Widespread Abuse in LA County Jails Leads to FBI Investigation

la county jail abuse lee baca

via LATimes.com

Sherriff Lee Baca and his staff of deputies that oversee the LA County Jail System were left reeling after the FBI subpoenaed “names of everyone who has worked in the jails since 2009, even janitors, and whether they have been disciplined for misconduct. Federal prosecutors also sought employees’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, phone numbers and personal email addresses.” (Source) The subpoenas are the result of a widespread investigation by the FBI into allegations of abuse and misconduct by sheriff’s deputies.

Allegations are coming from all directions, including the ACLU, jail monitors, volunteers, former deputies, and former inmates. They include:

Deputies refusing to allow an inmate’s injuries to be photographed after a judge ordered them to do so. The victim claimed that he was beaten by deputies. Details.

Inmate strangled after expressing concerns for his safety. Details.

Continuing to beat an inmate after he lay unconscious. Details.

Deputies fighting with each other at Christmas party. Details.

Charges of smuggling by FBI. Details.

Drug trading overlooked and supported by guards. Details.

Inmate dies after being punched in the head by a deputy. Details.

Deputies had sex with female inmates. Details.

In the meantime, supervisors will vote between two plans that will increase oversight of the jails and help take down the system of abuse that some claim has been in place since the 1970’s.

One of the plans, backed by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, would establish a five-person commission to conduct an independent review of the complaints and “restore public confidence” by recommending potential solutions. The committee members would be appointed by the supervisors no later than Nov. 1 and report back within 120 days.

The other proposal calls for implementing recommendations made earlier by an outside monitor, including installing surveillance cameras, eliminating the use of heavy flashlights as batons, eliminating the use of steel-toed shoes by guards, and forbidding all blows to the head. That plan was submitted by Supervisor Gloria Molina. LA Times, 18 Oct 2011.

Sherriff Lee Baca has done a dramatic turnaround since late September, when he repudiated claims of abuse in an interview with NPR.

Baca called the ACLU’s statements “hyperbole” designed at winning a quick headline. He said his department takes seriously all allegations of deputy misconduct and noted that deputies who had been shown to use excessive force were frequently dismissed.

“It’s easy to accuse deputies of being brutal, it’s easy to make mass comments about how everything is running rampant in the jail system,” Baca said. “When (inmates) do get violent with my staff or they get violent with each other, who is responsible for ending the violence?”

He added that deputies often try to talk to violent inmates but, “at some point, you have to take physical action.” NPR, 29 Sep 2011

For complete coverage of the issue, please visit the LA Times news center.

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