A Los Angeles County probation officer was hospitalized Wednesday in an incident with alleged gang members at a County juvenile lockup, according to information obtained by NBC4.
The incident took place at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.
The officer was attacked and sent to the hospital with injuries to his knees, back and arms. Pepper spray was not used in the case but other officers say they continue to feel unsafe and spoke out at a board of supervisors meeting this week to express their concerns.
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"We are here to tell you today that enough is enough," Jonathan Byrd, a probation officer, said during a public hearing at the LA County Board of supervisors on Tuesday.
Byrd and others spoke out as the department undergoes big changes as it works to end officers' reliance on the use of pepper spray by the end of this year following an NBC4 report that documented a 154 percent spike in pepper spray use across County juvenile facilities from 2015 to 2017. A county investigation that followed detailed incidents, including when a young person with a mental health condition was pepper sprayed in the groin and buttocks.
Officers say they have counted on the use of pepper spray, the highest authorized use of force at the department, in certain situations.
Lynn Matthew, a nurse at juvenile hall, said it's scary working in the halls.
"These kids have been acting out violently with no consequences," she said during Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting.
A new study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California this week found employees in juvenile facilities across California used pepper spray more than 5,000 times between January 2015 and March 2018.
While seven California counties have already banned the use of the spray in juvenile halls and camps, the ACLU is calling for renewing legislation to ban it statewide. The ACLU also highlighted NBC4 reporting on the rise in pepper spray use in LA County juvenile facilities in their report.
Employees inside the lockups say they want clear direction and better training.
"If we can't fix it, we can't do anything for the kids," said Deborah Lares, a supervisor for the probation department, at the supervisors meeting.
The probation department said in a statement that it is set to give its plan on phasing out pepper spray to the board of supervisors at the end of June but will give a status update this week.
The department, meanwhile, has asked employees who want to receive more overtime to assist at halls and camps. "We also recognize that this is a time of significant change for our staff and we will continue to work with our teams to give them the support and training that they need," the statement read.
The news comes as six probation officers pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal use of pepper spray on minors and as officials with the California Department of Justice conducted interviews of minors and staff in visits to juvenile halls on Thursday.
"The county and probation have been acutely focused on reform in juvenile services and have been engaging with the California Attorney General's Office for several months about the progress that has been made and the challenges that still exist," the probation department said in a statement. "The previously scheduled tour today is an aspect of those ongoing discussions. The department and the county have remained open and collaborative with the Attorney General's Office and we welcome their input and feedback as we all are focused on safe and rehabilitative juvenile facilities."
The California DOJ declined to comment about the probe, citing policy against talking about potential or ongoing investigations.