Serious uses of force against inmates are down in LA County’s Inmate Reception Center, Men’s Central Jail, and Twin Towers Correctional Facility, according to a report the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department presented to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The three jail facilities are subject to monitoring as part of the terms of a class action settlement addressing rampant jail abuses.
In December 2014, Los Angeles County officials agreed to a legal settlement that meant the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails would be subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts. The ACLU and others filed the federal class-action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca in January 2012.
The lawsuit alleged that then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a widespread pattern of abuse by deputies against inmates in the county’s jails. The ACLU and company brought the suit in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.
The terms of the agreement went into effect on July 1, 2015, and served as a roadmap to reforming outdated LASD use-of-force policies and practices.
The trio of jails is inspected once every quarter.
According to the report, presented by Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington, there were only two of the highest level—Category 3—uses of force, which are handled by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. (Category 3 force involves admittance to a hospital, broken bones, head strikes, and other serious injuries.)
“Those were those use of force issues that used to occur quite frequently in the jails, which are no longer occurring,” Harrington said. “There are no allegations of multiple deputies being involved in beating of inmates or using force to retaliate against inmates…We continue to improve on our tactics. We continue to improve on our training.”
Neither of the Category 3 incidents resulted in criminal investigations into whether custody deputies engaged in misconduct or violated the department’s policy on use of force, Harrington said.
Turnaround on a use of force case like that is around one year, according to Harrington, because of staffing issues in Internal Affairs. The limit for administrative investigations is one year, and “they take it very close to the year” limit, according to Harrington. “But they’re not turning down investigations related to use of force,” the assistant sheriff added.
Both Harrington and Inspector General Max Huntsman attributed the improvement to better (and more) training.
“Category 3 force—broken bones—is something we’re not seeing in the jail,” Huntsman said. This shows that “a well-operating jail system doesn’t need to use that kind of force, almost regardless of what inmates do, because of the available resources.”
Huntsman and Harrington agreed that the culture in the jail system had undergone a significant change since the bad old days. “I think that’s a direct result of training,” Huntsman said. “I do think we could use a lot more training.”
The Inspector General suggested hiring a “separate track of custody deputies” to be trained “fully in custody-related matters, including de-escalation.”
“I think there’s room for improvement, but I think the training we’re having is excellent in terms of what it used to be,” Hunstman said.
Harrington reported that 3,699 custody division deputies have received the new training, but that many deputies identified for “refresher training” needed to complete the courses, which launched in November 2017.
In addition, Harrington suggested that “an individual that is receiving the appropriate medical care and mental health care, and an individual that is [involved in] programming, is less likely to be involved in force incidents because they have hope. They have something to look forward to.”
The road to improvement has been challenging, Harrington said, and has involved major collaboration with other county agencies. “It’s difficult because of the rise of the mental health population in the jails,” Harrington said. “That’s where most of our uses of force are occurring. And that’s because of medication management and the unstable environment that we receive those individuals in.”
The sheriff’s department has completed 101 of the 104 provisions included in the Rosas implementation plan, according to Harrington.
Three final provisions are still in the process of completion due to technology problems, Harrington said.