A Stevenson Ranch deputy involved shooting from last year is one of a select few cases singled out in a recently released Office of Independent Review (OIR) study.
Publishing the Ninth Annual Report marks the second decade the OIR has served as the oversight entity of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department.
“Our office is responsible for overseeing all investigations of misconduct as well as critical incidents involving the sheriffs department and its employees,” said Mike Gennaco, Chief Attorney for the Office of Independent Review.
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This year’s report covers deputy misconduct involving alcohol and substance abuse, use of force, custody, and an examination of the 1970 death of Mexican-American journalist and civil rights activist Ruben Salazar – possibly targeted by sheriffs’ deputies.
“It sounds like there’s significant amount of misconduct here but I would bet you lunch that you’d find that same level of misconduct if not more up and down the rest of law enforcement throughout this country. But they’re just not willing to air their dirty laundry in the same way the Sheriff’s department is willing to do,” Gennaco said.
With an eye towards transparency OIR turned their attention to an August 10, 2010 deputy involved shooting in Stevenson Ranch.
According to the report, prior to beginning his shift at a jail facility, a deputy was inside a Stevenson Ranch fast food restaurant. After hearing his car alarm go off, he went to the parking lot and saw his car had been hit by another customer. The driver and the deputy initially exchanged information, but they got into an argument over whether or not to contact authorities. The driver said that the deputy then displayed his gun and identified himself as a “cop.”
The driver told investigators later he didn’t believe the deputy was really an officer of the law so he got back into his car and drove away. The deputy fired several rounds at the car as it exited the parking lot.
Although the deputy was off-duty, officials say it was not unusual that he still had his weapon on him.
“Deputies when they’re off duty generally do carry weapons. And that’s likely what was going on here,” said Gennaco.
The fleeing driver, who was later determined to be intoxicated, was not struck by the bullets. However, four rounds hit the vehicle and one traveled all the way across the street and struck the wall of a business.
“In this case, it was a clear violation. He should not have shot at that motorist,” Gennaco said.
The shooting was just where the trouble began for the deputy. After other units responded to the location he told investigators that he had reached into the other vehicle and was dragged 15 feet before he could disengage. He then said he fired into the rear of the departing vehicle.
What the deputy didn’t know was that a surveillance camera captured the whole incident.
“People should these days count on that. Because more often than the public thinks you have a camera pointing in your direction,” Gennaco said.
The surveillance video exposed the deputy’s story of being dragged as a lie.
Furthermore, when investigators arrived, the deputy invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. For members of the Homicide and Office of Independent Review teams on scene this raised questions about the legitimacy of the shooting.
“In virtually every shooting that we’ve reviewed, we’ve reviewed close to 300 shootings over the nine years we’ve been here, if not more. The deputies almost always are willing to talk to the Homicide investigators,” said Gennaco.
When the department became concerned about potential criminality in the case, they called out the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau which is the investigative unit that looks at criminality.
That’s when almost all information about the case was choked off – until this report.
“The department moved quickly in that case and within a few days the deputy was no longer with the sheriff’s department,” Gennaco said.
The deputy was still under probationary status and in that circumstance a deputy’s permanent employment is still under review and they may be terminated at will.
The OIR examines cases throughout the year looking for incidents where they see a failure in the system, or in a policy, or in training. At that point they suggest changes in policies, practices, protocols, or procedures.
“The corrective action was separating that deputy from the department. So that wasn’t really seen as one requiring a systemic change,” said Gennaco.
For Gennaco, the existence of the OIR attests to the bravery of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to provide transparency.
“You won’t find another law enforcement agency in the country that gives us the authority to provide this level of information.” Gennaco said.
The Ninth Office of Independent Review Annual Report can be found here.