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DEPUTIES RUN WILD RISE IN SHOOTINGS, DUIS, SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALARMS OVERSEERS.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

In a disturbing trend, shootings by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies soared this year, and there has been an alarming rise in sexual misconduct and drunk driving by sheriff's personnel, reviewers wrote in a report issued Monday.

Hundreds of Sheriff Lee Baca's employees were disciplined for a variety of misconduct highlighted in the Office of Independent Review's third annual report. Incidents included one in which deputies held a barbecue at a sheriff's facility to raise money for an officer who was suspended without pay for improper use of force.

The 83-page report was issued by the county's group of civil-rights lawyers and investigators charged with overseeing internal investigations and making recommendations on discipline. The OIR group also issued a second, 38-page report on a spate of five retaliatory jail homicides from October 2003 to April 2004.

The OIR's chief attorney, Michael Gennaco, said he was most disturbed by the large number of misconduct cases involving ``intentional and conscious wrongdoing,'' including the cases of two deputies indicted in August on charges of using their position and the threat of arrest to coerce victims into sexual acts. A record seven sheriff's employees were disciplined for sexual misconduct last year, and four were disciplined in the first half of this year.

``Of particular concern is the increase in felony DUI arrests,'' wrote Gennaco. When driving under the influence is labeled a felony, it is usually because ``the driver caused an injury to another,'' he noted.

``In response to this trend and other patterns of misconduct - such as off-duty incidents of road rage and fights - (the Sheriff's Department) has taken a pro-active education-oriented approach.''

Baca and Gennaco said the increase in drunken-driving cases might be related to the facts that most of the arrests involve young deputies who work in the jails and that law enforcement personnel might no longer be giving any preferential treatment to fellow officers.

``The whole concept of 'professional courtesy' may have gone away,'' Gennaco said. ``There once was a tradition that, if you stopped a law enforcement officer for an infraction, sometimes courtesies would be extended to that officer. But I think the days are past when officers get a break if they simply flash their badge.''

Baca noted that all the shootings - as many in the first eight months of 2004 as in all of 2003 - were reviewed by the OIR, and all were deemed to be justified.

``It speaks to the violence in the community we serve,'' Baca said. ``We just have too many gangbangers carrying guns. And in carrying those guns, they pose a threat not only to the public, but the same threat to deputies. I'm very concerned that the gangs in Los Angeles County are very violent.''

Still, some critics suggested that stronger measures need to be taken.

``These cases may call for better screening of deputies in the selection process, improved training and increased supervision,'' high-profile Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred said in a telephone interview. ``This is very disturbing.''

Gennaco wrote that the ``abuse of authority or the willingness to flout sheriff's standards for selfish reasons merits a strong response.''

The report estimates that a record number of the 15,000 sheriff's employees - nearly 950 - will be disciplined this year, including more than 80 supervisors. That's up from 837 employees disciplined in 2000 before the OIR was created.

``There is cause for concern, and it's being dealt with comprehensively and expeditiously,'' sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said. ``As always, the sheriff is gratified that the OIR is doing its job. His philosophy is if there is a problem you fix it and move on to the next one. The OIR helps us in accomplishing that.''

The report found a five-year trend of increasing numbers of deputy-involved shootings, rising from 30 in 1999 to 46 last year. Just in the first eight months of this year, there were 46 shootings, including many shootings at moving vehicles.

In the first half of this year, 12 deputies were disciplined for their tactics during those shootings.

Gennaco's team analyzed 15 recent incidents and found that shooting at a moving vehicle usually did not stop the vehicle or protect the deputy or others.

``What we suggested and what some of the more progressive law enforcement agencies have done is to have the deputy, if (possible), simply get out of the way of the moving vehicle, rather than fire a gun at it,'' Gennaco said.

In one incident in which a plainclothes deputy interrupted a commercial burglary in progress, the suspect attempted to run him over with a van, but the deputy shot at the vehicle as it was moving away from him. The deputy was suspended after the force-review committee found that the deputy's decision to put himself in an exposed and vulnerable position violated policies.

The report also found that more deputies were arrested for misdemeanor and felony drunken driving in the first six months of the year - 16 - than in 2002, when there were 14 such arrests, and 2003, when there were 15.

From 2000 through 2003, the number of sheriff's personnel disciplined for off-duty conduct increased from 15 to 22. But a total of 31 employees were disciplined in the first half of this year, and that number is expected to double by Dec. 31. In 2002 and 2003, 24 employees were sent letters informing them that they would be fired for off-duty incidents, most of them alcohol-related.

Gennaco's team also discovered what the report calls a ``major supervisory lapse'' in which a captain authorized personnel to conduct a fund-raising barbecue at a sheriff's facility to financially assist a deputy who had received a lengthy suspension as a result of willful misconduct in use of force.

Other supervisors at the facility expressed concern about the mixed message the fund-raiser conveyed on discipline and about the possibility younger deputies felt coerced to contribute to a cause in which they did not believe.

``We were unhappy to learn that the authorization of this barbecue allowed deputies to get together - in essence to help pay back the deputy for the fine he received as a result of the discipline,'' Gennaco said.

Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985

troy.anderson(at)dailynews.com

AT A GLANCE

The Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review's third annual report identified a number of problems and successes in the Sheriff's Department, including:

--A marked decline in litigation awards and settlements, from $19 million in 2001-02 to $5.7 million in 2003-04.

--More than 2,300 complaints and commendations made to watch commanders had not been closed out of the department's state-of-the-art computer-based tracking system. The department is working to complete the investigations and process the reports to eliminate the backlog.

--The department agreed to place the names of sheriff's personnel on their helmets after the OIR noted that it was difficult to recommend discipline for unidentifiable deputies outfitted in riot gear who used force on Iraq war protesters at the Westwood federal building.

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AT A GLANCE (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 16, 2004
Words:1173
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