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LA County Sheriff McDonnell talks ICE and individual ‘dignity’

By Karen Ocamb

October 04, 2017

More than just training kicks in when a violent eruption is in progress and peril lurks unseen around every corner. For law enforcement personnel, even off duty, it’s an instinct to help, unattached to thoughts of heroism or possible personal sacrifice as they run toward danger. The evidence is in the actions of first responders to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history as bullets rained down on concertgoers at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1.

Current and former residents from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties accounted for at least 25 of the 58 killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, the LA Daily News reports. Up to 527 people were wounded, including at least two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees, one of whom was listed in critical condition, while the second was reported stable. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell offered immediate assistance to Las Vegas Sheriff Joe Lombardo, including embedded LASD command staff. “Our thoughts & prayers are w/ the 2 @LASDHQ off-duty personnel that were struck by gunfire & all those affected,” McDonnell (@LACoSheriff) tweeted Oct. 2.

“He’s the real deal,” says out Lt. Don Mueller, second in command over the nine community colleges that contract with the LASD. McDonnell has a “genuine concern” about the communities he serves, including the LGBT community.

“He goes out of his way to support us,” Mueller says, noting that two gay division commanders, a lesbian division chief and a number of out captains have been promoted since McDonnell was elected in 2014. “He understands that our community faces additional difficulties and discrimination. He makes it clear we have his full support, as does the rest of the LASD.”

The LGBT West Hollywood community knows McDonnell from his time as Assistant Chief with the LAPD. He worked with the WeHo Sheriff’s station “quite well on cross-border issues,” McDonnell recalls during an interview with the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 25. “Over the years, I got to know the West Hollywood community” and “grew to appreciate the diversity in the city, the culture, and the willingness to support public safety.”

Recently, McDonnell issued an “LASD Guide: Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming Employees” to clarify the department’s nondiscrimination policy and answer questions.

But what of LGBT individuals arrested or incarcerated? “My expectation of all of our employees is that they treat everybody with dignity and respect,” McDonnell says. “We deal with a very difficult population, including an increasing population of people who are mentally ill. The challenges are certainly great.”

McDonnell says that he meets with the inmates, as well as a myriad of staff and a cadre of volunteers throughout the extensive jail system “who really take it personally” that they’re doing their job “the way we expect them to do it.”

“When that doesn’t occur and we become aware of it, we treat it very seriously,” he continues. “We investigate it and we hold our people accountable—to a level that if you were to ask our rank and file employees throughout the organization, they would tell you that we hold them exceptionally accountable, some would say maybe unreasonably so. I would argue that point in that what we do is so critical for our own credibility and the credibility of the justice system, that we have to adhere to exceptionally high standards.”

McDonnell says he “took exception” to State Sen. Kevin de Leon’s original bill, SB 54, the “California Values Act,” or the “sanctuary state” bill, that would limit the degree to which law enforcement can interact with ICE and other federal authorities.He thought that bill was a threat to public safety.

“It would have precluded us from working with our federal partners,” McDonnell says, including Homeland Security on the raft of custom issues at LA ports such as human sex trafficking. Additionally, while the LASD could provide names and locations of undocumented criminals and violent gang members for immediate deportation, ICE often just launches a raid into an immigrant community and sweeps up anyone they want, including innocent bystanders.

McDonnell received incredible backlash for his stance. But after working with Gov. Brown, who then worked with de Leon, an amended bill was produced that he supports. Thanks to  legislative leadership, McDonnell said in a statement Sept. 18 to the Board of Supervisors, “we can move beyond the bill’s early false premise that local law enforcement was going to act as immigration agents. This is fundamentally not true and I, and other law enforcement leaders in California, had the opportunity to make that point.”

“These are challenging times for progressive counties such as Los Angeles to maintain civil dialogue around difficult issues,” McDonnell said. “However, the LASD largely accomplished this mission.”