the administrative investigation process?