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ACLU Witnesses Detail Shocking Abuse in LA Jails—& Baca Dismisses It All

“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.

No kidding.

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.

3 Comments

  • Nassau County’s new Sheriff Vera Fludd should be the next Sheriff indicted for enabling, sanctioning, and covering up abuse, including rapes by the NCCC’s Grievance Officer Mark- institutional-tree-jumper -Barber, Barber was also the ShO- correctional Union president. A Union formed after the 1999 beating/ stomping death of Thomas Pizzuto; killed by jail guards for begging for his medications. Where was Vera Fludd when six women behind bars were being sexually abused by a [known] repeated serial abusive guard? Vera was busy conspiring with the union Guards ‘Continuing Criminal Enterprise’ that uses torture and terror to get their demands met by county officials who seek their endorsements during election years. Nassau County legislators [all] knew about institutional-rapist Barber. The Feds left NCCC in 2005 leaving a known serial abuse in-charge of the Inmates Grievance office. Vera Fludd, the collaborator-in-Chief, colluded and conspired with her predecessors, to hide the truth about what was going on behind the walls of NCCC and at the NUMC’s Secure Prison Wing for inmates health-care. Vera Fludd, like Lee Baca, should be indicated on Federal Civil and Human Rights Abuses at Nassau County jail and NUMC. Nassau County’s Executive Laura Curran’s appointment to lead the Sheriff’s Department is reckless and irresponsible. Vera Fludd is a collaborator to all the abuses, especially the rapes. Women at the jail must have confided in Vera for help with their predicament; knowing that the institutional remedies had to be exhausted before their stories could be heard by the criminal justice investigators. All of this information had to be routed through the office of (former) Reilly, and then Spasato. Vera worked in true office of both disgraced Sheriff’s. Vera Fludd remained Silent!

    More than 100 jail guards were on hand to show support as the two pleaded guilty. When the defendants arrived, fellow guards surrounded their car and formed a human wall to prevent reporters and photographers from having any contact with them.

    The Pizzuto family was forced to walk through a crowd of grim-faced jail guards to get into the courthouse, prompting the victim’s mother to sob loudly as she walked into the courtroom.

    “I couldn’t believe that this is the world we live in, that these people are backing up murderers,” Ms. Pizzuto told New York Newsday.

    ‘It’s the toughest job in the state,” said Mr. Adams, the ShOA union president. ”It’s a large facility and there have been some instances of abuse, I’m not denying that. But are there systematic abuses here? No way. Right now we’re housing 100 federal prisoners. I can’t see how the feds would allow that if this report were the truth.”

    To date, 190 officers have been injured in the line of duty at the jail, while 271 were hurt by inmates last year, Sullivan said. 

    Not one caught on Video Surveillance Cameras since 1999.(Editor’s Note: ShOA, which was formed in 1999 as a result of the Nassau County correction officers’ separation from CSEA, represents approximately 1,100 correction officers who serve at the Nassau County Correctional Facility.)

    They got this thing called the brotherhood of the shield,” said inmate Henry Jackson of Freeport, who alleged he was beaten by guards in June 1997 while awaiting trial for burglary. “It’s a lot of bad guards,” Jackson added, “and those that are not participating are just looking the other way.

    Taken together, the stories suggest a pattern of abuse and intimidation at the jail, where prisoners say guards uphold a “culture of silence” and guards, in turn, say that most inmate allegations are untrue. “These accusations are always checked into and usually proven false,” said Mark Barber, president of the prison’s 1,000-member correction officers union. “But what [prisoners] call the culture of silence, we call the brotherhood and the sisterhood.

    The union is a formidable political force, protected in the Legislature.

    ” Gulotta said the installation of the cameras requires the approval of the County Legislature. He didn’t know when they would be installed, or the price tag, but said it would run into the millions. “Yes, we can afford it,” he said. Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon has recommended the installation of cameras at the jail. Gulotta said the cameras could monitor performance, act as a deterrent and provide investigators with key evidence in the event an abuse complaint is filed. As the new liaison, Deputy Undersheriff Ernest Weber would report directly to the sheriff, the district attorney’s office and the County Legislature about abuse complaints. Gulotta said, as previously announced, that medical care is being upgraded at the jail.

    In 2015, the city settled the case, agreeing to a host of reforms such as added security cameras and outside oversight by Martin.

    Mr. Martin also worked with the Nassau County jail after a fatal beating there in 1999 led to a federal probe into the jail’s use-of-force policy. 

    And jail officials have yet to install the surveillance cameras that prosecutors have long urged as a way of deterring beatings and aiding investigators.

    The guard most frequently accused of attacking inmates over the last decade, Salvatore Gemelli, was vice president and then president of the correction officers’ union for much of that time. And jail officials have yet to install the surveillance cameras that prosecutors have long urged as a way of deterring beatings and aiding investigators.

    They abdicated their responsibility to enforce use of force policies and to hold accountable staff who violate them.

    “It’s time for them to meet their moral and constitutional obligations to provide humane conditions at the jails.”

    Federal obstruction of justice statutes have been used to prosecute government officials who have sought to prevent the disclosure of damaging information.

  • From 1999 to 2005, the jail was under close watch by federal authorities after an investigation following this incident. Prior problems with the East Meadow facility included issues with overcrowding, abuse, health and mental care.

    Barber used position as grievance officer to force inmates into sexual favors; faces up to 16 years in prison.

    Mark Barber, president of the union that represents guards at the Nassau Co. jail, initially suggested that Pizzuto’s injuries were caused by a seizure he had in his cell. Barber angrily denied allegations that Pizzuto had been assaulted by guards. “That is so insulting. We’re not monsters,” he said.

    MINEOLA —
    A former Nassau County corrections officer was indicted on 80 counts related to alleged sexual abuse of inmates.

    Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced that a grand jury returned the 80-count indictment against 48-year-old Mark Barber, who was arrested last December.

    He is charged with multiple counts of rape, sexual abuse and forcible touching. Seven female inmates have come forward alleging that Barber used his position at the Nassau County jail to extort sexual favors.

    Barber, of Levittown, was indicted on charges of two counts of rape, criminal sexual act, three counts of receiving reward for official misconduct, 11 counts of sexual abuse, three counts of forcible touching, 18 counts of promoting prison contraband, 40 counts of official misconduct, patronizing a prostitute and stalking.

    Barber began his tenure as a corrections officer at NCCC in December 1987. He began serving as a grievance officer in December 2005. He was fired Dec. 30, 2009.

    The DOJ’s earlier monitoring efforts in Nassau County were concluded in 2005

    As a grievance officer, Barber received complaints from inmates about medical care and quality-of-life issues. Grievance officers then interview inmates who file grievances and determine what action, if any, should be taken by the jail. Barber’s position, as well as his added responsibilities as a Fire Safety Officer, gave him unique and unfettered access to the jail and the inmates confined to it.’

    ‘The report corroborates our worst fears about what was happening behind those walls,” said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association, a nonprofit watchdog group. ”Unfortunately, what happened in Nassau County is not that rare. Unless there is a strong sheriff or outside agency, the worst inclinations of that staff often take over and go unaccounted or unpunished.”

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