A civil rights investigation will seek to determine whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Friday.
The investigation of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was prompted by allegations of excessive force, retaliation and other misconduct, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The statement did not identify any specific incidents.
“As opposed to a criminal investigation into an individual incident or incidents, a pattern or practice investigation typically works to identify and, as appropriate, ultimately address potentially systemic violations of the constitutional rights of the community at large by a law enforcement agency,” it said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his department welcomes the investigation, which he called an impartial and objective assessment of operations.
The department noted that the attorney general “has made no determinations at this time about specific complaints or allegations or about the agency’s policies and practices.”
The agency's controversies are not limited to Villanueva, who was elected in 2018 and unseated the then-incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell. In 2017, former sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison for a scheme to hinder an investigation into the department's scandal-ridden jail system.
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Becerra said his investigators will not be hampered by the sheriff's terms. They will be able to look into a system of potential abuses going back years to see if the practices conformed with law under previous department leaders, he said.
Becerra is President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A new state attorney general would not affect the state's investigation, he said.
Under the California Constitution and California Civil Code section 52.3, the AG is authorized to conduct civil investigations into whether a law enforcement agency has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law.