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L.A. County Probation Chief fired by Board of Supervisors

L.A. County Probation Chief fired by Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County Probation Dept. Chief Adolfo Gonzales was fired by the Board of Supervisors in a unanimous vote Tuesday, ending a tumultuous two-year term.

Gonzales was named the county’s top probation official in February 2021, after a five-year stint running San Diego County’s probation department. The department was already troubled when he took over. The California Department of Justice entered into a settlement with the agency to reform its treatment of juveniles one month before Gonzales was hired. But it has been the subject of near-constant controversy during his run as chief.

In September 2021, the Board of State and Community Corrections found the probation department was “unsuitable” to care for youth, the first time the oversight body made such a ruling against a juvenile institution in state history. When such rulings occur, an agency has 60 days to implement an action plan to improve conditions or the state can order juveniles to be relocated into housing beyond the probation department’s reach.

Fearing another negative ruling from the BSCC in early 2022, Gonzales and other executives emptied Central Juvenile Hall and crammed nearly every teen in the probation department’s custody into Barry J. Nidorf Hall in Sylmar, a chaotic and poorly planned move that resulted in violence and injuries to both officers and kids.

Gonzales and Karen Fletcher, his second in command, had repeatedly refuted reports in The Times that the transfer was done to sidestep a BSCC investigation, but the L.A. County Office of the Inspector General confirmed the newspaper’s reporting late last year.

For most of 2022, probation officers would often refuse to come to work due to fear of violence in Central and Nidorf halls, leading to major staffing shortages and frequent lockdowns of both facilities. The situation led to a significant spike in fights, injuries to staff and had major impacts on the mental health of the youths the department is supposed to be helping rehabilitate, a Times investigation found last year.

The final straw for Gonzales appeared to come last month, when The Times published surveillance footage of officers violently restraining a 17-year-old inside Camp Kilpatrick. The footage showed officers grabbing the teen by each limb and his neck and pinning him to a bed after an argument. Once the teen appeared subdued, a supervisor named Oscar Cross bent the child’s legs toward his head and yelled “stop resisting” while the boy yelled out for his mother.

The Inspector General and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office have launched investigations into the footage. Late last month, four members of the Board of Supervisors and the Probation Oversight Commission called on Gonzales to resign.

Last Monday, Gonzales told a group of high-level probation officials that he would not step down and the board would have to fire him, according to a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly.