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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Opens Investigations into the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department for Potential Civil Rights Violations

Thursday, December 22, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today opened separate civil pattern or practice investigations into the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department.  California Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys and investigators will focus on allegations involving police practices and accountability, among other related issues, within both the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department.  The Attorney General’s decision to investigate the two law enforcement agencies was informed by complaints by individuals and community organizations, as well as by media reports, which allege use of excessive force and other serious misconduct. Publically available data sources concerning officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody were also reviewed and considered over the course of more than a year. 

The DOJ Civil Rights Enforcement Section will conduct the investigations with the assistance of DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement.  Pattern or practice investigations are civil, not criminal investigations.  During the course of the investigations, DOJ attorneys and investigators will consider all relevant information from all affected parties, including the investigated law enforcement agencies, individual officers, local officials, prosecutors, public defenders and other criminal defense attorneys, community members, and other stakeholders.          

“Excessive use of force and police misconduct erode and undermine the public’s trust in our law enforcement agencies,” said Attorney General Harris. “These investigations will objectively, impartially, and thoroughly examine whether the Kern County Sheriff’s Office or the Bakersfield Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force or other civil rights violations. We look forward to working collaboratively with the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department, as well as with the community, to address any civil rights violations or other issues that we may find during these investigations.” 

The Attorney General’s office welcomes the views of anyone with relevant information concerning either agency.  Such individuals may contact the Civil Rights Enforcement Section by emailing, Police-Practices@doj.ca.gov.

Under the California Constitution (article V, section 13) and California Civil Code section 52.3, the Attorney General has the legal authority to conduct civil investigations into whether any law enforcement agency has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law, including the state and federal constitutions. 

The Attorney General has not reached any conclusions about specific complaints or allegations against the Kern County Sheriff’s Office or the Bakersfield Police Department.  The DOJ expects the investigations to be completed within a reasonable timeframe that accounts for the comprehensive scope and nature of each investigation.  The DOJ has previously investigated other local law enforcement agencies, including the Maywood Police Department and the Riverside Police Department.  

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