The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was strongly rebuked in a report by the county Office of Inspector General for using a highway enforcement team that stopped thousands of Latino drivers in search of drugs on the 5 Freeway through the Santa Clarita Valley, prompting allegations of racial profiling.
The Office of Inspector General report said the team "had a Constitutionally troubling impact on Latino drivers" and that Latinos were targeted at a much higher rate, but the team's ability to stop the flow of drugs in the Santa Clarita Valley "was unclear," the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
The team's actions also had "the potential to negatively impact the public's trust" in the department, the report said.
The report slammed the department for allowing the team to "operate unchecked" until then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell suspended the unit on Nov. 16, 2018.
The inspector general's report found "Latinos were both stopped and searched at much greater rates than other racial or ethnic groups, and yet, there was a very low rate of success in finding contraband."
Less than 2% of stops on the Golden State Freeway between the Kern County line and the 14 Freeway resulted in the discovery of drugs, the report found.
Nearly one-third of the cases given to federal prosecutors were dismissed, including two cases in which a deputy's history of being investigated for lying to federal prosecutors about properly obtaining consent to search a vehicle, were cited as reason for dismissal, the report found.
Federal prosecutors told the sheriff's department in 2014 about credibility problems with a deputy assigned to the team and failed to act, the report stated.
The inspector general's office also cited problems with oversight of the team, which was created in 2012 in response to public concerns about what the sheriff's department was doing to stop the flow of drugs between the northern border of Los Angeles County and Santa Clarita, the Times reported.
The Office of Inspector General's investigation into the activities of the Domestic Highway Enforcement Team followed a report in the Los Angeles Times that almost 70% of drivers stopped from 2012 through last year were Latino and those drivers had the highest chance of being asked by a deputy to consent to a search of their vehicle. The report found just 6% of those searches turned up illegal items.
Based on that information, the sheriff's department should have been aware that minorities were being pulled over at higher rates than other ethnicities, the report said.
Deputies on the team have denied racial profiling and insisted that they base their stops only on a person's driving and other impartial factors.
McDonnell has said he was proud of the team's work, which included confiscating 3,500 pounds of drugs and rescuing six victims of human trafficking.