Jails Commission Findings Say Baca Ignored and Tanaka Tacitly Encouraged a Troubling Culture of Violence in LA’s JailsSeptember 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon
At last Friday’s hearing for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence—the final time the commission will meet before it issues its report at the end of this month**—the statements about the sheriff and the undersheriff, and others on the LASD command staff, pulled no punches, and left little room for spinning.
Here is a representative sample of some of the points made:
*Sheriff Baca failed to monitor and proactively control the use of force in the jails.
*Leaders had a lax attitude toward deputy aggression and discouraged deputy discipline.
*Management has known about and failed to address problems with deputy cliques.
*The undersheriff failed to up hold the department’s goals and values.
*There is substantial evidence that Tanaka urged deputies to be aggressive and ‘work in the gray area’ and “function right on the edge of the line,” made comments that undermine the credibility of IAB, discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct.
*There was a breakdown in the chain of command at MCJ that Undersheriff Tanaka encouraged and permitted.
These preliminary “findings” were presented to the commissioners by the teams of lawyers who have served as the commission’s investigators. The teams—-made up of high-powered attorneys lent by such firms as Gibson Dunn, O’Melveny & Meyers, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and others of that ilk, to work for the commission pro bono—have cummulatively interviewed approximately 150 people and have reviewed around
15,000 30,000 pages of documents.
Later this month, WitnessLA will have a more comprehensive story about the last stages of the commission’s work, including additional details and thoughts on these investigative reports and what they suggest for the final report.
In the meantime, here are a few representative bullet points from Friday’s presentations:
A CULTURE OF FORCE AND SILENCE
The teams found the following:
*The department condoned a Deputy-versus-inmate culture—counter to LASD core values.
*Harsh force is used as the default position, not as the last resort
*Significant force often used for things as trivial as an inmate questioning a policy or a deputy’s decision, such as the inmate’s ability to take a shower.
*Jails supervisors and management set an example that suggested that unlawful use of force would not be taken seriously, punished or held to account.
*False statements in reports are not acted upon, and sanctions against them are light.
*Certain department leaders appear to have tacitly or even expressly encouraged a “code of silence.”
*The departments’ tolerance of deputy cliques contributes to the use of force culture.
*Leadership in the department has undermined the disciplinary process.
* Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails, as did his protege, Captain Dan Cruz.
And it goes on from there.
NO SUGAR COATING
Several of the Board of Supervisors’ staffers who drifted down to watch the proceedings their 8th floor offices, said they were impressed with the teams’ willingness to call things as the facts they found suggested.
“Frankly, we expected a whitewash,” said one high level staffer. “But that’s definitely not what this is.
Or as Commissioner Jim McDonnell put it: “There was no sugarcoating as some may have thought there would be for political reasons.”
That much was clear on Friday. There is no white wash. No sugar coating. Just well-researched facts—and carefully drawn conclusions. What they add up to is troubling but not surprising.
The final report is still to come, of course.
And then there’s the question of what it will all mean. Will the Commission’s final report help to precipitate real change in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department? Or will it be one more stack of papers that get a day or two of attention from the public and the Board of Supervbefore being roundly ignored by the sheriff?
The Commission has pushed their timeline up and their final report will likely now be released on September 28, not early Oct. (October is their safety net date.)
ALSO…READ THE REPORTS YOURSELVES
The PowerPoint highlights of Friday’s 8 reports are available in downloadable form here. So read ‘em yourself and see what you think.
LAPD NOTE: THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT WILL HOST A SERIES OF COMMUNITY MEETINGS TO DISCUSS THE THE THREE RECENT FORCE INCIDENTS THAT HAVE RESIDENTS TROUBLED
The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the report.