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L.A. County paid out nearly $1 billion last year in claims

The cost of protecting Los Angeles County and its sheriff's deputies, firefighters, social workers and doctors from lawsuits soared in the past fiscal year, according to two reports released this week.

annual Tally An examination of the county's legal tab, which tracks payments made from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, found that the county spent $257 million on settlements and judgments. This is three times the amount spent the previous year.

The Sheriff's Office's legal costs have soared to $150 million after solving a number of large-scale cases, nearly double its annual costs. in front.

And the amount for that county is Spent Total claims, including workers' compensation claims and related legal costs, exceeded $982 million. That's about 2 percent of the county's operating budget, and more than the county budgeted this year for the Animal Care and Control Department, district attorney and public defender. Combined.

County officials point to several factors contributing to the dramatic increase in litigation spending. Increased costs to hire outside lawyers, resolution of cases stalled by the pandemic, and a string of sky-high settlements stemming from allegations of misconduct within the Sheriff's Department.

Ten of the top 13 settlements involved the Sheriff's Department.

“Once again, Los Angeles County taxpayers must hold the sheriff accountable for law enforcement negligence,” said association coordinator Megan Castillo. Rethinking the LA Unionadvocates for alternatives to incarceration.

One of last year's most expensive legal costs stems from a lawsuit first filed in 2010 over strip searches at women's prisons, in which female inmates were ganged up on during mass strip searches. She was regularly forced to expose her genitals.

In 2019, the court approved a $53 million settlement on behalf of 87,937 women whose homes were searched a total of 421,718 times from March 2008 to January 2015.

The Times previously reported that although the county did not admit wrongdoing, the settlement was the largest in county history. The Sheriff's Department stopped routine strip searches of female inmates in April 2016 and began relying on body scanners for screening.

The more than $17 million payment included in the county's case report is the second of three installments agreed to in court.

Another large award centered on a high-profile case: a helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people.

After the disaster of 2020, According to a report in the Times, Several sheriff's deputies and firefighters reportedly shared graphic images of the accident scene and the victims' bodies. At the time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged that eight deputies had taken or shared the photos and ordered the images destroyed.

In September 2020, Vanessa Bryant and Chris Chester, who lost their wife and daughter in the accident, filed a lawsuit. A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and last year the county agreed to pay the Chester family and the plaintiffs about $20 million. $28.85 million to the Bryant family.

Mr. Villanueva, who was still in office at the beginning of the fiscal year and during several cases that resulted in litigation, said the board and various regulators were to blame for the escalating costs of litigation, saying, “their extensive Through the campaign, Falsely claiming to be an agent of a gang He was acting violently above the security station.

“Nearly every case involving violence or detention that is filed today involves allegations of the conduct of gang agents, despite the lack of supporting evidence,” Villanueva told the Times in an email Tuesday. he said. “As a result, increased litigation costs are caused by the reckless actions of the Supervisory Board and its appointees.”

Joanna Schwartz, Professor, UCLA School of Law the study The fact that the county spent $150 million on the sheriff's department's case in a police misconduct lawsuit raises questions about what kind of analysis the county should do after the settlement to avoid a similar flow of taxpayer money next year. He said this raises questions about whether there are any.

“What kind of analysis have we done to assess which stations are more likely to be sued than others, or what kind of claims are more likely to be the subject of litigation? ” she said. “This is the kind of analysis that any private company facing $150 million in damages in one year would want to do.”

Departments are required to develop “corrective action plans” after major settlements and investigate whether there were policy failures that could lead to similar incidents happening again. But Schwartz said the plans she sees are weak, and she seems too fixated on what went wrong in that particular incident, rather than investigating larger trends. She said she could see it.

“I don't think Los Angeles County is doing that analysis as much as it would like,” she said.

A sheriff's office spokesperson said the agency is working to get back on track in the wake of the lawsuit.

“While litigation is always a concern for our department, we are working to improve our training, policies, practices, and procedures to reduce future litigation,” the spokesperson said, adding that the department has a higher number of lawsuits than other departments. He added that it is not unusual for there to be a large number of cases. “Responsibility for public safety.”

In November 2022, the Supervisory Board approved the following at one meeting: Settlement amount: $47 million Cases involving illegal conduct by sheriff's deputies.

One of those cases was the case of Andres Guardado, a teenage boy who was shot five times in the back by sheriff's deputies after a brief foot chase in Gardena in 2020. His killing sparked protests and lawsuits, with his parents claiming that sheriff's deputies killed him in an attempt to become a member of the sheriff's deputy gang.

The lawsuit was settled for $8 million, but the district attorney's office did not indict any of the deputies involved. Instead, they Both will be sent to federal prison Because of an unrelated incident earlier that year in which they kidnapped a skateboarder and tried to frame him on drug charges.

At least two other settlements approved at the same 2022 board meeting also resulted in large payouts, but the lawmakers involved were not criminally charged. This pattern has been criticized by activists and advocates. supervisory authority They argue that this allows problems such as gang lieutenants to fester within the department.

“Nobody has been convicted,” said community organizer Helen Jones, whose son John Houghton died in a cell at Men's Central Prison in 2009. ”

After seeing photos of her son's blood-splattered body, she sued the county and settled for $2 million, she said. No criminal charges were ever filed against her, she said.

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