FBI opens criminal investigations into violent Los Angeles County deputy encounters

Jul 15, 2023, 12:59 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The FBI has opened criminal investigations into violent encounters involving Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, including one in which a deputy punched a woman in the face as she held her baby.

Federal authorities visited the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department headquarters to take documents related to the probes, according to an email obtained by the newspaper, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

Department officials confirmed the visit and told the newspaper they planned to cooperate with investigators.

The second case being scrutinized by the FBI involves a deputy who threw a woman to the ground by her neck last month in a grocery store parking lot after she started recording an arrest with her cellphone.

In addition to the federal investigations, the California Department of Justice has agreed to review the case of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was shot in the back three years ago by a sheriff’s deputy in the city of Gardena, south of Los Angeles, the email said.

An FBI spokesperson would not confirm that agents were conducting a criminal investigation into either incident.

The internal county email obtained by the newspaper said that “federal criminal investigations have been opened concerning the recent incidents” in Palmdale and Lancaster, north of Los Angeles.

The Palmdale case involved a July 2022 traffic stop but did not become public until this week, when Sheriff Robert Luna called a news conference to release body camera footage and announce that the deputy involved had been relieved of duty.

The eight-minute video was taken during the traffic stop after Palmdale deputies spotted a vehicle being driven at night without any headlights. When they pulled it over, the deputies smelled alcohol and saw four women inside, three of them with babies in their arms rather than in car seats, authorities said.

The deputies began to arrest the women on suspicion of felony child endangerment, and used force on two of the women when they resisted giving up their babies. The bulk of the video shows a tense conversation between a group of deputies and one woman who clutches her baby while sitting cross-legged on the ground. The deputies are heard saying that the woman was riding in a car driven by someone without a valid license, and that her baby was not in a car seat.

After several minutes of back-and-forth, deputies pry the woman’s hands apart, and she begins screaming as the child is removed from her arms. Nearby, another woman holding a baby begins screaming and cursing at officers before deputies announce they plan to arrest her too.

As at least two deputies hold the woman by her wrists and arms, a third male deputy can be seen throwing two punches toward her head while she is still holding her baby. It is unclear in the video whether the punches connected with the woman’s head, but she howls in pain.

The FBI is also investigating a June 24 case when deputies responded to 911 calls reporting a robbery in progress at a grocery store in Lancaster. They encountered a man and a woman who they said matched the descriptions of the suspects given to 911, according to authorities.

As the deputies handcuffed the man in the parking lot, the woman began taking video with her phone. Within seconds, one of the deputies rushes toward her and reaches for her arm, seemingly in an attempt to take the phone.

“You can’t touch me,” she screams. The deputy throws her on the ground, and video shows him arguing with her, and at one point threatening to punch her. He then pepper-sprays her in the face and handcuffs her.

The man who was handcuffed was ultimately cited on suspicion of resisting an officer, attempted petty theft and interfering with a business. The woman was hospitalized for the effects of the pepper spray and for abrasions to her arm. She was released but cited on suspicion of assaulting an officer, as well as battery on allegations that she had assaulted store loss prevention personnel, the newspaper said.

Luna has vowed to overhaul the nation’s largest sheriff’s department since taking charge in December.

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FBI opens criminal investigations into violent Los Angeles County deputy encounters