More than five years ago, the Department of Justice found that sheriff’s deputies in the northernmost suburbs of Los Angeles disproportionately targeted Black and Latino residents. It’s still happening to teenagers on school grounds.
Los Angeles County’s Inspector General is looking into allegations of racial discrimination raised by an LAist-ProPublica investigation on high school campuses in the Antelope Valley.
Priscilla Ocen, chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman’s office to explore our finding that in 2019, LA sheriff’s deputies disproportionately stopped and cited Black teens at high schools in Lancaster.
“If students of color are telling us they feel like they are under siege in a place that they are supposed to be safe, and they feel that the people that are supposed to be providing that safety are actually providing the insecurity, then that’s ... deeply troubling to me,” Ocen said.
She also asked Huntsman to investigate allegations of racial discrimination in the Antelope Valley beyond its high schools.
Our analysis of Sheriff’s Department data found that Black teenagers accounted for 60% of the deputy contacts on school campuses in Lancaster in 2019 but made up only about 20% of the enrollment in those schools, a finding Ocen cited in an Oversight Commission meeting last week.
Huntsman said his office is troubled by our findings.
“I’m concerned about the conduct,” Huntsman told LAist last week.
At the oversight panel meeting, he said, “I’m concerned about the potential liability for the county,” adding that “it’s a very serious matter that needs to be closely looked at.”
The Antelope Valley Union High School District did not respond to a request for comment.
“A Very Entertaining Piece of Fiction”
The Sheriff’s Department and the federal Justice Department agreed to a consent decree in 2015, committing the department to implementing reforms that included protections against racial profiling. That agreement resulted after the Justice Department formally accused the LA County Housing Authority and the Sheriff’s Department of working together to discriminate against Black Section 8 residents in the hopes of driving them out of the Antelope Valley.
At last week’s Oversight Commission meeting, Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Capt. John Lecrivain disputed our analysis of his agency’s data, as well as claims of racial discrimination made by people we interviewed. He called our report “a very entertaining piece of fiction.”
When asked by Ocen to provide data that would back up his claim that we had misinterpreted the statistics, Lecrivain said, “That’s going to have to come from someone above me.”
During our investigation, Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Ruppert, team leader of the Lancaster station’s school safety unit, said the vast majority of deputies’ contacts on campuses are based on referrals from school staff and administrators — not initiated by law enforcement.
Lecrivain also defended the stops, saying that this year in Antelope Valley high schools, “a large percentage” of the contacts involving deputies on campus have been resolved through diversion methods, although he didn’t provide statistics to back that claim.
“If a student is going to be placed into the system, it’s because the level of the incident has gone to a point that is not applicable for diversion,” he said.
Our investigation with ProPublica found that in 2019, some students detained by deputies were accused of what some experts said were routine school disciplinary issues.
At last week’s meeting of the oversight panel, Ocen also asked the commission’s ad hoc use-of-force committee to consider working with the Sheriff’s Department to develop different policies for children.
“Young people are not little adults, they are developmentally different,” she said at the meeting. “They are emotionally different. I think all of us would agree that we don’t want to criminalize our youth.”
Our investigation was also cited in a recent study conducted by Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and California State University, Northridge, which found that children as young as 5 are having daily contact with sheriff’s deputies employed as school resource officers.
In June, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to demand more data on whom deputies stop on school campuses and why. The board also decided that starting next year, the Sheriff’s Department will have to get the board’s approval for school resource officer contracts with school districts.
Huntsman told the Oversight Commission that his office, which reviews those contracts, will look closely at the next proposed contract for the Antelope Valley Union High School District.
He said his interest in the deputies’ roles in schools was further piqued when the Sheriff’s Department refused to hand over body camera footage from an August incident at Lancaster High School involving 16-year-old student MiKayla Robinson, who was body slammed by the school resource officer, Deputy Daniel Acquilano.
The incident was recorded on a bystander’s phone and went viral.
“If they choose not to allow us to monitor, we will not sign off on the [school resource officer] contract,” Huntsman told the Oversight Commission last week. “That’s as simple as that.”
At the oversight panel meeting, Lecrivain said he doesn’t have the authority to release the body cam footage.
Robinson filed a claim for damages with the Antelope Valley Union High School District and LA County this month. A claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.