When Tom Angel arrived in Los Angeles as chief of staff to Sheriff Jim McDonnell upon his election in 2014, it was supposed to signal that long-needed reforms were finally at hand. But Angel resigned this weekend after the LA Times published emails in which Angel shared derogatory and bigoted ‘jokes’ aimed at blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Democrats, and women while he was still at his previous job.

The forwarded chain emails were obtained under California’s Freedom of Information Act. Interviewed by the newspaper, Angel denied intending to hurt anyone’s feelings, calling the fact that his work communications are accessible under state records laws “unfortunate.”

“I took my Biology exam last Friday,” reads one of the published emails. “I was asked to name two things commonly found in cells. Apparently ‘Blacks’ and ‘Mexicans’ were NOT the correct answers.”

“Years ago it was suggested that an apple a day kept the doctor away,” reads another. “But since all the doctors are now Muslim, I’ve found that a bacon sandwich works best.” A separate email makes a case for profiling Muslims as terrorism suspects.

“A fat girl finally brought out my food after a long wait at my favorite restaurant,” reads a fourth email. “She said ‘sorry about the wait.’ I said, ‘don’t worry, you’ll find a way to lose it eventually.'”

After they were revealed by the LA Times last Wednesday, the emails set off calls from civil rights activists and community leaders for Angel to be fired or resign. Although Sheriff McDonnell did not react immediately because the messages were not part of Angel’s work for the LASD, now that his subordinate has resigned, McDonnell clearly wants to leverage the moment.

“This incident is one that I find deeply troubling,” McDonnell said. “Despite the Sheriff’s Department’s many recent efforts to fortify public trust and enhance internal and external accountability and transparency, this incident reminds us that we and other law enforcement agencies still have work to do.”

McDonnell said he would introduce random audits of employee email accounts and would meet with community groups to “share thoughts and ideas about improving our understanding of the varied cultures and orientations and deepening our appreciation of the many ethnicities and religions that are part of the vibrant fabric of the population we serve.” The department would also examine its training and existing policies for “ensuring accountability and enhancing cultural and ethnic sensitivity,” he said.

The Sheriff has vowed to begin random auditing of work email accounts. Nevertheless, there is criticism of McDonnell’s slow response.

“You’re not doing anything if your initial reaction is, ‘That’s horrible, that’s terrible, but there’s nothing I can do or nothing I intend to do,’” [Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari] Hutchinson said. “This is your department. You are the man at the top, you set the direction, the tempo, the climate for the department. If you don’t take action, what you’re saying is the department doesn’t care.”

[…] Esther Lim, director of the Jails Project at the ACLU of Southern California, called McDonnell’s initial reaction “a little passive.”

“When you have someone high up in the administration sending off inappropriate emails, and the sheriff is slow to respond, that communicates to the line staff that it’s a behavior that’s OK, when it’s not,” Lim said.

Similar scandals have unfolded recently in San Francisco, where former police were discovered to have exchanged many racist and homophobic text messages, and in Ferguson, Missouri, where three officers were fired after their racist emails were made public.

In recent years, the LASD has endured a string of scandals in which minorities were the chief targets of abusive policing practices.

Three years ago, two deputies sued the department, then-Sheriff Leroy Baca, and his chief of staff, charging that a racist gang was operating within the department’s highest levels.

For years, black residents of Antelope Valley have claimed they were targeted for racial abuse and brutality, including unjustified police shootings.

Last year, a US Department of Justice report accused the county and its law enforcement agency of colluding to force black families on public housing assistance out of certain neighborhoods — basically, using police power to enforce redlining.

Tom Angel had been associated with reform efforts in Burbank, California, where he was chief of staff as he sent the now-controversial emails.

  • muselet

    Tom Angel, who is Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s chief of staff, sent the emails in 2012 and 2013 when he was the No. 2 police official in Burbank, hired to reform a department reeling from allegations of police brutality as well as racism and sexual harassment within its ranks.

    I’ll pause to let everyone appreciate the irony.

    “Anybody in the workplace unfortunately forwards emails from time to time that they probably shouldn’t have forwarded,” Angel said. “I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”

    That there is a classic example of what Harry Shearer calls an “if-pology.” (And if I may play critic for a moment, if you’re going to be inappropriate, at least be funny!)

    Jim McDonnell’s office should have been aware of those emails during the selection process. Those emails should have been disqualifying, regardless of Tom Angel’s other attributes as a candidate for chief of staff. When the emails came to light, McDonnell should have fired Angel forthwith. It didn’t, they weren’t and he didn’t.

    Earl Ofari Hutchinson is right: this entire episode reflects very badly on Jim McDonnell’s leadership.

    McDonnell’s almost certainly less horrible than some previous LA County Sheriffs, but that’s grading on a very generous curve. We here in LA County are going to have to keep a careful eye on him the next couple of years, before he’s up for reelection.

    –alopecia