The California attorney general is pursuing a civil rights investigation against the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office after receiving reports of excessive force used against detainees and alleged inhumane conditions in county jails.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who took office in 2021, said he was particularly concerned by the high rates of death in custody in Riverside County in recent years.
“We all benefit when there is action to ensure the integrity of policing in our state,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said. “It is time for us to shine a light on the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and its practices. Too many families and communities in Riverside are hurting and looking for answers.”
State investigators will look into whether the sheriff’s office exhibits a pattern of unlawful or unconstitutional policing practices.
According to Bonta, Riverside County jails “reported their deadliest year in two decades” in 2022.
“That’s just one data point and it’s unacceptable,” he told reporters.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco released a video statement in which he called Bonta’s investigation a political stunt, and welcomed the investigation.
“This investigation is based on nothing but false and misleading statements and straight-out lies from activists, including their attorneys,” he said. “This will prove to be a complete waste of time and resources.”
“We have absolutely nothing to hide, and we’ll be more than cooperative and accommodating with this investigation,” Bianco added.
The ACLU of Southern California wrote a letter in 2021 urging Bonta to investigate the sheriff’s office.
In the letter, they claimed that the department engaged in “racist policing practices, rampant patrol and jail deaths” among other suspected misconduct.
“We have lost loved ones to unbelievable violence at the hands of sheriff’s deputies and have seen our community members suffer from undeniably inhumane jail conditions,” they wrote.
ACLU activists also accused corrections officers of denying detainees soap, regular showers, clean clothes and face masks, as well as smuggling in drugs that lead to a high rate of inmate overdoses.
According to the ACLU, deputies killed 55 people from 2013 to 2021, which was one of the highest rates of killings by police per arrest in the state.
Bonta, who has made investigating police misconduct a priority of his office, has already launched several investigations against agencies in the state, including one with the Torrance Police Department and another with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
Bonta said his mission is to increase public trust in law enforcement by promoting accountability and transparency.
If unlawful practices are discovered during the investigation, the AG could mandate certain remedies through court orders.
“We’re pleased that the DOJ’s investigation seems to be wide-ranging and that it will include a review of patrol patterns and practices as well as what’s happening inside the jails,” said activist Avalon Edwards with Starting Over Inc., one of the groups that signed the letter to Bonta in 2021.