A Los Angeles County Inspector General’s report published on Sept. 10 recommended that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) regulate the practice of pointing firearms at unarmed people after an investigation into an incident in which firearms were drawn on three teenagers.
In August 2020, the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s station responded to a call about a potential fight in a parking lot in Santa Clarita. The caller said three teenagers allegedly hit an older man with their skateboards; the Los Angeles Daily News reported that a lawyer for the teens later said the older man attacked them and chased them into traffic.
When officers arrived at the scene, they found two 16-year-olds and one 18-year-old at a bus stop with a crowd of about six to eight people. A video shot by a crowd member shows three deputies with their guns, one of them an AR-15 rifle, aimed at the three teenagers, who “on video appeared to be unarmed and compliant with the deputies’ orders,” according to the report. The three teenagers were briefly detained and questioned about the fight, and then released.
Two days after the incident, a citizen from the state of Oregon called the Santa Clarita station to file a formal complaint, which launched the investigation. The video also gained many views online as members of the public, as well as Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth and Los Angeles Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who expressed concern about firearms being pulled on the apparently unarmed teens.
“I encourage Sheriff Alex Villanueva to support transparency and accountability for the community with a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding this case,” Barger said in a statement. “In addition, I have spoken with Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman and asked that he share his independent review of the results of the investigation with my office, city leaders, and the community.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “I have concerns regarding the tactics employed,” in a 2020 video statement while adding that the matter is currently being investigated.
The report found that the deputies’ tactics of drawing and pointing the guns were consistent with LASD policy. However, the Watch Commander said that the deputy could have used “less lethal” tactics instead of using the rifle; the Watch Commander also found that one of the deputies used “discourteous language” toward the crowd. The deputy was issued a performance log entry for his actions, according to the report, but no other disciplinary action was taken toward the deputies.
The report ultimately made several recommendations, including a recommendation that the Sheriff’s Department make the drawing and pointing of a firearm a reportable use of force, and that the department should revise its patrol rifle policy to “include clear guidance as to the proper and improper deployment of a rifle.”
The report also recommended the diligent documentation and investigation of citizen complaints. The LASD also reportedly closed the investigation without recording statements from other deputies and people who witnessed the interaction.
“It is concerning that such behavior would never come to the attention of a supervisor without the public witnessing it, given the lack of reporting requirements means that there is no supervisorial or command staff assessment of the deputies’ conduct,” the report said.
“It should not take the public’s response to a video of a deputy pointing a rifle at a juvenile to prompt a response from the Sheriff’s Department management to reconsider its rifle policy.”
The LASD didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time; the Los Angeles Inspector General declined to comment for this article.