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L.A. County district attorney looks into alleged beating by staff at Sylmar juvenile hall

June 20, 2016

Los Angeles County’s perennially troubled Probation Department is under scrutiny again over an alleged beating of a youth by staff at a county juvenile hall, which was captured on video.

The district attorney’s Justice Integrity Division is reviewing an April 24 use-of-force incident at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said Monday. 

The Probation Department referred the case on May 26, she said.

The incident became public last week, after the blog WitnessLA obtained a leaked copy of the security camera video and wrote about it.

The blog did not post the video, because it involves a minor, but described it as showing four probation officers pummeling a “non-combative 17-year-old probationer” for nearly two minutes as a supervisor looked on.

County officials declined to release the video to The Times or to discuss the incident in detail, citing an ongoing investigation.

“These are very serious allegations,” interim probation Chief Cal Remington said. “We take allegations of this nature very, very seriously. We have zero tolerance of mistreatment of juveniles in custody, and we hold our staff to a high standard.”

Remington said he had learned of the incident the day after it occurred, but did not see the video until later.

He said, as is standard in use-of-force cases involving injuries or potential abuse, the incident was referred to the department’s internal affairs investigators, which then alerted the district attorney’s office.

Both the minor and the staff involved were moved out of the Sylmar facility the day after the incident, Remington said, and the five employees were later placed on paid administrative leave.

The Probation Department, which runs three juvenile halls and 14 juvenile camps as well as monitoring both adult and juvenile probationers who are out of custody, has struggled for years with allegations of abuses in the juvenile facilities.

It emerged last year from six years of federal monitoring of conditions in the juvenile camps and halls, stemming from repeated reports of abuses that prompted a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

The end of federal oversight was a moment of jubilation for the department’s leadership, but was quickly followed by another scandal. In December, then-Chief Jerry Powers stepped down amid reports that he had improperly hired a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship into a management position. 

In February, the county Board of Supervisors voted to set up a working group to look at ways to revamp oversight of the department.

They have also floated the idea of splitting the department into two, separating the juvenile and adult operations.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

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