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  • Writer's pictureLocal 685 Executive Board

The Real Story: Disney Concert Graduation 2024

by Dwight Thompson, Fields VP

On June 14, 2024, the Probation Department, in operation with the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), hosted Operation Graduation at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is an annual event to honor the graduates who have achieved their diplomas while in custody. The Probation Department provided the opportunity to others still in custody to witness the graduation. What could go wrong you ask? This should be a celebrated event. The past foreshadows the present (and the future)…


  • At the 2021 graduation, a fight ensued. The Special Enforcement Operations (SEO) team intervened and detained the youth involved.

  • At the 2023 graduation, a fight occurred while the diplomas were being handed out. The SEO team intervened and one youth one was found to be in possession of a knife.

  • Fast forward to 2024. Same venue, same concept, only this time with a different result. Probation staff from Residential Treatment Service Bureau were charged with transporting the incarcerated youth to the Disney Concert Hall to receive their diplomas. These youth came from camps Paige, Rocky, Dorthy Kirby, Kilpatrick, and Afflerbaugh. The youth were placed in the back of the Concert Hall while waiting to participate in the ceremony with those who had been previously released from custody and returned to receive their diplomas out of custody. The Department combined the two together to have one big ceremony. What could go wrong?


The Residential Treatment deputies, along with the SEO team, effectively handled all in-custody youth during the ceremony. Upon securing all the incarcerated youth to the staging area, the SEO team was notified of an escalating disturbance in the Concert Hall. The team quickly responded to what can only be deemed as a melee. There were several fights ensuing, and the SEO team proceeded to gain control of this situation.


There were over 600 parents and friends in the audience, and 15 SEO deputies to control this melee. Punches were being thrown all throughout and the SEO team ended up in several restraints. At the end of this melee, the team ended up detaining four individuals (one on parole) for assault while still maintaining security and removing the 600 parents and friends out of the auditorium.


Apparently unbeknownst to those inside, the melee carried over to the streets and the fights continued. LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department responded to shots fired and set up a command post outside the venue. They quickly cleared the outside area, as the SEO team cleared the inside of the auditorium. Meanwhile, the Residential Treatment team was monitoring all in-custody graduates, keeping them at ease as no one could move because it was the total lockdown.


After approximately one hour, the in-custody youth were allowed to board and return to their camps while the SEO team continued their investigation. Even though we did not have the proper safety equipment, we joined our law enforcement Sisters and Brothers at LAPD's command post. Meanwhile, our Sisters and Brothers from the Sheriff’s Department, with ballistic shields and other equipment, worked to gain control of the dangerous riot situation. While the SEO team was not equipped with any shields, we managed to maintain control of the auditorium. Further, the SEO team, in partnership with the Sheriff’s department, was asked to search a parolee’s vehicle for weapons he was thought to be in possession of.

At approximately 7:45 PM, the Probation Department put out a press release indicating that there was a disturbance at Disney Concert Hall and all in-custody youth were safe. The Department’s release failed to mention how Probation Department employees were critical team members in controlling this situation...


Here are the questions I have today as I reflect on yesterday’s incident, which could have been much worse:

  • Why would the department send out a premature statement when an investigation was continuing? What happened to not putting things out until matters have been investigated? What happened to presenting facts?

  • Why would the department put out a statement when no one from the executive bureau was present?

  • Did the department rush out a politically motivated statement to please the Board of Supervisors, and/or to please the private organizations that are pushing to take our work?


As a Union, we are saddened by the department’s premature and vacuous statement. We deserve better than this. Yes, as the department stated, “This was a milestone.” But they missed that the real milestone was the extraordinary work of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting.


AFSCME Local 685 commends the men and women of the LA County Probation Department for their efforts. This Union commends, and with full appreciation, thanks the deputies that stayed together to control an out-of-control situation.


It’s past time for the Probation Department and the Board of Supervisors to commend Local 685 members for their efforts. We controlled the inmates brought to the Concert Hall to receive diplomas. We controlled the family and friends that caused such a disruption and placed both the public, LACOE employees, and Probation staff in jeopardy.

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Sheryl Thompson
Sheryl Thompson
Jun 15

I attended the graduation — I was seated in the center, second row with a clear view — and there was an Executive Bureau member, Ms. Epps, who participated in giving the welcome and congratulated the youth as they received their diplomas. When I saw Probation’s Press Release I thought why lie? The press release downplayed the whole incident. It was dangerous, violent, out of control and they failed to mention the most important detail — GUNSHOTS — that created a whole LOCKDOWN!!!! Not to mention, a key part that might have contributed to the incident, as the graduates walked across the stage many were “repping their sets” without no correction. That should have been immediately addressed and dismissed…

Jun 15
Replying to

You are absolutely correct. Upon hearing the all clear, chief Epps, and chief williams we're escorted to their vehicles and left the premises. Meanwhile, the residential treatment team and the SEO teams continue to monitor the youth who had receive their diplomas and were in the waiting area to board the vehicles. Meanwhile, additional SEO members reentered into the main auditorium, where the melee continued and helped to restore order without the aid of outside law. Enforcement. It was not all clear When probation put out the media broadcast. It was still an active investigation, as we were dealing with those detained and the detainees family members yelling to have their members return to them.

Hopefully, the department will put…

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