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LA Sheriff’s Dept Maintains Secret Misconduct List Of 300 Officers To Avoid Embarrassment In Court

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has maintained a secret list of around 300 officers with histories of misconduct, according to documents viewed by the Los Angeles Times. Approximately two-thirds of the names on the list are still with the department.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell (RINGO H.W. CHIU/AP)

The “Brady list,” created in 2014 and named after a landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to alert defendants to favorable evidence, was compiled under former interim Sheriff John Scott to keep track of officers who had been accused or convicted of misconduct that might affect their credibility in court. Current Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, wants to grant prosecutors access to the list – who are required by law to tell criminal defendants about evidence which might affect an officer’s credibility if called as a witness – however McDonnell’s efforts were met with a lawsuit from the Deputies’ Union, which argued that the move would violate California police confidentiality laws.

The deputies have been identified as potential witnesses in more than 62,000 felony cases since 2000, according to a Times analysis of district attorney records. In many of those cases, the deputies’ misconduct would probably have been relevant in assessing their credibility.” LA Times

The officers on the Brady list have come under fire for a wide variety of misconduct, including writing a false report after pepper-spraying and elderly man in the face, forcing strangers to perform oral sex, disposing of evidence, domestic battery, and molesting an underage girl who told The Times she dropped out of school and considered suicide. Indeed, the Los Angeles police force is so corrupt that the FBI performed an extensive investigation – which led to nearly two dozen convictions, including former Sheriff Lee Baca, who obstructed FBI efforts to investigate abuses in county jails. Baca was sentenced in May to three years in prison.

“An FBI investigation of inmate abuse by deputies found years of excessive force and coverups. More than 20 officials, including former Sheriff Lee Baca, were convicted of crimes in the wake of that investigation.

In 2014, after Baca stepped down, officials combed through officers’ histories for misconduct involving “moral turpitude.” Deputies added to the list were found by internal investigators to have made false statements, written false reports, misappropriated property, obstructed an investigation, engaged in discrimination or harassment, accepted bribes or other improper gifts, used unreasonable force or been violent with a family member.”

The types of misconduct vary, however dishonesty ranks #1 at 69% of officers on the Brady list, followed by family violence, immoral conduct, stealing and sex. The officers in question are overwhelmingly deputies, followed by seargents, detectives, and lieutenants.”

 

In one incident reviewed by The Times from 1995, officer Casey Dowling was accused by a 14-year-old girl of molesting her after she told him she had been the victim of a knife attack. The girl said Dowling grabbed her breast while she sat in his patrol car, according to a DA’s memo at the time. The girl then said Dowling drove her home, followed her into her bedroom, and felt her up again after asking if she was wearing panties.

Officer Casey Dowling (Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Dowling, who claims he has evidence that he’s not on the Brady list, was discharged in 1997 for “immoral conduct,” only to file an appeal and get his job back – earning $189,000 last year. His attorney claims he was never fired.

In another incident, officer Christian Chamness – recently named “deputy of the year,” at the Lancaster sheriff’s station, pepper sprayed a 73-year-old man in the face. In his arrest report, Chamness claimed the elderly man blocked deputies trying to leave a barber ship where they had arrested the man’s son and a friend.

Christian Chamness (LASD County Services Bureau)

Chamness, who arrested the man and charged him with resisting or delaying a police officer, wrote in his official report: “He began to advance on me,” adding “I … ordered him once more to step aside. He refused so I sprayed him with a 3- to 4-second burst.”

Except video evidence showed this wasn’t true. In reality, video evidence obtained by The Times depicts the elderly man outside of the barbershop speaking with deputies – one of whom is holding the elderly man’s left arm. After words were exchanged, Chamness whipped out his pepper spray and hit the 73 year old with three bursts to the face. The county paid $195,000 to settle the lawsuit, and officer Chamness was suspended for 25 days for filing a false report and using unreasonable force. Chamness made $135,000 last year. 

In several other cases, deputies known for misconduct were given jobs as detectives or on patrol – assignments which often include appearances in court to bear witness. While the department fired several of the officers on the list, at least 13 have appealed their dismissal and gotten their jobs back.

The list reviewed by The Times includes some deputies who, despite previous misconduct, were given jobs in patrol or as detectives — assignments in which testimony can be crucial. The department fired some deputies whose names are on the list, but at least 13 appealed and got their jobs back.

The fight to keep the list private

When Sheriff McDonnell attempted to give the Brady list to prosecutors, the Deputies’ Union sued – arguing the move would violate California’s officer confidentiality policies.

“Do we go back and overturn every conviction now?” asked Elizabeth Gibbons, a lawyer who has represented the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. “That’s a can of worms that gets opened if the court adopts the department’s argument in this case.”

According to The Times, “In July, a state appeals court ruled that the names cannot be revealed even in pending criminal cases in which the officers could testify. The court concluded that defendants are already able to gather the information they need by asking a judge to review the officer’s file for relevant information that could affect the case. State law, however, bars judges from handing over information about complaints more than five years old. And many defense attorneys say that even if they can persuade a judge to review the records, they are rarely given enough to assess the credibility of police witnesses.”

The California Supreme Court will decide next year on whether or not prosecutors should be able to see internal lists of officer misconduct. As one of 22 states which keep officer discipline from the public, California is known for having some of the nation’s strictest laws when it comes to secrecy of police misconduct – and is the only state which blocks prosecutors from seeing entire police personnel files.

In a recent interview, District Attorney Jackie Lacey said she’s “in a tough spot,” because while she supports Sheriff McDonnell’s efforts to release the Brady list, over 200 investigators who work for her office are members of the union suing the sheriff. “I think the sheriff is trying to do the right thing,” said Lacey.

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2 comments

  1. ironbird

    Welcome to California. Twist and shout.

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  2. sarcrilege

    The belief that one is innocent until proven guilty is an illusion. There is an inherent conflict of interest. The judges are paid by the State. The prosecutors are paid by the State. The judges are mostly ex-prosecutors. The cops are paid by the State. The prison complex relies on steady supply of “clients”. The prosecutors work with and rely on cops to secure convictions. The conviction rate is at least 98%. Think about that!! The judicial system is rigged against defendants.

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