After 2 Years Of Scandal, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Gets A Permanent Civilian Watchdog

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's "Core Values" are displayed on a wall at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's "Core Values" are displayed on a wall at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed its first ever inspector general to scrutinize the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, almost two years after a rash of allegations surfaced of deputies' brutal treatment of inmates at county jails.

Veteran prosecutor Max Huntsman, who will assume the newly created position Jan. 2, plans to "make civilian oversight of the Sheriff's Department a permanent reality."

Currently the assistant head deputy of the county District Attorney's Public Integrity Division, Huntsman has conducted several major corruption investigations, including those against the city of Bell and the city of Vernon.

"My background is in problem solving and in investigations of government agencies," Huntsman said in an interview Tuesday. "The process of analyzing an agency is a skill set that I have, and I have a lot of experience in dealing with politics and bureaucracy and working through them."

"I think he's an outstanding choice," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "I think he's tough enough and smart enough to get the kind of information that we need, and that the sheriff needs, to make sure the Sheriff's Department engages in constitutional policing both inside the jails and on the streets of our county."

The blue-ribbon Commission on Jail Violence urged the board to create the Office of Inspector General in September 2012 after a nine-month investigation concluded deputies engaged in "a pattern of unnecessary and excessive use of force" against inmates.

In a recent interview, Miriam Krinsky, the commission's executive director, called the Office of the Inspector General "the integral mechanism for keeping everyone's feet to the fire and ensuring that the momentum for reform continues unabated."

Huntsman said he would begin delving into the department's operations as soon as he finishes hiring his staff.

"We'll check to see if the commission's recommendations have been accomplished -- audit that," he said. "We want to make sure all those good ideas are still going on and won't fade away even when the public isn't watching."

Sheriff Lee Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, offered that the department welcomes the scrutiny. "The Sheriff's Department looks forward to providing any assistance we can and cooperating with anything the new inspector general needs to make his office an effective and successful one," he said.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas believes that, aside from an inspector general, the board needs to seat a Civilian Oversight Commission.

Currently, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the Office of Independent Review, the Office of the Ombudsman and the American Civil Liberties Union all provide oversight of the department.

Their functions would eventually be consolidated under the Office of Inspector General, which is supposed to have "unfettered access" to department records, witness interviews, video footage, data, personnel and facilities.

Huntsman graduated from Yale Law School and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of California, Santa Cruz. He will earn $204,423 annually in the position and report directly to the board. ___

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