By JP Crumrine
Thursday, Feb. 23, California Attorney General (AG) Rob Bonta announced the Department of Justice (DOJ) is opening an investigation to determine whether the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.
“Unfortunately, today’s announcement is necessary because that trust between Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and the community it serves is in peril. Amid concerning levels of in-custody deaths, troubling allegations of excessive force and misconduct, too many families and communities in Riverside are hurting and looking for answers,” Bonta stated during his announcement of the investigation.
In a video response, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, replied, “This announcement comes as a shock but at the same time should have been expected from our California DOJ and the Attorney General, who cares more about politics than he does about transparency or the truth.
“… This investigation is based on nothing but false and misleading statements and straight out lies from activists, including their attorneys … Had the Attorney General or anyone else from DOJ reached out with questions or concerns we could have provided more than enough evidence to prove these allegations false. He failed to do that,” Bianco proclaimed.
But there were 18 in-custody inmate deaths in 2022 and dozens of police shootings during investigations and arrests in the past several years.
“All Californians deserve fairness and respect from the institutions that serve them,” Bonta said in his press release. “When some communities don’t see or feel they are being treated equitably by law enforcement, it contributes to distrust and hurts public safety.”
This is one of several DOJ investigations or reviews into local sheriffs Bonta has initiated. Three ongoing investigations involve the Los Angeles and Santa Clara sheriff’s offices and the Torrance Police Department.
Some have concluded with actions taken. In 2021, the DOJ secured a stipulated judgment against the Bakersfield Police Department requiring an extensive range of actions to promote public safety, according to its press release.
Under the California Constitution and California Civil Code section 52.3, the AG is authorized to conduct civil investigations into whether a law enforcement agency has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law. “As opposed to a criminal investigation into an individual incident or incidents, a pattern or practice investigation typically works to identify and, as appropriate, compel the correction of systemic violations of the constitutional rights of the community at large by a law enforcement agency,” according to the press release.
Bianco views this investigation as a political maneuver by the AG. “Mr. Bonta has repeatedly shown he bows and caters to activists. Instead of hearing from all Californians who the Attorney General is supposed to represent … he chose to make a sensationalistic political statement appeasing activists while implying the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office has done something wrong.
“Let’s be perfectly clear, that’s exactly what this investigation is. A political stunt to appease an anti-law enforcement activist base for their support when he announces his run for governor,” said concluding his taped response.
The AG’s press release encouraged anyone with any information relevant to this investigation to contact the California Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section at [email protected].