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Should a grand jury look at LA Sheriff’s deputies?

LA County Sheriff's Department patrol vehicle.
Courtesy LA County Sheriff's Department
LA County Sheriff's Department patrol vehicle.

A leading Los Angeles criminal defense attorney is urging the county's presiding judge to appoint a grand jury to investigate the controversy over sheriff's deputies who've engaged in misconduct.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times published a secret 2014 list of nearly 300 of those deputies. The list included deputies who have planted evidence, lied on police reports, or committed misconduct that involved moral turpitude such as domestic violence.

The deputies - about two-thirds are still with the department, according to the paper - helped send many defendants to prison – even though the sheriff's department had deemed their credibility was questionable.

It means a lot of people could have been wrongly convicted, said criminal defense attorney Charles Lindner.

"If I were the judge and I received a motion for a special grand jury and a special prosecutor, I think I would issue the order," Lindner told KPCC.

Any attorney could petition the county's presiding judge to appoint a special grand jury. But the judge would be more likely to appoint one if the petition came from the criminal defense bar, Lindner said.

Criminal Courts Bar Association President Evan Freed had no immediate comment on the publication of the list of deputies. He said he would need to speak with his board of directors before addressing the issue.

It's been nearly 30 years since such a grand jury was convened, according to Lindner. It happened after reports that L.A. prosecutors routinely used false testimony from a jailhouse informant.

The L.A. District Attorney and Sheriff's Department also had no immediate comment on the publication of the list.

Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, police and prosecutors are required to give defense attorneys any evidence that might suggest a defendant is innocent. That includes evidence that the arresting deputy has lied in any previous case, or that the deputy's credibility may be somehow impeached.

That's why Sheriff Jim McDonnell this year tried to hand the list of deputies over to prosecutors. But the deputies union sued to stop him.

The Association of Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies claims the list unfairly paints deputies who are on it as corrupt.

The issue is now before the state supreme court.