After calling for a federal probe of the Los Angeles County Probation Department Wednesday, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Weekly that “serious” civil rights violations could be uncovered if the U.S. Department of Justice acts.

“I believe you'll see civil rights enforcement coming in a very strong way,” he said. ” … The culture of indifference, the culture of corruption, the culture of incompetence have been allowed to spread, and that's a management issue in no small measure.”

The 6,000-employee department (with 4,400 sworn officers) came under fire after it was revealed that some employees used county credit cards to purchase what appear to be personal items, including audio-video equipment. A county review of the department completed earlier this month also found “significant problems in the units most directly involved with internal investigations and administrative discipline.”

And alleged problems at least one county probation youth center, which are said to include “abuse, retaliation and needless punishment,” were the subject of an ACLU lawsuit filed earlier this year.

In one incident, according to the report by the county's Office of Independent Review: “A minor at a camp refused to comply with a probation officer's instructions. The staff

member lost his temper, attempted to punch the minor, pushed the minor in the head, causing him to fall and kicked him at least once before a fellow probation officer intervened and took the employee into another room until he calmed down. The two probation officers talked it over and agreed not to report the incident.”

“The constitutional violation of these youngsters' rights is really what's underneath this,” Ridley-Thomas told the Weekly. ” … There are serious problems related to the number of officers who fell between the cracks, owing to the failure of management to conduct internal investigations on allegations … It's massive and there's more coming out on a daily basis.”

Ridley-Thomas took issue with a report in the Los Angeles Times report that seems to link past support he has received from the probation employees' union to his recent decision to sit out a vote on measures that would have allowed the department to hire Internal Review attorneys and outside managers to initiate reform. His absence effectively killed the proposals … for now.

The union, the supervisor said, actually supported those measures, so any notion that he's in the employees' pocket is spurious:

The Times report “is a funny way of thinking about it, that it was because of my relationship with organized labor. The fact of the matter is labor came forward and supported the item and called for a partnership.”

“I come forward and called for federal involvement, which has implications for pretty strong medicine.”

LA Weekly