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Former probation chief claims Los Angeles County terminated him for exposing misconduct

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Former Los Angeles County Probation Department chief Adolfo Gonzales, who was fired last March amid widespread dysfunction at the agency’s juvenile halls, alleges in a lawsuit that he was ousted for reporting dire staffing shortages to state regulators.

Gonzales’ two-year, one-month tenure was marked by near-constant controversies. But in a lawsuit filed last month, he argued that county supervisors decided to terminate him only after he was frank with inspectors from the Board of State and Community Corrections about the agency’s staffing crisis.

The board, referred to as the BSCC, has the power to shut down juvenile detention facilities if inspections reveal that conditions aren’t up to state standards.

“Gonzales candidly reported to the BSCC inspectors the staffing shortages in Probation Department which caused lack of compliance with various California State regulations and mandates,” the lawsuit says. “As a result of Gonzales’ reports to BSCC, he was terminated by the County.”

The state board declined to comment. Mira Hashmall, outside counsel for L.A. County, called the lawsuit baseless.

“The Probation Department suffered from a lack of leadership under Adolfo Gonzales, which is why his employment was terminated,” she wrote in a statement to The Times. “He is no whistleblower.”

Under Gonzales’ leadership, the perennially struggling agency careened from one problem to the next. There were more lockdowns, more fights, and fewer staff members to deal with them. Deputies said they were too scared of the violence inside the juvenile halls to come to work. Youths were traumatized too, forced to urinate in their locked rooms because no one was around to let them out.

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Gonzales’ attorney, Michael Conger, said his client’s account of staffing issues heavily influenced a Jan. 13, 2023, report from state inspectors, which found, among other shortcomings, that the county’s two juvenile halls were dangerously short-staffed. Months later, the board would shut down the two halls after the county repeatedly failed to improve conditions.

Conger said it was Gonzales’ “candid” portrayal of staffing problems that led to his termination two months later.

The state inspection was not the only embarrassment Gonzales’ agency suffered in the months leading up to his firing, however. On Feb. 11, 2023, The Times reported that Gonzales overrode an internal disciplinary board’s recommendation to fire an officer who had violently restrained a 17-year-old. After The Times’ report, a majority of the Board of Supervisors called for Gonzales’ resignation.

Gonzales’ attorney said this was not what earned the board’s ire.

“We don’t believe that had anything to do with it,” he said. “That was a complete non-issue. They were not mad at that.”

Records show the county spent more than $900,000 on Gonzales during his stint with the department.

By the time he left, Gonzales had received $927,000 in compensation, according to county salary data. It’s unclear if that figure includes other perks Gonzales was entitled to under his employment agreement with the county, which promised relocation costs and severance pay.

According to his employment agreement, reviewed by The Times, Gonzales was entitled to up to $25,000 to relocate from San Diego, where he worked for five years running the county’s Probation Department.

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Records show he also received $172,521 — equivalent to six months’ salary — as severance pay after he was fired.

The board replaced Gonzales with Guillermo Viera Rosa, promising a new chapter for the long-troubled agency. But so far, his tenure has been plagued by the same staffing crisis that haunted his predecessor.

A report released Thursday from the county’s Office of Inspector General found that “dangerously low staffing levels” had contributed to the chaotic Nov. 4 escape of a youth from Los Padrinos juvenile hall. After several teens attacked a staff member, one briefly escaped to a neighboring golf course.

At the time of the incident, only one staff member — who had never before been assigned to juvenile halls — had been in the unit with 14 youths, the report’s authors found. The report notes the staffing level violates state law, which requires the agency maintain a ratio of one staff member for 10 youths.

That day, the Probation Department had scheduled 100 staff members to work at the facility — the minimum required in order to operate.

Sixty of them didn’t show up.

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Black couple overcomes racism to rent to Chinese family, who show gratitude by paying rent.

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Decades ago, in the early 1900s, racism and discriminatory housing practices plagued the town of Coronado, barring many individuals from living in certain neighborhoods based on their race. In the midst of this oppressive era, an inspiring story of resilience and generosity unfolded between two families — the Thompsons, a Black couple, and the Dongs, a Chinese family.

Gus and Emma Thompson, who were among the few Black families to own property in Coronado before racial restrictions took hold, defied the norms of the time by renting their house to the Dong family. Lloyd Dong Sr., a Chinese immigrant, and his wife found solace in the Thompsons’ willingness to offer them a place to call home despite the racist barriers they faced.

Fast forward 85 years later, the sons of Lloyd Dong Sr., Ron Dong, and Lloyd Dong Jr., have decided to pay forward the kindness shown to their family by donating $5 million from the sale of the house they eventually owned to San Diego State University’s Black Resource Center. This generous gift will help expand scholarships for Black students and fund renovations at the center, creating a lasting impact on the community.

Exterior view of a single-story home

The Dongs’ family house in Coronado, originally the home of the Thompsons.

(Courtesy of Janice Dong)

This heartwarming tale of intergenerational gratitude highlights the resilience and spirit of unity that transcends racial boundaries. Brandon Gamble, the director of the Black Resource Center, expressed the profound impact of this donation on the community, emphasizing the importance of stories that challenge racism and foster a sense of camaraderie.

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Reflecting on the legacy of his father and the Thompsons, Ron Dong shared, “That was the big plus for our family, because it has made all the difference for us.” The intertwined histories of the Thompson and Dong families serve as a testament to the power of empathy and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Gus Thompson’s journey from slavery to becoming a respected community leader in Coronado, coupled with Emma Thompson’s advocacy for civil rights, exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities to thrive in the face of oppression.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

(Norman Baynard Collection / San Diego History Center)

The legacy of allyship and support exemplified by the Thompsons extends to their willingness to assist Asian Americans facing similar discriminatory practices. This act of solidarity echoes the sentiment that in times of oppression, helping others regardless of race is not just a gesture but a necessity.

As the Dong family embraced their new home in Coronado, overcoming discrimination and forging their path to homeownership, they carried forward the spirit of resilience and unity shown to them by the Thompsons. The bond between these two families serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration in a society marred with division and prejudice.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and tent city on the beach, 1908.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and a tent city on the beach, 1908.

(Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

The resilience and determination displayed by the Dong family in the face of discrimination, coupled with their unwavering commitment to education and community upliftment, exemplify the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The decision to give back to the community through education underscores the transformative power of generosity and empathy in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

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As the Dongs’ generous donation paves the way for future generations to access educational opportunities and resources, their story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all who strive to overcome adversity and champion unity in the face of division.

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