armed suspect killed in watts
An armed suspect was killed in September during a deputy-involved shooting near Nickerson Gardens in Watts. Photo via OnScene.TV.

Deputy-involved shootings during the first nine months of the year were down significantly from the same period four years ago, Los Angeles County’s inspector general said Tuesday.

The 15 shootings that occurred between January and September represent a more than 50 percent drop from the same period in 2013, when 33 deputy- involved shootings were reported.

Inspector General Max Huntsman presented the data — published in an October report — to the Board of Supervisors as part of an update on policy changes within the sheriff’s department. The data include all shootings, whether or not they resulted in injury — with the exception of any unintentional incidents in which a deputy shoots himself or herself.

Three of the 15 shootings this year resulted in injury or death, according to the report.

Three fatal shootings were reported by City News Service this year: in Ladera Heights in March, in Firestone Park in April, and in Watts in August. Two of the three men killed were allegedly armed with a gun and the third wielded a “tethered weapon.”

Huntsman said his office is closely monitoring the numbers.

“I am cautiously optimistic that this reduction we’ve had since we implemented reform efforts is not just a blip,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman told the board he believed it was important to look at law enforcement statistics for a longer time period than just a year-over-year window, especially when dealing with small numbers.

The DIS numbers for the Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 time period dropped from 2013 to 2014, then bumped up by nearly 20 percent in 2015 before dropping again in the two years that followed.

Full-year data and a breakdown of all the numbers by non-injury and injury shootings were not immediately available.

Huntsman also reported on deaths of inmates in custody, totaling 21 so far this year. Three were suicides and 18 were due to either natural or unknown causes, according to the report.

Based on the timing, the total of 18 includes the death of 31-year-old Juan Correa Jr., who died Sept. 26 after reportedly falling unconscious in a shower. Correa had been pepper-sprayed by guards to break up his alleged assault on a cellmate and was escorted to the shower for decontamination.

The coroner has deferred a finding on the cause of Correa’s death pending additional investigation, according to the coroner’s website.

According to the inspector general’s report, the jail deaths highlight continuing concerns about medical and mental health assessments, inmates’ access to care — particularly for patients in acute distress — and communication between jail guards and health care workers.

A federal probe of county jails in 2014 found a lack of suicide prevention measures and a level of mental health care that violated inmates’ civil rights, leading to a 2015 settlement on remedial measures and federal oversight.

Huntsman said the problem remains serious despite ongoing efforts to hire more staff, ramp up management reviews and change policies to improve access to care and medications.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said many inmates who end up in jail after living on the street are dealing with a variety of health problems, including substance abuse.

County health agency chief Dr. Mitchell Katz “has pointed out to us several times the very frail conditions of many, many of our prisoners who have been on the street,” Kuehl said. “They’re hungry. They have various medical conditions.”

Roughly 27 percent of county jail inmates suffer from mental illness, according to recent department estimates.

Even more routine care can be difficult to access.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she recently visited the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood and talked to women who said they had waited six weeks to see a dentist.

The board asked for a follow-up report by the Department of Health Services, which now oversees medical treatment in the jails.

–City News Service

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