Feds want $12.5M from sheriff's dept. in racial bias case
The move came after U.S. Department of Justice officials on Friday released the findings of a two-year investigation prompted by complaints that minority residents faced discrimination
LOS ANGELES — Federal officials who claim that authorities discriminated against black residents of public housing want Los Angeles County and two cities to pay the alleged victims $12.5 million.
The payments would come from the Sheriff's Department and Housing Authority along with the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, Assistant County Counsel Roger Granbo told the Los Angeles Times in a story on Monday.
"This (money) will better the lives of a lot of people who have been the victims of injustice," said V. Jesse Smith, president of the Antelope Valley Chapter of the NAACP.
The move came after U.S. Department of Justice officials on Friday released the findings of a two-year investigation prompted by complaints that minority residents faced discrimination after moving to the Mojave Desert cities northeast of Los Angeles.
The report concluded that sheriff's deputies had engaged in racial profiling, unlawfully targeting blacks living in public housing, subjecting them to unnecessary stops and seizures, and using unreasonable force.
As many as nine deputies would sometimes accompany housing investigators during rules checks and would often have their guns drawn, federal officials said.
Granbo said he has told federal officials the county has no intention of paying a share of such a large amount of compensation. If expected negotiations over the amount stall, the issue could wind up in court, with the county challenging the conclusions of the report.
"These negotiations are going to be very critical," Granbo said. "We're willing to sit down with them and work something out, but that could be a very tedious process if we don't know what those findings are based on."
Lancaster will refuse to pay what could amount to $10,000 to $40,000 for each person with a claim, Mayor R. Rex Parris said.
"If the county wants to pay millions, let them do it, but Lancaster isn't going to pay 10 cents of it," said Parris, a civil lawyer.
In a statement, Palmdale said the settlement proposal is between federal and county officials. The city "has not been asked nor has it agreed to any participation in this proposed settlement," the statement said.
Sheriff Lee Baca has disagreed with the report's conclusions and denied there was discrimination.
However, the federal government and the county have reached preliminary agreements to make broad changes to policing in the Antelope Valley and to enforcement of the housing voucher plan. The reforms include revising training and use-of-force policies as well as participating in community meetings to gauge feedback from residents.
The discrimination issue in the Antelope Valley has been simmering for years as the demographics shifted from primarily white to black and Latino. The Antelope Valley had the highest rate of hate crimes of any other area in Los Angeles County as of 2010, federal officials said.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press
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