Six Los Angeles County probation officers are facing criminal charges as a result of an investigation into the use of pepper spray on youth held at the Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall last year, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
On Thursday, the six probation officers were accused of unreasonable use of pepper spray on five teenage girls as well as not allowing the girls to decontaminate themselves after being sprayed. According to the district attorney’s office, the incidents are alleged to have happened six times between April and July of 2018.
In a statement, Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald said the investigation had come from the Probation Department itself.
“As this filing shows, LA County Probation has a zero-tolerance policy and will not tolerate the improper use of force by staff against any youth in our charge. When we become aware of an allegation of excessive use of force, we prioritize that investigation and refer the case to the DA’s [district attorney] office if warranted,” McDonald said in a press statement.
Over the past two months, the county’s use of pepper spray has come under fire. In February, the L.A. County Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that found the Probation Department lacks sufficient training, supervision and accountability systems around its use of pepper spray. On February 19, the Board of Supervisors voted to phase out its use at probation-run facilities. California is one of only six states that allow staff in juvenile facilities to carry canisters of pepper spray on the job.
The defendants appeared in court on Friday for the first time.
Marlene Rochelle Wilson was charged with five felony counts of assault by a public officer and three misdemeanor counts of child abuse. She faces a possible maximum sentence of eight years and eight months in state prison.
Janeth Vilchez is charged with one count each of assault by a public officer and child abuse. She faces a possible maximum sentence of four years in prison.
LaCour Harrison is charged with one count of felony assault by a public officer and two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child by endangering her health. He faces up to four years in prison.
Claudette Reynolds is charged with one count each of assault by a public officer and cruelty to a child by endangering her health. She faces up to three and a half years in prison.
Maria Asuzena Guerrero is charged with one count of cruelty to a child by endangering her health.
Karnesha Marshall is charged with one count of cruelty to a child by endangering her health. Both Guerrero and Marshall face up to six months in jail.
According to the district attorney’s office, the cases remain under investigation by the Probation Department.