The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California concluded a two-year study Thursday slamming Kern County’s two largest law enforcement agencies with scathing accusations of civil rights abuses. The ACLU’s finding show that the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department demonstrated patterns and practices that violate the people’s civil rights.
“Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department have engaged in patterns of excessive force – including shooting and beating to death unarmed individuals and deploying [K-9s] to attack and injure – as well as a practice of filing intimidating or retaliatory criminal charges against individuals they subject to excessive force,” ACLU of Southern California Staff Attorney Adrienna Wong and ACLU Director of Police Practices Peter Bibring wrote in a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urging him to delve into his agency’s own investigation of alleged wrongdoing. There were at least 5 separate issues the ACLU wanted Becerra to look into further.
The five issues the ACLU wants Becerra to address are:
- The records describing or reviewing shootings and other individual uses of force by KCSO and BPD officers.
- The records related to the departments’ non-lethal uses of force.
- Review of K-9 use of force reports.
- Review of court files for recent cases involving “resisting” or “assault on police” charges initiated by KCSO and BPD officers
- An investigation into reports of officers engaging in patterns and practices of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin wouldn’t comment on the results of the report but the Bakersfield Police Department released this statement:
“Chief Martin indicated when the California Department of Justice began its investigation in December 2016 that the Bakersfield Police Department would fully cooperate and collaborate with the investigation into the patterns and practices of the Department. The Bakersfield Police Department has been and remains committed to cooperating in the investigation. The California Department of Justice has the sole authority to make comments regarding the investigation.”
In the ACLU’s report countless instances were pointed out of officers abusing their authority and instances where both agencies perpetuated a culture of excessive force “evidenced by reports of KCSO deputies rewarding one another with ‘baby seal’ prizes for ‘best clubbing,’ and others who have slapped ‘We’ll kick your ass’ decals on patrol cars or — in the case of K-9 units – ‘We’ll bite your ass’ decals,” according to Bakersfield.com.
“We have reached the same conclusion over the course of the many cases we’ve prosecuted against officers in both departments. In some cases, these officers have faced criminal prosecution, but in the vast majority they have not,” said attorneys from the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain Cohn Stiles.
Another telling revelation in the report is that the U.S. Dept. of Justice reviewed the Bakersfield Police Dept’s policies in 2004 and offered up recommendations to improve community policing. None of the recommendations have been implemented the ACLU accuses.
The DOJ made several recommendations in regards to Bakersfield’s use of K-9 units which the ACLU found have been ignored. The report referred to both agencies’ K-9 use as “life-threatening, hazardous for public safety and at odds with national standards and practices as well as constitutional law.” For example, earlier this year an interaction between Bakersfield Police and 19-year-old Tatyana Hargrove made national headlines. Police mistook the teen for a man with a machete and released a K-9 on her. Chief Martin even told The Bakersfield Californian that the dog should not have been deployed in the first place.
The DOJ recommended the police dept train the dogs to bark instead of bite when locating a suspect and the only time the dogs should be deployed is when searching for dangerous felons or when a suspect is armed or possesses the potential to cause harm to the officers or others.
“BPD’s policy frees its officers to use life-endangering tactics and weapons … outside the legal limitations that apply to deadly force,” the report stated.