Advertisement

L.A. County to pay $1.75 million to woman who alleged illegal cavity searches by sheriff's deputies

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29: LA sheriff's deputies enforce court-ordered lockout for eviction at an apartment in a high-rise in downtown on Wednesday, March 29, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. County sheriff's deputies. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a $1.75-million settlement with a Pico Rivera woman who accused sheriff’s deputies of performing two illegal cavity searches while looking for drugs.

After filing suit in 2018, Leticia Sanchez took her case to trial in 2022, but the parties agreed to settle before the jury came back with a verdict. County officials approved the terms of the agreement last week.

Humberto Guizar, one of the attorneys who represented Sanchez, was indignant despite the hefty payout to his client, telling The Times it was “disturbing” that the county did not discipline the employees involved in the 2017 incident. “They should have all been arrested and charged with a crime,” he said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the deputies named in the lawsuit were not fired and that the department denied all liability during the trial.

Read more: A bowling alley, a boozy fight and allegations of a new deputy gang in Los Angeles

“If the allegations were valid the Department would have taken significant action and appropriately held those individuals accountable,” the department said in an emailed statement. “A settlement is not an admission of liability but does eliminate the significant expense and time associated with litigation.”

The probation department, which had one officer on scene during the searches, declined to comment. The deputies involved could not be reached for comment.

According to an incident report, several deputies and the probation officer showed up to a home in Pico Rivera with a search warrant in November 2017. There were several people at the property, including Sanchez and two of her young children. After the authorities began searching for drugs, the lawsuit alleges, one of them told Sanchez if she did not agree to a cavity search they would get a warrant and then call Child Protective Services to take her children.

A female deputy allegedly used her hands to do the search, which failed to turn up any drugs, the suit alleges. The deputy then allegedly tried again, this time using an “unknown object.” That second search, Sanchez said in court filings, left a bleeding gash on the inside wall of her vagina.

The deputies told a different story in the incident report they wrote afterward. They said Sanchez was uncooperative and seemed to be hiding contraband in a stomach fold. Though they admitted bringing up the possibility of a cavity search, court records and depositions indicated they denied conducting one.

Read more: L.A. County sheriff's deputy arrested on suspicion of on-duty sexual assault of inmate

The deputies said they found a meth pipe on the floor and a bag of meth in Sanchez’s hand, as well as signs of drug-dealing in the shed out back. Though others at the scene were let go, Sanchez was arrested and taken to Pico Rivera sheriff’s station. According to her lawyer, it was only after she’d been booked that another deputy noticed she was bleeding and took her to get medical care.

At the hospital in Whittier, Sanchez received a forensic exam and told a nurse what had happened. According to the nurse’s report, Sanchez tearfully alleged that a female deputy had told her to “squat like a frog” and then “put her fingers in my vagina and was digging.”

The nurse noted a blood stain on Sanchez’s shorts, lacerations in her vaginal area and bruising elsewhere on her body.

Sanchez sued in state and federal court, though her lawyers ended up dropping the federal case and going to trial in state court. They accused the county of negligence, assault and battery, unreasonable search and seizure and unconstitutional practices. Following last week’s approval of the settlement, the case is scheduled to be formally dismissed in court next month.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.