Arturo Atilano-Valadez, a deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, worked for more than 21 years. Of those years, 12 were spent in the county jail, where long 12-hour shifts contributed to the depressing impression that he was “locked in like a prisoner,” as stated in a recent notice of claim filed against the county.
According to Brad Gauge, the widow’s attorney, Atilano-Valadez is one of eight deputies this year whose deaths have been connected to required overtime. He was one of four LA deputies who committed suicide on the same day last month.
“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.”
“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 stated at a press conference that she heard a “pop” in their living room on November 7 and discovered her husband had self-inflicted gunshot wounds. She claimed that when their girls came out to see what was happening, she tossed a blanket over her husband who was dying. Their daughters were in their bedrooms at the time.
“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.
Gauge claims that despite Atilano-Valadez’s repeated requests, he was never given a transfer to a job outside the jail. The attorney indicated that he often worked double shifts, then single shifts, double shifts, then single shifts. Frequently, he would arrive home after 11 p.m. and have to wake up at 4 a.m. the next day to resume work.
According to Atilano, overworked deputies like her husband endanger the public as well as themselves.
“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?”
For the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, or ALADS, which represents over 8,000 deputies and other law enforcement personnel in the county, the staffing issue is crucial.
According to ALADS President Richard Pippin, forced overtime for LA deputies is at “unprecedented” levels, as Fox News Digital reported.
“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.”
He continued, saying that the union—one of two that represents county deputies—is prepared to collaborate with the board of supervisors to fill open posts and prevent skilled deputies from departing for other towns.
In addition to representing the family of deceased constable Ryan Clinkunbroomer, Gauge claims that cops are worn out from working unpaid overtime and that some have developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Sheriff Robert Luna is particularly named in the claim, but also leaves open the possibility that other county workers could also be held accountable: “This is still being investigated.”
Following the suicides in November, Luna wrote a note to his employees that FOX Los Angeles first revealed, expressing his worry about “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.”
In addition, he mentioned the department’s services for mental health and asked deputies to check in on one another.
Previous to filing a wrongful death lawsuit, Gauge filed a government claim last week informing county officials that Atilano is requesting $20 million in damages for her husband’s passing.
The family of Clinkunbroomer, who was killed in an ambush shooting at a red light in September, revealed their own $20 million wrongful death claim last month. They claimed that Clinkunbroomer’s death was directly caused by mandated overtime, as he had worked nearly 70 hours of overtime in the two weeks before his death, and that staffing shortages are purposefully left unfilled.
The sheriff’s office has 2,000 open deputy positions, according to court documents. This is because of “historic executive mismanagement,” which produced an atmosphere that left Clinkunbroomer, 30, “physically and chronically exhausted” after working more than 100 hours of required overtime per 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.”
While expressing its sympathies to the family, the sheriff’s office stated that it had not yet received the claim.
“The 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.”