Tuesday morning, the Southern California ACLU released a new and deeply disturbing report detailing, yet again, the systemic pattern of abuse by deputies taking place in the LA County Jail System. This time the report contains the accounts of witnesses along with those from the inmates describing abuse.
Both the LA Times and the New York Times have stories about the report.
The LA Times story by Robert Faturechi, opens this way:
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies brutalized inmates on multiple occasions and their supervisors failed to take complaints of the abuse seriously, according to sworn declarations from two chaplains and a Hollywood producer who volunteered in the jails.
Two of the volunteers said they heard deputies yell “stop fighting” as deputies pummeled inmates who appeared to be doing nothing to fight back.
The allegations come on the heels of Los Angeles Times stories detailing FBI probes into deputy misconduct in the jails. The declarations are expected to be filed in court Wednesday as part of a report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a court-appointed monitor of jailhouse conditions.
It’s not uncommon for inmates to make allegations of abuse, but these sworn statements are noteworthy because all three are from independent civilians in the jails who say they came forward because they were troubled by what they saw. Two have included their names. The third, a chaplain whose identity was learned by The Times, opted to have his declaration filed anonymously at the last minute for fear of reprisal.
The New York Times story, whose reporter Jennifer Medina, went so far as to interview some of those whose accounts were in the ACLU report, opens like this:
One inmate said he was forced to walk down a hallway naked after sheriff’s deputies accused him of stealing a piece of mail. They taunted him in Spanish, calling him a derogatory name for homosexuals.
Another former inmate said that after he protested that guards were harassing a mentally ill prisoner, the same deputies took him into another room, slammed his head into a wall and repeatedly punched him in the chest.
And a chaplain said he saw deputies punching an inmate until he collapsed to the ground. They then began kicking the apparently unconscious man’s head and body.
The examples are just a fraction of dozens of detailed allegations of abuse in Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers, according to a report that the American Civil Liberties Union is expected to file in Federal District Court here on Wednesday. The Los Angeles County jail system, the nation’s largest, is also the nation’s most troubled, according to lawyers, advocates and former law enforcement officials.
“This situation, the length of time it has been going on, the volume of complaints and the egregious nature are much, much worse than anything I’ve ever seen,” said Tom Parker, a retired F.B.I. official who led the agency’s Los Angeles office for years and oversaw investigations into the Rodney King beating and charges of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. “They are abusing inmates with impunity, and the worst part is that they think they can get away with it.”
The system has a long history of accusations of abuse and poor conditions. The A.C.L.U. filed a federal lawsuit 35 years ago, and an agreement eventually allowed the organization to place monitors inside the jails. But those monitors say that they receive six or seven complaints a week now, primarily from the two large jails in downtown Los Angeles that house thousands of men. The F.B.I. has also begun to investigate several episodes in the jails.
Sheriff Lee Baca has repeatedly dismissed any suggestion of a systemic problem in the jails, saying that all allegations of abuse are investigated and that most are unfounded.
This week, The Los Angeles Times reported that F.B.I. agents sneaked a cellphone to a prisoner as part of an investigation. Sheriff Baca reacted to the investigation angrily, saying that the agency did not know what it was doing and was putting prisoners and guards in danger.
Sheriff Baca discussed the matter with a Justice Department official in a meeting on Tuesday. Nicole Nishida, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, said that the department thoroughly investigated all complaints of abuse that it received and that most were unsubstantiated.
With California under an order from the United States Supreme Court to shed thousands of inmates from the state prisons, county jails are expected to receive many more inmates in the next year, which could aggravate overcrowding and other problems. Officials from the Sheriff’s Department have said that they will not place inmates from the state in the Men’s Central Jail, which they concede is an antiquated building.
But lawyers from the A.C.L.U. say that the Los Angeles County system is, in many ways, even worse than the state prisons that have been found unconstitutional. They say that many complaints are never properly investigated, and that often the very guards accused of abuse are in the room when an inmate is interviewed about the complaint….
I’ll be posting additional material from and about the report in the next few days.
But, for now, suffice it to say that although Sheriff’s department officials and the Sheriff himself continue to deny the seriousness of the abuse in the county’s jails, those of us who have, over the years, interviewed man after man who credibly describes having been abused by deputies in the LA County jails, and have talked to a long list of volunteers and other civilians who have witnessed abuse of inmates by deputies, have gradually concluded that this issue can no longer be considered merely a He said, She said matter. The charges are too many, too detailed, and too serious.
Despite official statements to the contrary, the weight of evidence is too great.
For an in-depth look at abuse of inmates by deputies in the jails, and the entrenched culture that is producing it, read WLA’s special report by Matt Fleischer: DANGEROUS JAILS – Part 1.