LA county axes leadership in juvenile detention system over rampant violence, officer morale collapse

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Authorities in Southern California have axed more than a dozen top officials after complaints of violence and injuries from rank-and-file officers in the county’s juvenile facilities.

Los Angeles County Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa said that 14 top managers would be impacted and 13 chief deputy positions would be eliminated – “an entire layer of management” in the department, which has 6,600 employees.

The impacted individuals were offered positions in other county offices, authorities said.

Sources tell Fox News Digital the shakeup is connected to chaos within the county’s juvenile facilities. Officers have been complaining of increasing violence against themselves and between inmates at the jails for at least the past two years. 

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“The entire justice system is a mess, and criminals have the upper hand,” said Neama Rahmani, a Los Angeles-based trial attorney and former federal prosecutor. “Probation officers aren’t coming to work, because the juveniles are so dangerous.”

The cuts came in expedited fashion after Viera Rosa’s office asked the county board of supervisors to eliminate funding for the jobs in its latest budget revision.

“A streamlined organization will not only allow us to enact internal reforms more effectively, but it will also align us better with the new County Departments of Youth Development, and Justice Care and Opportunities,” the probation chief said in a statement.

In an internal email to the department seen by Fox News Digital, Viera Rosa wrote that the cuts would “make us stronger and nimbler” without adding to the workload of sworn officers and other staff.

“It will make it easier to institute the reforms we need to guarantee the safety of employees and clients,” he wrote.

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The cuts come as the department is facing a class action lawsuit from officers who accuse leadership of discriminating against officers with injuries, and the county as a whole struggles with crime.

The Los Angeles Times last week revealed that dozens of probation officers assigned to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall facility were calling out on a daily basis, due to the unchecked inmate violence.

Last year, overcrowding at the facility forced police to wait with suspects in their squad cars in the parking lot for hours.

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As Fox News Digital has reported, Los Angeles has shied away from prosecuting juveniles for minor offenses – so the ones who do make it to lockup are accused of serious and often violent crimes. Last summer, the juvenile hall endured an inmate riot and a jailbreak. On the night of the escape, 60 officers out of 100 scheduled to work that shift had failed to show up, according to the LA Times report.

And although it is a juvenile facility, there are still offenders housed there who are above the age of 18.

The result is that probation officers, typically trained for desk jobs that focus on the supervised release of low-level offenders, are now being forced to confront violent individuals without the training, protective equipment or compensation given to correctional officers, according to Arnold Peter, a lawyer for hundreds of probation officers in a class action lawsuit against the county.

“The job of the probation officer in the last seven to 10 years has changed pretty dramatically,” he told Fox News Digital. 

And juvenile inmates have been growing bolder at the same time.

“Youth offenders feel like there are few restraints on their ability to be violent,” he said.

He said county leadership, structural failures and a lack of funding are to blame, but he is hopeful the management shakeup will help improve the situation.

“I hope that someone with this management change can think about that issue and not kick this lawsuit down the road,” he said. “Fix the issues. Provide adequate compensation, and put this behind them – otherwise, it will cost them exponentially more.”

Peter said he filed the class action in part because the county tried to staunch its staffing problems by ordering employees with medical restrictions to take on shifts at the juvenile facilities. Then it got worse.

“These people were constantly getting injured,” he said. “Sometimes there’s as much violence in the juvenile halls as in the adult prisons.”

The county is trying to have the case thrown out, but Peter said he expects the procedural move to fail after the next hearing on July 25.

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On top of the probation department’s funding problems, the county is facing a number of whistleblower retaliation lawsuits aimed at the district attorney’s office – two of which have ended in multimillion-dollar payouts – and at least one other major labor lawsuit from Viera Rosa’s predecessor, Alfredo Gonzales.

Gonzales’s lawsuit states that he repeatedly told the county board of supervisors that the department was so understaffed that it violated state law. When state inspectors conducted a review of Los Angeles’ juvenile facilities, he told them that compliance issues were due to the staffing shortage.

Then he was fired.