Demanding Accountability

A grieving mother gives testimony and others line up to speak during town hall meeting.

One-by-one, the grieving mothers in East LA spoke of losing their young sons in officer and deputy-involved shootings.

“We are the walking dead,” one mother said between sobs.

“We are the families of those who have been killed. The pain that we feel is something I would not wish upon my very worst enemy.”

Hundreds pack the East LA center to express their views.

A few hundred residents packed the East Los Angeles Service Center on July 11 to speak with leadership from the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They came to address their concerns regarding the East LA Sheriff’s station where tattooed deputies, referred to as “a gang with badges,” were accused of using excessive force.

“There are so many of our children still out there,” the mother said. “Every single day I pray for their lives. Please, we want to see change.”

Rohini Khanna, justice deputy for LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, spoke on behalf of Solis, who was instrumental in forming the COC. Comprised of nine members, the commission seeks to improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the Sheriff’s Department.

“Supervisor Solis wants to acknowledge the unbearable grief and trauma that many of the people in this room are carrying as a result of losing loved ones to violence,” Khanna told the audience, many who stood in the back holding up protest signs, some depicting their fallen loved one.

“The Supervisor is committed to building solutions with collaboration with you all — the community,” she said. “We are moving toward transparency and ultimately culture change.”

Diana Teran, the Public Defender’s new Law Enforcement Accountability Advisor (center), listens intently to testimony at the town hall meeting.

Sitting in the audience taking notes was Diana Teran, the LA County Public Defender’s first-ever Law Enforcement Accountability Advisor.

Arriving July 1, 2019, Teran has been an attorney for over 30 years, spending the last 10 years of her career in oversight of law enforcement, including reviewing and providing advice on deputy-involved shootings, internal affairs investigations, accountability, and law enforcement policies.

Teran attended the meeting to listen and learn about the specific complaints East LA residents have about area deputies and hear their concerns about the East LA logo, which was removed from the station by the former Sheriff as inappropriate, but later reinstated by the current Sheriff.

“It’s important for all of us to hear and understand what the public has to say about why they feel terrorized by the reinstatement of the logo,” she said after the gathering.

Protestors hold up signs, one depicting the once-banned Sheriff’s logo.

According to one of the residents with whom she spoke, the current Sheriff has been seen sporting a T-shirt with the formerly banned logo. Some residents speaking before members of the commission objected to the logo because it says “Fort Apache,” a reference to a 1948 film where they said Native Americans were taken to be tortured. They were also concerned about the Spanish verbiage on the logo which translates to “always a kick in the pants” and is understood by some residents to promote violence.

During the meeting, several residents brought up the growing concern of deputy secret societies, which they say incite violence. According to reports, the FBI is now investigating deputy cliques within the Sheriff’s Department, which carry monikers such as the Banditos, Spartans, Regulators, Reapers, and Vikings.

Following the town hall meeting, the Board of Supervisors is set to take further action. On July 23, supervisors are expected to set the stage to expand the authority of the Inspector General to investigate deputy secret societies within the Sheriff’s Department. They are set to direct County Counsel in consultation with the Inspector General to develop recommendations to that end.

The motion by Chair Janice Hahn and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas would expand the Inspector General’s ability to issue subpoenas should the Sheriff’s Department continue “to deny access to information and refuse efforts by the public to hold them accountable.”

Supervisors called the secret societies a dangerous problem.

“They not only erode public trust in law enforcement and undermine the chain of command, we are concerned that they promote racism, sexism, and violence,” the motion said.

Back at the town hall meeting, another mother who lost her son in a deputy-involved shooting demanded peace officer accountability.

“If I can’t get my son back, I want answers,” she said. “I’m here today to say we are not going to stop. We may have some of our autopsy reports, but we don’t have accountability.”