Suit contends sheriff encourages civil rights violations

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva is being sued for his alleged support of deputies who use excessive force and commit civil rights violations, according to court papers obtained Nov. 8.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 5 in Los Angeles federal court, alleges Villanueva has created an atmosphere within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where civil rights violations are not only approved, but encouraged.

A sheriff’s department representative said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The 37-page suit stems from a Dec. 1 incident in Inglewood when local resident Christopher Chambers called emergency services to ask for help for his brother-in-law, Larry Jefferson, who was having a mental health episode, according to the complaint.

No law enforcement or emergency services agency responded to the call, the suit alleges.

A couple of hours later, a car accident took place in front of Chambers’ home near 104th Street and Van Ness Avenue in Inglewood. Jefferson, still having a mental health episode, went out in the street and started to direct traffic, as if he was a traffic officer, the plaintiffs contend.

Responding deputies encountered Jefferson, who was apparently unarmed and standing in the street. The lawmen asked Jefferson to move, using their vehicle’s intercom system to order him out of the way. Jefferson responded that he was “not afraid” and a deputy immediately placed his hand on his gun holster, the suit alleges.

Eventually, the suit alleges, the deputies got out of their vehicle, shocked Jefferson with a Taser and hit him with rubber bullets, causing him to fly backwards.

Chambers, unarmed and wearing pajamas, then came out of his house, telling deputies that Jefferson is “not right in his mind,” according to the suit.

Despite presenting no threat, Chambers was held down by four deputies to the point where he couldn’t breathe, the plaintiffs allege. The lawsuit alleges that out of desperation, Chambers said to the officers, “Is this how you treat the son of a police officer?”

The deputies immediately pulled him up and sent both men to the hospital, according to the suit. Chambers was later taken to the South Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. He was released from jail the next day, and the charges were subsequently dropped, the suit contends.

If I hadn’t, out of desperation, said I was the son of a police officer, I probably would have been hurt much worse or even killed,” Chambers said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges unlawful seizure, excessive force, failure to intervene, battery, negligence, and a violation of both Chambers’ and Jefferson’s civil rights.

In addition to Villanueva and the county, the lawsuit lists the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and 10 unnamed deputies as defendants.

Alex Villanueva has created an environment in the Sheriff’s Department which promotes the use of weapons, such as rubber bullets,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Faisal Gill. “He’s been quoted as saying that these weapons are ‘designed to get someone’s attention without injuring them,’ even though he and the Sheriff’s Department are aware of the high risk of injury these weapons pose.”