One Year In: LASD’s McDonnell Still Punks Civilian Oversight Commission 

McDonnell Civilian Oversight CommissionI urge everyone to read this transcript of a Frank Stoltze/KPCC news story on the first year of operations for the Civilian Oversight Commission set up to monitor the LA County Sheriff’s Department and make that huge and scandal-tainted police force more responsive to community concerns.

Without actually using contemptuous language, Sheriff Jim McDonnell makes his contempt for the Commission clear enough in three comments he gives to the reporter:

  • We (LASD) already know everything there is to know about community concerns on use of force, etc. [translation: the Commission is really unnecessary];
  • “They are not a legislative body” [translation: we can and will ignore them on key things that matter to us, e.g. the use of drones and LASD implementation of the federal rape prevention law within the jail system];
  • The Commission should “highlight what is being done well” and support LASD’s call for hiring more deputies [translation: McDonnell wants cheerleaders, not critics, and he still doesn’t grasp the depth of outrage that led to the Commission’s creation in the first place].

Does McDonnell really think the Oversight Commission should pat him on the back while his patrols in the Antelope Valley (and elsewhere) routinely engage in blatant profiling and abuse of black and brown residents? Wow. What planet is he living on?

All three statements are ​smugly offensive on their face; the third rises to the rhetorical level of the Very Stable Genius who now presumes to lead our country.

Does McDonnell really think the Oversight Commission should pat him on the back while his patrols in the Antelope Valley (and elsewhere) routinely engage in blatant profiling and abuse of black and brown residents? Wow. What planet is he living on?

McDonnell seems to have forgotten that the Oversight Commission only exists because of grave problems. These include grave crimes committed by both LASD deputies and its top leaders and elaborate coverups orchestrated by those leaders. We only got to any kind of oversight thanks to years of ACLU litigation, DOJ and federal court interventions, and the solid investigative work – and searing final report – of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. Plus, of course, the effective years-long campaign coordinated by Dignity & Power Now to establish the COC.

To be clear, I admire the Commission’s members and its exemplary executive director, Brian Williams. They are doing the best they can with the resources and tools they were given. They are not to blame here.

The onus for our McDonnell problem lies with an LA County Board of Supervisors that ignored the recommendations of its own study group and declined to support subpoena power and other steps that would have given the Commission real leverage.

donateThe five-member Board, which now features four women and four members who describe themselves as progressives, remains far too deferential to law enforcement and to the powerful law enforcement unions. That’s the real story. Our supervisors still fear being perceived as in any way “soft” on crime. ​And they don’t want to cross swords, ever, with an independently elected Sheriff and an independently elected District Attorney.

​Speaking of the DA, do you imagine that anyone on the Board will think to challenge Jackie Lacey’s refusal to follow the lead of ​her counterparts​ in San Francisco and San Diego who are moving to dismiss or reduce thousands of past marijuana-related convictions? ​I wouldn’t bet on it. To my knowledge, no supervisor has publicly asked why Lacey also refuses to support unsealing the personnel records of over 300 LASD deputies (and higher ranking officers) whose atrocious behavior, including criminal behavior, got them added to a secret “Brady List” of LASD sworn personnel whose testimony can corrupt criminal trials. ​You might think that our District Attorney would care about protecting the rights of criminal defendants, but if you thought that you would be wrong. She told reporters she would not move on the “Brady List” issue because of her ties to the law enforcement unions.

Let me put it plainly: Jim McDonnell and Jackie Lacey are hacks. They are traditional unreconstructed law enforcement types, unworthy of a county that is pleased to think of itself as a progressive beacon and that has a larger population than all but seven of the fifty states.

peter laarman

I am not naive. I’m well aware that, as seasoned politicians, our county supervisors are naturally reluctant to speak out about nonfeasance or misfeasance committed by the Sheriff and the DA. But that being the case, they should have the decency to stop calling themselves progressive where criminal justice is concerned.


Peter Laarman

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman serves on the Justice Not Jails steering committee. He formerly directed Progressive Christians Uniting, the LA-based network of activist individuals and congregations that first launched Justice Not Jails in 2012 as a multifaith initiative. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.

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