After this year’s Day of Remembrance, I wrote a column about Bob and Brian Moriguchi, father and son, who have done good work for our community. I said at the time that I thought it was important to recognize and hold up notable JAs.
As we are all aware, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has come under fire for its apparent mishandling of the county jails. Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors opened the floor to hear comments from the public concerning the formation of an oversight commission, which would keeps tabs on the department.
As I reported in my column, Brian was a victim of blatant discrimination when he started his career as a sheriff at age 21. His supervising officer refused to take down racist drawings along with comments like “ah, so,” and “al-light den” on the morning blackboard. His complaints were met with the comment, “You don’t count: you’re not black or Latino.”
He was discouraged from taking his complaint to a higher level, and threatened with termination. When he did file the complaint he was severely harassed. His tires were slashed, he and his girlfriend were followed, and his personal files were tampered with. This resulted in months of depression, severe headaches and diarrhea.
When he applied for a promotion he was denied, even though he scored amongst the highest applicants. He was finally given his promotion after having to hire an attorney.
In 2000, with the support of JACL’s Pacific Southwest regional director, Beth Au, he appeared before the Board of Supervisors, which awarded him $60,000, which he declined, saying he would rather have the board establish an oversight commission to bring justice to situations such as the one he had experienced. In the end he did accept the award and his case was referred to an Affirmative Action Committee.
Over the intervening years, Brian has followed the performance of the committee that was established. It made annual reports of the complaints that were filed, but was otherwise ineffective.
Early this year, the supervisors established an Office of the Inspector General. When I told Brian I was invited to appear before the Board of Supervisors, he told me he had just completed a letter, which he had sent to The L.A. Times. His letter supported the formation of the oversight commission, and added the sheriffs are also in favor, but cited the need for enforcement. He also suggested waiting to establish the board, pending the results of the upcoming election of a new sheriff and new supervisors.
The supervisors listened carefully as I related Brian’s story, and I hope my telling serves to convince them of the need for the oversight commission. It was good to see on the dais soon-to-be-retired L.A. County CEO Bill Fujioka, who, with a broad smile, shook my hand after I spoke.
Brian’s experience has surely given him insight and the right to speak out on this important issue. He is presently in his fifth year as elected president of the Professional Peace Officers Association, the advocacy organization for over 8,700 peace officers in L.A. County. Also, he has served for five years as president of our San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter.
Our community has celebrated over 25 years since redress was achieved. In this achievement we have been alert to see that similar constitutional violations do not occur to other groups of people.
Brian Moriguchi has overcome a great deal to be where he is today. We can certainly applaud his efforts to see that justice is served in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.