“I have never seen anything that approaches the patterns of violence, misfeasance and malfeasance that particularly infects the Los Angeles County jail system.”
Tom Parker, Former Assistant Special Agent in Charge of FBI LA Field Office
The witnesses include two jail chaplains, film producer Scott Budnick of “Hangover” fame who volunteers at Men’s Central Jail,, Esther Lim, the ACLU’s jails monitor, 72 inmates and former inmates, and a former FBI agent, Tom Parker, who has investigated problems in corrections facilities in the U.S. and around the globe.
In sworn testimony, all of these people detailed incidents of abuse of inmates by Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies in the LA County jails. They did so as part of the ACLU’s lengthy and scathing jails report released Wednesday morning.
In addition to the ACLU’s new report, in the past six months, KTLA News, the LA Weekly and WitnessLA , have each done extensive stories on the entrenched patterns of violence and abuse by deputies at the jails.
In the case of WitnessLA’s story, Dangerous Jails, by Matt Fleischer, for every account of mistreatment that appeared in the article there were another five that we did not use.
Then, on top of the media accounts, on Sunday the LA Times reported that there was a widening FBI investigation into beatings and other deputy misconduct inside the Jails.
In short, a pile of evidence from various sources suggested that something was terribly wrong in the county’s jail system.
So how did LA’s popular Sheriff, Lee Baca, respond to all these stories of deputies brutalizing inmates? One might have reasonably hoped that he would assure us—the concerned public— that he takes such reports of brutality inside his jails very seriously and that each incident would be carefully investigated until he was sure he’d gotten to the bottom of the matter.
But that’s not what Baca did.
Instead, the Sheriff—who has a long had a reputation as a progressive lawman— began blasting away at the messengers.
He told the AP that the ACLU’s statements in its report were “hyperbole” designed to win a quick headline.
About the charges that gang-like groups of deputies had been allowed to operate in the jails—made by the ACLU, plus KTLA and WitnessLA— Baca said:
“That is a very false allegation. There are no gangs in the Sheriff’s Department working custody.”
Right. Never mind that the ACLU has multiple witnesses, we have a whistleblower from high up in the department who told us otherwise in detail, and KTLA has a deputy on camera doing the same.
In perhaps the most bizarre moment of denial and misplaced priorities, Baca even slammed the FBI for setting up a sting in which they gave a jails deputy a 1500 buck bribe to get a cell phone to one of their inmate informers. Instead of wondering why it was so easy to find a crooked deputy willing to bring in contraband phones, Baca complained to US Attorney Andre Birotte about those mean, mean Federal agents.
In an editorial in Thursday’s paper, the LA Times advised the Sheriff to get a grip:
If Baca is truly interested in demonstrating the integrity of his department and protecting the reputation of his deputies, he should welcome the FBI probe, not obstruct it.
Both Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU of So Cal’s Legal Director, and former FBI agent Tom Parker have gone a step further by calling for a more comprehensive Federal investigation—most likely by the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.
Let us hope that Justice heeds the call—and sooner rather than later.
“ The voluminous evidence I have reviewed cries out for an independent, far-reaching, and in-depth investigation by the Federal Government.
The problem can no longer be ignored.”
– Thomas Parker, former Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
NOTE: Frustrated with the inattention to the jails abuse issue on the part of public and policymakers, the ACLU deviated from its traditional lawyerly approach to its reports and, as an adjunct to its many pages of written material, produced the above dramatic video that seems more Dateline NBC than traditional ACLU fare.
The gambit appears to be working. Rachel Maddow ran a clip from the thing on her show Wednesday night in a segment covering reports of abuse at the LA County Jails.