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Hate-crime handling questioned

Report also finds that local deputies more likely to use force; department defends ‘excellent work'

Posted: August 6, 2010 9:25 p.m.
Updated: August 7, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station is one of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department stations singled out as lacking in the way it investigates hate crimes, according to a county report examining stations throughout Los Angeles County.

The 160-page, 29th-semiannual report, released Friday, also found that from 2004 through 2009, deputies at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station were more likely to use force in arrests than those at most other stations in the region, including stations in East Los Angeles and Palmdale.

The report stated: “The Hate Crime Task Force (HCTF) and the Share Tolerance Program are both excellent. So too are the hate crime investigations occurring at some stations. Santa Clarita and Lakewood Stations need improvement, so does hate crime investigation in custody facilities.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore responded to the report, saying there’s always room for improvement.

“The Hate Crimes Unit in the Sheriff’s Department has done excellent work and deserves a round of applause,” Whitmore said.

Friday’s report reflects the “excellent work” done by most stations, but Santa Clarita and Lakewood are the only ones singled out as areas that need to be improved.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Sgt. Darren Harris pointed out that Santa Clarita deputies have been “proactive” in pursuing the Share The Tolerance program, which actively works to develop a sense of leadership about tolerance among high school students.

As to the other issues raised in the report, Harris said station officials were not ready to comment.

“We’re reviewing the report now, and we’ll have to say once we read it,” Harris said.

Share the Tolerance, which was devised and instituted by Chief Neal Tyler and Chief Cecil Rhambo, received high praise in the report.

Capt. Paul Becker, who heads the local station, could not be reached for comment Friday. Calls to the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station’s Hate Crimes Unit were not returned.

Special Counsel Merrick J. Bobb compiled the report with the Police Assessment Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors law enforcement executives, civic and government officials, community groups and other interested constituencies.

The report further concludes: “We see room for growth in several areas, particularly in hate crimes trainings after the Academy, greater analyses in hate-crime reports and more accountability and tracking in jail hate-crime investigations.”

Case studies
In reaching their conclusion that Santa Clarita needs to improve the way it investigates hate crimes, report researchers scrutinized 10 random hate-crime cases from the five stations that see the most hate crimes, including the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

In their critical review of one particular Santa Clarita hate crime, researchers found the local investigating detective was later promoted to the rank of sergeant at another station, and was unable to recall the case when questioned by the department.

“In our randomized sampling of hate-crime cases, Lakewood and Santa Clarita did not always seem to go the extra mile to ensure a thorough investigation in which all leads were followed, all documentation collected and all witnesses interviewed,” the report said.

The document then described a case in which a group of white men shoved a black woman into the bushes outside a Santa Clarita bar, unprovoked, “yelling ‘N....r’ and pretending to be monkeys.”

The men then threw a beer bottle at her friend, a white woman, and broke the woman’s phone when she tried to call 911, the report said.

The women reported the attack the next day, including a license plate number they had written down. Deputies filed a report, but the investigation never went anywhere, the document said.

The detective in charge of the case was later promoted to the rank of sergeant and told officials preparing the report he did not remember the case at all, the report said.

In another Santa Clarita case, a Latino man was backing his car out of his driveway with his mother in the passenger seat. A white man who was driving by stopped his car and approached the Latino man’s window, holding a large object.

“I’m going to kill you, you (racial slur),” the man said, according to the report.

“A few days later, the same incident occurred with the same suspect,” the report said.

While deputies were interviewing the victim, the Latino man pointed out the man who allegedly made the threats as he drove by. Deputies pulled him over and arrested him on suspicion of making criminal threats and driving under the influence of alcohol.

However, they neglected to call a Spanish translator to the scene to interview the sole third-party witness to the alleged threats — the Latino man’s mother. The suspect was never convicted of a hate crime, the report said.

Use of force
Santa Clarita deputies reported a higher percentage of forceful arrests than the average each year from 2004 through 2009 for its region, except in 2008.

Other stations in Santa Clarita’s region include Altadena, Crescenta Valley, East Los Angeles, Lancaster, Lost Hills/Malibu, Palmdale and Temple City.

In those years, Santa Clarita Valley deputies used force in an average of 1.6 percent of arrests, second in their region only to Crescenta Valley deputies, who used force in 1.67 percent of their arrests.

The regional average for forceful arrests was 1.28 percent.

Santa Clarita was also cited in the section of the report addressing the issue of people arrested on an obstruction charge
who are not the primary focus of the police contact.

The report notes: “In Santa Clarita, a white woman whose son was being arrested for marijuana possession stood in front of the door of the patrol car, screaming at the deputy and blocking him from placing her son in the car.

“After she refused to move away from the vehicle, the deputy attempted to arrest her, but she pulled away and began walking away.

“She was then forcibly handcuffed and arrested for misdemeanor resisting/obstruction, charges that were filed, but dismissed or not prosecuted.”

Santa Clarita Valley deputies fired shots at suspects a total of eight times 2004 through 2009. Four suspects were hit, while in four other deputy-involved shootings, none were hit.

At least one man was shot by a Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s deputy this year, which was not counted in the report.

Before that, the last “hit shooting” fired from a gun assigned to a Santa Clarita deputy was in 2006.

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