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ACLU drops lawsuit against L.A. County sheriff

September 27, 2012 |  5:31 pm

Civil rights attorneys who sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department this year for allegedly suppressing damaging evidence against jailers declared victory Thursday.

In July, a group of attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued the department for allegedly failing to track inmate complaints against jailers in a searchable database. That shortcoming, the attorneys alleged, kept criminal defendants from being able to question the credibility of deputies testifying against them in court by digging up their past misconduct allegations.

But earlier this month, a sheriff’s official announced the department had implemented a new system for tracking inmate complaints by deputy name -– and had also manually classified inmate complaints for the last five years, according to the ACLU.

“Finally, after many years of obstruction by the Sheriff’s Department, it decided to comply with the law and ensure that criminal defendants receive the evidence to which they are entitled by state law and the Constitution,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said similar recommendations made by the department’s civilian monitors over the years helped, but that the ACLU’s involvement “was that final ingredient that helped move it along.”

“The sheriff believes in doing the right thing. And if that is the right thing to do, that’s what we’re going to do,” Whitmore said.

The attorneys will proceed with their suit against the district attorney’s office, accused of violating the rights of inmates by preventing prosecutors from disclosing information about law enforcement misconduct complaints and other evidence unless there is "clear and convincing evidence" that the information is true. That is a higher burden than the "preponderance of evidence" standard required for police departments to discipline or fire officers. Prosecutors in other counties, such as Ventura, do not require such a high standard, the ACLU said.

The suit also alleges that the district attorney's office improperly withholds evidence that involves ongoing investigations and requires prosecutors to decide for themselves what evidence would probably affect the outcome of the defendant's case.

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-- Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard

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