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U.S. probes alleged bias by sheriff in public housing inspections

Photo: Lancaster Sheriff Deputies, LA County Housing Authority investigators and parole agents search Section 8 apartments and homes in Lancaster. Credit: Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Justice Department will investigate alleged discrimination by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in the Antelope Valley, officials said Thursday. The probe centers on potential civil rights infringements against residents of government subsidized housing, the bulk of whom are black and Latino, in the  historically white area.

The announcement comes after allegations from civil rights lawyers that elected leaders in Lancaster and Palmdale have tried to drive out minority residents.

Many have complained that the inspections of Section 8 residents have involved armed Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, which they said adds a level of intimidation to the checks.

The probe will specifically focus on the sheriff’s Palmdale and Lancaster stations, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Federal officials described the probe as a “a pattern and practice investigation.”

If a pattern of misconduct is found, U.S. officials could seek a court-ordered federal consent decree similar to the one that the Los Angeles Police Department had to operate under after the Rampart corruption scandal. It took nearly a decade for the LAPD to have federal oversight lifted.

“We welcome the investigation, the sheriff has nothing to hide,” Whitmore said.

The Sheriff’s Department has already enlisted his own watchdog agency, the Office of Independent Review, to create new protocols for handling Section 8 calls, Whitmore said.

Pattern or practice investigations are generally launched after multiple allegations of civil rights abuses in one area.

Whitmore said Sheriff Lee Baca will be attending the news conference tomorrow announcing the federal probe.

“It is the sheriff’s opportunity to tell the public and the people of Los Angeles that this has been taken care of,” Whitmore said.


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Photo: Sheriff's deputies, L.A. County Housing Authority investigators and parole agents search Section 8 apartments and homes in Lancaster. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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