California AG opens civil rights probe into sheriff's office

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California attorney general on Thursday opened a civil rights investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff's Office, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Southern California, after deaths in the county jails hit a two-decade high last year and other allegations of excessive use of force surfaced.

Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the investigation Thursday in Los Angeles following “deeply concerning” allegations of misconduct within the sheriff's office, as well as confinement conditions at the sheriff's jails.

While Bonta said no specific incidents were a tipping point to prompt the civil rights investigation, there have been patterns in data — including disparate impacts on communities of color — that have been "disturbing for some time.” Exact figures were not immediately available Tuesday.

“It is time for us to shine a light on the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and its practices,” he said during a news conference.

The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The state agency has similar cases open into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Those probes are ongoing.

The attorney general has the power to open civil investigations to determine whether a law enforcement agency has “engaged in a pattern or practice” of violating state or federal law. These cases are not criminal in nature and are meant to identify potential problems and then work with the agency to correct the issues, which are typically systemic violations of a community's constitutional rights.

Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press