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Understaffed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department driving deputies to suicide: lawyer

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Arturo Atilano-Valadez spent more than 21 years on the job – including the last 12 in the county jail, where grueling 12-hour shifts fueled the feeling that he, too, was “locked in like a prisoner,” according to a new notice of claim against the county.

Atilano-Valadez is one of four LA deputies who killed themselves on the same day last month – and one of eight this year whose death has been linked to mandatory overtime, according to Brad Gage, the attorney for his widow.

“Over the years being locked up so often became more and more depressing for Deputy Atilano-Valadez,” the filing reads. “He was also forced to work mandatory overtime which Sheriff Luna himself admitted caused employees to suffer post traumatic stress-like symptoms.”

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“The decisions being made by the sheriff’s department truly are life or death decisions – all too often resulting in the choice of death,” Gage told Fox News Digital.

Michele Atilano said during a news briefing she found her husband with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in their home on Nov. 7, after she heard a “pop” in their living room. Their girls were in their bedrooms at the time, and she said she threw a blanket over her dying husband when they came out to see what was going on.

“To hear the gunshot sound of your spouse killing himself, and coming out to see what the noise was and have your mother have to throw a blanket over your dying father, so you don’t see it – it’s a horrible thing,” Gage said.

Atilano family poses in an undated family photo

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Atilano-Valadez repeatedly asked for a transfer to a position outside the jail, according to Gage, but never received one. He frequently worked a double shift, followed by a single, then another double, then another single, the lawyer said. Often, he would return home around 11 p.m. and have to wake up at 4 a.m. the following morning to go back to work.

Atilano said overworked deputies like her husband become a risk not only to themselves but to the public.

“All you have are a bunch of deputies who are zombies, zombies walking around tired – always tired,” she said. “They’re not even there. How are they going to save lives?”

Robert Luna

The staffing issue is an important one for the Associate for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, or ALADS, which represents more than 8,000 deputies and other members of law enforcement in the county.

LA deputies are facing “unprecedented” levels of forced overtime, ALADS President Richard Pippin told Fox News Digital.

“Employees of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are being pushed daily to, and sometimes beyond, their limits,” he said. “With the increasing operational demands on law enforcement and the upcoming Olympics on the horizon, a solution is needed.”

The union, one of two representing county deputies, is willing to work with the board of supervisors to fill vacant positions and stop well-trained deputies from leaving for other communities, he added.

Gage, who also represents the family of murdered deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, says the forced extra shifts leave officers exhausted and have left some with post-traumatic stress.

The claim names Sheriff Robert Luna specifically while leaving open the possibility that other county employees may be liable: “This is still being investigated.”

Luna, after the November suicides, sent a note to his staff, previously published by FOX Los Angeles, acknowledging the stress of “the increased workload and long hours.”

“Our profession has become even more challenging throughout the years, and we are all human with emotions and struggles that don’t disappear when you take off your duty belt or leave work,” he wrote. “I recognize the increased workload and long hours can take a toll on you and amplify challenges. I have the deepest concern for your well-being, and I’m committed to developing a healthier plan to reduce work stress factors to support our employees.”

He also urged deputies to check in on one another and noted the department’s mental health resources.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer seen smiling in picture

Gage submitted a government claim last week, a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit, notifying county officials that Atilano is seeking $20 million in damages for her husband’s death.

The family of Clinkunbroomer, who died in an ambush shooting at a red light in September, announced its own $20 million wrongful death claim last month, alleging that staffing shortages are intentionally left unfilled and that mandatory overtime played a direct role in his death after he worked nearly 70 hours of overtime in the two weeks before his death.

According to court documents, there are 2,000 vacant deputy jobs in the sheriff’s office – the result of “historic executive mismanagement” that created an environment that left Clinkunbroomer, 30, “physically and chronically exhausted” after working more than 100 hours of mandatory overtime a month. 

“The department is well aware of the health problems the deputies are going through because of the overtime,” Gage said. “The board of supervisors acknowledged it. Sheriff Luna acknowledged it. But the department has not replenished their ranks or taken other actions to protect deputies from the harm of being overworked and overburdened.”

The sheriff’s department has extended condolences to the family members and said that it had not yet received the claim.

“A loss of a department family member is extremely tragic and our continued thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” the department said in a statement. “The department has not received the official claim, but is deeply committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of all its employees. The department values its personnel who are dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe.” 



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