The Attorney General of California, Rob Bonta, has announced a civil rights investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Southern California. The investigation was prompted by allegations of misconduct within the department and confinement conditions at its jails, including excessive use of force and a two-decade high in in-custody deaths last year. While no specific incidents were cited as the tipping point, patterns in data that have been disturbing for some time, including disparate impacts on communities of color, have led to the investigation. Exact figures on in-custody deaths, use of force incidents, and misconduct allegations were not immediately available.
During a news conference, Bonta stated that it was time to shine a light on the department’s practices, adding that the status of trust between the department and the public was in peril. The investigation aims to identify potential problems and work with the department to correct the issues, which typically involve systemic violations of a community’s constitutional rights.
In response to the investigation, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco posted a video online, calling it “a political stunt” and accusing Bonta of bowing to anti-law enforcement activists’ demands. Bianco, a Republican, claimed that the investigation would prove to be a complete waste of time and resources.
The Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had sent a letter to the attorney general’s office in 2021, urging the state to investigate the Riverside department for what it called “its racist policing practices, rampant patrol and jail deaths, and its refusal to comply” with court orders. The state agency has similar investigations ongoing into the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.