Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department: A Shadow of Its Former Self - A Series, Part 4

Sheriff Robert Luna gives press conference regarding the arrest of a suspect in connection with the murder of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer (9/18/23). (Credit: YouTube/LASDHQ)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has a very long and proud history of being the largest sheriff's department in the country and the third largest municipal police agency in the country, behind the NYPD and the Chicago Police Department. Founded in 1850, the department had one sheriff and two deputies; the department now boasts approximately 8,815 deputies and Sheriff Robert Luna in command. The general feeling of deputies on patrol, all the way up to training officers, sergeants, and even several lieutenants, is that Luna is destroying the department from within. 

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LASD has had its ups and downs throughout history, but today, the department is in the fight for its very survival. As Parts One, Two, and Three of this series will have shown you, the department has a major morale crisis on its hands.

READ: How L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna Is Bringing Deputies to Their Knees - A Series, Part 1

While this is not a new topic for discussion when it comes to law enforcement in America, to put it in proper context and perspective, LA County is the largest county in the country when it comes to population. With almost 10 million residents and over 4,700 square miles, some areas of the county are the size of small states. For example, the Antelope Valley, which this deputy is talking about, is approximately 3,000 square miles. That is bigger than the two smallest states: Rhode Island and Delaware. Covering that much area for one or two stations is hard enough when fully staffed. Imagine what it's like under the current conditions. 

Sheriff Robert Luna was elected as a "reformer" who would bring the department's reputation with the public back into a positive light — a noble goal in theory but a goal that is extremely difficult to achieve without causing too much collateral damage when done in good faith. Therein lies the problem.

READ: How Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna Is Destroying a Once Great Department

Luna is not the first sheriff to run as a reformer. His two immediate predecessors also ran on the same platform after former Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of corruption. The first, Jim McDonald, would earn a reputation as a commander who acted first and asked questions after. A very close friend of mine who has worked for the department for over 25 years and was assigned to the command staff under Baca and McDonald spoke of an environment where the staff was openly discussing ways to increase discipline and terminations as a way to show the public that reforms were being made. Administrative policy violations, from not wearing a seatbelt while on duty to first-time violations of excessive force, used to be punishable by written reprimand, all the way up to between five to 10-day suspensions. With McDonald at the helm, everything could now be a multi-day suspension or all the way up to a fireable offense. Deputies were being fired left and right for their first offenses of what used to be viewed as a mild to serious violation but one that could be rectified with either education-based discipline or a minor suspension. Because of this, hundreds of Deputies began leaving the department for other departments, taking early retirements or quitting outright. After roughly 1,100 deputies left the department either on their own or with terminations, McDonald was voted out of office after just four years and replaced by Alex Villanueva in 2018. 

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Villanueva again promised reform, but this time, he concentrated on the top half of the department and essentially forced out the majority of the executive command staff from McDonald's tenure. Though making some highly controversial moves at the beginning by kicking ICE out of the county jails, as well as refusing to participate in a county program to inform ICE of any illegal immigrants in the county jail system, he made strides to replace the number of deputies lost under McDonald and tried to repair the morale of the deputies under him. Unfortunately, Villanueva lost public support when he went against the Board of Supervisors and their anti-deputy agenda and his refusal to enforce several COVID restrictions, mainly mask mandates and travel restrictions. With national incidents like George Floyd and the BLM riots, his perceived "pro-deputy" mindset played into their "The sheriff is corrupt and protecting his own" narrative and prompted the general public to vote against his re-election and install Luna.

Sheriff Luna has made the working conditions of everyday deputies so incredibly toxic that they are literally afraid to do their jobs. Not afraid that they will be hurt and or killed, but afraid that they will be disciplined or even fired for any perceived violation of department policy. As the letters in Parts One, Two, and Three show, two of the busiest stations in the county aren't even being allowed to grieve the loss of one of their own, Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer. 

In the past, when a Deputy has died in the line of duty, that Deputy's Station gets shut down for a day or two so that the Deputy's partners can process the loss, together as a family. When that happens, Deputies from other Stations throughout the County are ordered in to cover, so the Station Deputies and civilian personnel can mourn as one. When Sgt. Steve Owen was murdered, Lancaster and Palmdale Stations were both granted that immediately after his murder, and for the day of his funeral. As of my writing this letter, no such closure has been granted by Luna for Palmdale.

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As I wrote about last week, the Sheriff's Department had not one, not two, but FOUR separate employees kill themselves in one day, Monday, November 6, with another attempting to kill themself the following day. According to official statistics, nine LASD employees have killed themselves so far this year, and LASD now accounts for a staggering 10.7 percent of all law enforcement suicides in the nation this year alone. The contacts I spoke with all mirrored the information and sentiments the anonymous deputy expressed in all three of his letters. Sheriff Luna, along with his command staff, are hell-bent on taking any deputy, regardless of rank, time of service, and experience, and putting them through the wringer of discipline purely for the optics of reform. Luna's reaction — or inaction — regarding the suicides was viewed by many of those in the department that I spoke with as callous and completely without any care or concern for the families, instead smacking of frustration that he has to deal with a major problem. And it is a problem of his own making. One member I spoke with on the condition of anonymity had the following to say:

His (Luna's) response to the most recent suicides lacked compassion or empathy. It really feels like he just doesn't care, or maybe that he is completely blown away and has no idea what to say or do. I don't know for sure, but either way his response felt weak to me.   

READ: After Four Colleagues Commit Suicide, an L.A. County Deputy Sheriff Writes a Heartbreaking Letter

Luna has returned to what Jim McDonald did, and it doesn't surprise many because Luna and McDonald both came from the Long Beach Police Department as former Chiefs of that department. Luna fires deputies without proper cause before they can even investigate an incident. "If it looks bad, it must be bad," said one lieutenant of Luna's discipline policy mindset. This exact mindset was the basis for his reactions to what happened in Lancaster and Palmdale when video footage showed what the public perceived to be excessive force, but what the Internal Affairs and Internal Criminal Affairs Bureaus all said was in policy and justified. 

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Luna found them to be disturbing — disturbing to the point that Luna disciplined the Lancaster deputies and, in the Palmdale case, fired the deputy. 

...when asked by Palmdale Deputies if he felt the firing was justified, he said, "I'm not sure."  He also said in regard to this incident, where a baby was used as a shield, "Just walk away. He didn't have to make that arrest."

Message received. And not just by us. In the last two months at least one domestic violence suspect in the AV, that I know of, was allowed to walk away from Deputies once that suspect purposefully grabbed their own child as a human shield to prevent their arrest; thanks to the media circus perpetuated by Luna's inflammatory public remarks.

Luna's remarks and presentation of footage also helped fuel hundreds of death threat phone calls to Deputies, made to the offices and 9-1-1 phone lines for Lancaster and Palmdale Stations. For all the massive stress placed on the small amount of personnel each Station has, Luna and his command staff's answers to all of our questions about how to perform our duties, when those incidents were handled in line with current policies, were dismissive at best. We were told department force policies will eventually be changed in the future, to reflect the punishments he doled out here and now. The only guidance we were given by him was, "Just do your jobs."

When it came to announcing charges against the murder suspect in Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer's killing, Luna and his best friend George Gascon, LA County DA, refused to inform Clinkunbroomer's family that they wouldn't seek the death penalty. His family found out when they attended the press conference with Luna and Gascon announcing that they were seeking the maximum punishment under the law for Capital Murder: life without parole or LWOP.  And the maximum punishment is not LWOP; it's death. Gascon couldn't even say Ryan's name correctly, and Luna couldn't do the same, even at his funeral service. 

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Luna is being assisted in his destruction of the department by the County Board of Supervisors; they still refuse to allow the department to hire the over 1,100 positions they defunded during Villanueva's time as sheriff. All the supervisors on the board are heavily critical of the department and have an active responsibility role in the current state of the department. The blood of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, the two deputies, the commander, and one custody assistant are on their hands and the hands of Luna. They could have prevented this by allowing the department to hire more people, and Luna could have and still can use common sense and logic when it comes to discipline. But he won't because he is too proud and can't admit that he is wrong. 

Luna's only response to all this was a figurative, "Here are some resources for you, now shut up and get your ass back to work." Luna is not a leader. He doesn't take strides to earn respect; he demands it. He rules with an iron fist and acts like a mad tyrant who forces submission to his rule. More and more deputies are going to be burnt out, and more and more deputies are going to go through divorces because their families are tired of never seeing their spouses. And if he doesn't act, more deputies are possibly going to take their own lives out of pure desperation. What are deputies supposed to do when they are overworked to the point of mental and physical exhaustion?

Luna cares more about public opinion than he cares about his people. He's too much of a coward to stand up for his people when they do their jobs. Sometimes, using force, no matter how justified, looks bad to the public. That's when deputies need a strong sheriff to back their play. Luna refuses to do that, and it shows. 

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Sheriff Luna, it is time for you to decide. Do you do right by your men and women and start supporting them and looking out for their physical and mental well-being? Or do you continue down this path of self-righteousness and ruling with an iron fist? Personally, I believe it's time for you and your entire command staff to go. 

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