The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Photo by John Schreiber.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that sheriff’s officials systematically targeted racial minorities in the Antelope Valley.

The board’s closed session vote was 4-1 — with Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas dissenting.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the settlement would allow the Sheriff’s Department to build on progress it has already made as it “seek(s) to strengthen the bonds of trust with the community we serve in the Antelope Valley.”

Federal officials accused the county and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale in 2013, after a two-year investigation, of waging a campaign of discrimination against African-American residents, particularly those living in low-income subsidized housing.

Federal officials said some sheriff’s personnel in the Antelope Valley had engaged in a “pattern or practice of stops, searches and seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.”

Investigators also found discrimination against African-Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

That discrimination often took the form of teams of armed sheriff’s deputies accompanying county housing agency investigators on surprise inspections of Section 8 housing, looking for violations of housing rules. Tenants told stories of being intimidated by as many as 10 armed deputies and Public Counsel said the crackdown created a climate of fear and hostility.

Some officials at the time argued the compliance checks were needed to root out abuses in the program.

In 2012, the county settled a suit brought by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations charging discrimination against residents of federally subsidized housing. Under that earlier settlement, the Sheriff’s Department put a moratorium on “enhanced investigation agreements” with Palmdale and Lancaster and vowed to retrain deputies on the rights of Section 8 tenants.

McDonnell said his department has already implemented a third of the approximately 150 requirements under the new DOJ agreement.

“While much more work is ahead of us, this agreement highlights the positive strides the committed men and women of this department have already made on so many fronts — including training in regard to constitutional law and racial profiling awareness, practices related to Section 8 housing compliance checks and policies regarding traffic stops, arrests and detentions,” McDonnell said.

The Justice Department had not released a statement as of late today, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Los Angeles Times that the settlement would include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated.

The Justice Department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.

—City News Service

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