U.S. Justice Department demands $12.5 million Section 8 settlement

Lancaster mayors says city won’t pay

City News Service | 7/5/2013, midnight

“Prior to the DOJ report, Mayor Parris along with the NAACP and TCAL had developed a working relationship. We have been working together . . . on a community advisory council,” said Smith, adding “ I’m more concerned with what the mayor does as opposed to what he says. And based on his actions he has been making an effort to work with the community to address problems.

“I do not take the rhetoric at face value. The mayor made a commitment to work with us,” said Smith of their behind the meetings, which he said have been particularly fruitful in Lancaster and less so in Palmdale.

Among the results is a pilot program that is currently in development that could help non-violent offenders avoid receiving felonies if they get caught up in the criminal justice system, or get an expungement. It would also help with employment and other services.

Smith said final details for the program has not been totally worked out yet.

Last week, the Justice Department announced preliminary agreements with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to make broad changes to policing in the Antelope Valley and enforcement of Section 8 housing.

The agreements were the result of a two-year civil rights probe which found that the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff’s stations engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, seizures and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.

In addition, DOJ investigators found a pattern or practice of discrimination against Blacks in its enforcement of the Housing Choice Voucher Program—Section 8 housing—in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The federal probe of Antelope Valley sheriff’s stations found:

• that Blacks, and to a lesser extent Latinos, are more likely to be stopped and/or searched than Whites, even when controlling for factors other than race, such as crime rates

• the widespread use of unlawful back-seat detentions, which violates the Fourth Amendment and sheriff’s department policy

• a pattern of unreasonable force, including a pattern of the use of force against handcuffed individuals

• a pattern of intimidation and harassment of Black Section 8 residents by sheriff’s deputies, often in conjunction with county housing investigators; and

inadequate implementation of accountability measures to intervene on unconstitutional conduct that allowed these problems to occur.

“We are encouraged by the response of Los Angeles County to our findings,” said Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the Dog’s Civil Rights Division.

“While our investigation showed significant problems in LASD’s Antelope Valley stations, we are confident that we will be able to reach an agreement that will provide meaningful and sustainable reform,” he said. “We look forward to continuing our positive partnership . . . and believe this work will help restore the community’s confidence in fair, equitable, and effective law enforcement.”

The proposed changes set out in a statement of intent include a revision of the sheriff department’s stop-and-search and use-of-force policies and training, and increased community outreach.

In addition to its investigation of the department, the DOJ investigated the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster to determine whether there has been a systematic effort to discriminate against Blacks.

As a result of the findings, a complaint was filed in federal court against the county of Los Angeles, the Housing Authority, the sheriff’s department, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale for alleged violations of federal law.

Through ongoing negotiations, all parties were seeking to avoid contested litigation and resolve the matter in an agreement to be entered as an order of the court, prosecutors said.

In order to give the community clearer understanding of the DOJ report and how the $12.5 million might be distributed, the NAACP and TCAL will host a town hall forum July 10 at 6 p.m.

Smith stressed that this meeting is to hear about the DOJ report only. People who have complaints about mistreatment should call the NAACP office at (661) 222-8144 and leave a message for Shunnon Thomas. You should receive a response within 48 hours.