Six probation officers have been charged in connection with the unlawful use of pepper spray on teen girls in a juvenile lockup.
The charges filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office involved five girls housed at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall between April and July 2018. The officers face charges in two separate cases filed Thursday.
They're accused of unreasonable use of pepper spray or preventing the girls from being decontaminated after they were sprayed, according to the district attorney's office.
In a statement, Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Terri L. McDonald said that the charges stem from a "monthslong investigation originated by L.A. County Probation into the unlawful use of force at one of the department's juvenile halls."
"As this filing shows, L.A. County Probation has a zero-tolerance policy and will not tolerate the improper use of force by staff against any youth in our charge. When we become aware of an allegation of excessive use of force, we prioritize that investigation and refer the case to the D.A.'s office if warranted," McDonald said in the statement. "The alleged acts by the individuals charged today in no way reflects on the amazing work done by our staff who have dedicated their careers to helping youth and adults change their lives for the better. What this filing does demonstrate is that the excessive or improper use of force by our staff will be thoroughly and professionally investigated, with involved staff being held accountable for their actions."
The six defendants made initial court appearances Friday. They are scheduled to return to court May 23. Five of the probation officers are on unpaid administrative leave. A sixth has retired, said Adam Wolfson, a department spokesman.
Hans Liang, the president of AFSCME Local 685, the union that represents rank-and-file probation officers, said in a statement, "Local 685 is the certified representative of probation peace officers and our job is to protect the rights and safety of every single member. Like every American, we are innocent until proven guilty.
"Regarding the charges filed against the six probation officers for inappropriate use of pepper spray, we are professional peace officers and we do not support ever endangering the lives of those in our care. The new Chief Probation Officer has changed the rules without properly training and equipping us to handle the increasingly violent men and women in our care. The facilities in which we work have become more dangerous, we are understaffed, and under siege."
A report released earlier this year from the Los Angeles County Inspector General found inappropriate and avoidable uses of pepper spray in Los Angeles County juvenile halls and camps.
A report release earlier this year from the Los Angeles County Inspector General found inappropriate and avoidable uses of pepper spray in Los Angeles County juvenile halls and camps. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who called for the investigation, said the report points to a punitive culture that lacks accountability.
The Office of Inspector General reviewed the rising use of pepper spray in juvenile halls and camps after the NBC4 I-Team found a 154 percent increase over a three-year period in pepper spray use.
At a supervisors meeting in December, the probation department's chief deputy of juvenile services said the department is working on training officers who use pepper spray excessively and acknowledged much work remains.
In a statement Friday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has been spearheading probation reforms, said the filing of charges "validates the earlier concerns we raised about excessive — and now potentially illegal — use of pepper spray in our juvenile halls and camps."