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LA County Probation Chief Removed From Post by County Supervisors

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted March 7 to fire the county’s Probation Department Chief Adolfo Gonzales over operating and safety concerns of juvenile halls.

The decision came after Gonzales resisted calls to resign last week from the county’s Probation Oversight Commission and supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn.

“Our juvenile halls are in crisis,” Hahn said in a statement. “The state has found them unsuitable, and they are at risk of being shut down. Youths are being hurt and are not attending school. Staffs are being attacked and many are not showing up to work.”

Gonzales could not be immediately reached for comment.

The demands for his removal followed a February Los Angeles Times story that revealed an ongoing criminal investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office into the conduct of various probation officers.

The officers were caught on a 2020 video restraining a teenager at a juvenile probation camp. The altercation, which began as a verbal disagreement, eventually turned physical with the officers piling on top of the youth, the LA Times reported.

Following the altercation, an internal disciplinary board moved in 2021 to fire a supervisor involved in the case, but Gonzales intervened and retained the supervisor’s employment, according to the news report.

Epoch Times Photo
The County of Orange Probation Department in Orange, Calif., on Jan. 25, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Barger said that Gonzales’s inability to fix deficiencies in the department made him unsuitable for the post. She added that she wants to send in a “strike team” to overhaul the department.

“It’s no secret—our Probation Department is in a crisis and needs strong leadership—yet I did not see him [Gonzales] rise to the challenge on multiple occasions,” Barger said in a statement Tuesday.

But Alex Villanueva, former LA County Sheriff, criticized the board’s decision as a “lack of leadership,” and said the supervisors should be the ones taking responsibility for the ongoing crisis in juvenile halls.

“The board is interfering with the ability of the chief probation officer to run his department—they tell him how to run it. And when things don’t work, they blame him instead of themselves,” he told The Epoch Times.

According to Villanueva, concerns have been a decades-long issue.

State corrections officials have criticized the county’s juvenile lockups in recent years for not being suitable for house offenders.

A lawsuit was filed last year against the Probation Department, alleging sexual abuse of hundreds of girls by agency staff dating to 1985.

Also in 2022, due to concerns about the conditions at the facility, the department abruptly transferred detainees out of Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights to the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

Alex Villanueva
Then Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles on Sept. 10, 2020. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

And last month, in response to learning the Probation Department was auctioning off surplus firearms to dealers, the Board of Supervisors approved an emergency motion saying that such was against the county’s values and directly undermines the board’s efforts to address gun violence.

The board ordered the county to cease any additional auctions of weapons and urged the implementation of a policy that would prohibit the county from selling firearms and ammunition.

The supervisors on Tuesday were scheduled to discuss overhauling youth probation camps and detention facilities in preparation for an influx of detainees soon due to the state’s closure of its few juvenile correctional facilities by this summer.

The discussion was postponed for two weeks, presumably because of the impending vote to remove Gonzales.

Gonzales became head of the county Probation Department in February 2021, and previously served as the chief probation officer for San Diego County.

Karen Fletcher, his head deputy, is reportedly assuming the position temporarily as his successor.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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