Sexual Assaults and Harassment by Members of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Costing Taxpayers Millions
by Ed Lyon
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”) is the largest of its kind in the U.S. According to recent figures, it tops another list—it’s apparently the most feloniously libidinous as well.
Considering the cost of the resulting lawsuits and the price tag to defend against them, the latter moniker is nothing to be proud of.
This type of repulsive, reprehensible misconduct by the LASD is not a recent phenomenon but appears to be deeply embedded in the agency. A court consent decree, now nearly 25 years old, required the LASD to address its problems with sexual harassment. The LASD continues to fight the decree, part of which is to hire more female deputies. So far, this case alone has cost Los Angeles taxpayers nearly $72.5 million.
A motorcycle gang called The Banditos closely rivals its brother club, the Hell’s Angels, in violence and illegal activities, including sexual assaults. That gang apparently has a chapter in Los Angeles. LASD Deputy G.L. was assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff Station in 2011. She was sexually harassed by fellow deputies referring to themselves as The Banditos. She was also told that “female deputies were expected to provide sexual favors to male training officers.” This is reminiscent of motorcycle gangs’ “club mammas.”
It was reported that LASD Sergeant Charles Dery constantly sexually harassed a male deputy (name withheld) under his supervision, although Dery said the allegations were fabricated. Dery became so bold as to grope him, including touching the deputy’s anus, the alleged victim reported.
LASD Deputy Gabriel Gonzalez kidnapped a female driver in 2002. He drove her to an isolated area at a railhead and raped her. He is currently serving a 30-year federal prison sentence.
When suing a state prison guard or a state, county, or local peace officer in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that whatever the defendant did was under the color of law.
California’s Supreme Court has adopted an analogous term for state use concerning egregious sexual misconduct by law enforcement called under color of authority. This arose from a Los Angeles Police Department officer who committed a sexual assault. Justice Joyce L. Kennard opined that “The police act with the authority of the state. When police officers on duty misuse that formidable power to commit sexual assaults, the public employer must be held accountable for their actions.”
The federal courts will not, as a rule of thumb, allow a plaintiff to impute vicarious responsibility/liability (called the doctrine of respondent superior) to an employing entity in a civil rights suit under color of law. Using the mandatory language “must” in her opinion, Justice Kennard has de facto required the employing law enforcement agency to assume vicarious responsibility/liability for any officer’s acts of sexual misconduct under color of authority. As a result, the monetary costs have skyrocketed to astronomical amounts.
The costs for this shared liability have become horrendous for Los Angeles County (“LAC”) and city taxpayers. From the 23 sexual assault cases reported by the LASD, only four involved color of authority riders. Former deputy Gonzalez’s civil suit cost the county $3.2 million with attorney fees of $327,151. Deputy G.L.’s suit cost the county $1.5 million with attorney fees of $215,219, and Sergeant Dery’s civil suit cost $900,000 with attorney fees of $381,764.67.
Outliers like these drove the cost of misconduct suits arising from LASD to an astounding $17 million in the 13-year period of 2003-2017. That amounts to nearly half of all monies spent on all cases against LAC in that time period and covers 45 out of 134 suits against LAC. The LASD comprises only 17 percent of LAC’s entire workforce.
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