Report: L.A. deputies should have limits on pointing guns at unarmed people

Currently, LASD doesn't consider pointing a gun to be a use of force, so there's no process for reporting those incidents


By Josh Cain
Daily News, Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — An inspector general's report faulted the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for its handling of an incident in 2020 in which deputies from the Santa Clarita station pointed handguns and a rifle at three teenagers at a bus stop.

The stop unfolded after the Sheriff's Department got two calls about a fight going on at a strip mall parking lot on Soledad Canyon Road, just east of Whites Canyon Road, on Aug. 9, 2020.

When two deputies arrived, they found three teenagers, two 16-year-olds with skateboards and one 18-year-old standing with them at the bus stop. Video taken by a bystander showed what happened next: The deputies got out of their vehicles and pointed their handguns at the three teenagers.

A third deputy pulled up, got out of his vehicle wielding a rifle, then cocked the weapon and pointed it at the trio as a small group of onlookers protested. The three were detained briefly, then let go after deputies questioned them about the fight.

The two teens with the skateboards are Black, but the report did not weigh in on whether the deputies' actions were biased. However, LASD should have pursued whether the deputies acted with racial bias given the complaints from several witnesses, the report said.

Callers had told the LASD station that they saw the teens hit an older man with their skateboards. A lawyer for the teens later said they were the ones who were attacked by the older man, who chased them into traffic.

In the county's Office of Inspector General report released Friday, investigators found that the deputies apparently acted within LASD policy when they pointed their weapons at the teens. However, the OIG's office said that policy was overly broad, allowing deputies to point rifles at people "without any apparent limitations" and without requiring that they document such uses of force.

In a letter to the person who submitted the complaint about the stop, LASD commanders wrote that the actions of the deputy who pointed the rifle "should have been different."

Beyond a performance evaluation, however, none of the deputies were disciplined. According to the OIG report, LASD later closed the complaint investigation, but did so without recording the statements of deputies who were there. The report also found that a watch commander at the station left out critical comments from a woman who witnessed the stop.

The OIG investigators wrote that because LASD doesn't consider pointing a gun at someone as a use of force, there's no process for reporting those incidents.

[MORE: Can a mere show of force be considered 'excessive?']

The only way supervisors found out about the stop was through social media, the report states.

"It is concerning that such behavior would never come to the attention of a supervisor without the public witnessing it, given the lack of reporting requirements means that there is no supervisorial or command staff assessment of the deputies' conduct," the investigators wrote. "It should not take the public's response to a video of a deputy pointing a rifle at a juvenile to prompt a response from the Sheriff's Department management to reconsider its rifle policy."

An assistant sheriff apparently expressed alarm at the gap in LASD policy, but so far, no changes have been made, according to the report.

LASD officials had not responded to a request for comment as of Sunday afternoon.

(c)2021 the Daily News (Los Angeles)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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