LA County Jail

Dangerous Jails – Part 5: Should Punishment = Peril?


How do you know if an incarcerated family member is really in danger?
With all the ominous tales coming out of LA’s Men’s Central Jail, how perilous is it really? And if you think a jailed loved one is at risk, is there anything you do about it?

Last night I got an email from a woman who was asking herself those questions.
The email caught my eye because of the subject line:

Urgent Case/ High Profile Inmate In Danger

The sender’s name was Patricia Vetter.

After reading the email, I called Vetter on the phone to get additional information.

A woman with alarm in her voice answered right away.

I learned Vetter was a 51 year-old medical illustrator who is married to a psychiatrist. She was worried, she said, because her 59-year old brother, who was in Men’s Central Jail, had called her collect on Thursday night, crying and terrified.

“And my brother is 6’5” and around 270 lbs-–a retired fireman and paramedic,” Vetter said. The brother had also been an embalmer. “Which means he’s used to being around dead bodies. So not much scares him,” she said. “This was totally unlike him.”

Vetter said that her brother told her that his clothes had been taken away by staff, that he was calling her naked, and that guards had said this was the last call he would be able to make. That he was being transferred to a section of the jail for the “criminally insane,” where he would remain for the next six months and would have no more visitors and no more phone calls. “They put a suicide vest on me,” Vetter said her brother told her.

With that, the phone grew static ridden and she could hear nothing more.

She has not talked to her brother again.


Okay, time for a little background:

Vetter’s brother is not just any inmate. He is a man named Henry Reid,. the former director of UCLA’s Willed Body Parts program who was convicted of having sold some of the university’s donated cadavers for profit to a middleman, a guy named Ernest Nelson, who then went on to sell them to large research companies (including Johnson & Johnson) thereby pocketing around $1.5 million.

You probably remember the 2007 case.

As nearly as investigators could tell, Reid profited much less than Nelson, pocketing a paltry $43 grand over the various deals. But whatever. Reid—who had no previous criminal record—ripped off UCLA, tarnished and endangered the willed body parts program, and betrayed trust of those who donated the bodies of their loved ones.

In October of 2008, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grand theft, and agreed to cooperate in the trial of money-making middleman, Ernest Nelson. Reid was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months in prison. Because he had no priors, he would do 2 years and 2 months.

After sentencing, Reid was transferred to Delano state prison for what is called “intake,” where, until recently, he had been awaiting a second transfer to the facility where he would serve the remainder of his time.

On May 6, however, he was brought back down to LA County jail—the Twin Towers—to testify as a possible prosecution witness in Nelson’s trial, as he had promised he would. As it turned out, the prosecutor didn’t need Reid so on Thursday morning he called his sister to say that he was going back to CJ to await transfer back to prison. That he would soon be on a bus headed back.

Then at 6:45 on Thursday night Vetter got the sobbing, naked, scary phone call.


Vetter is close to her brother. “Henry had been calling me every morning,” she said. “And when we tried to visit Saturday, the desk clerk said Henry Reid was in the 4500 module meaning he would not have any further phone or visitation privileges.”

Yet despite multiple calls by Vetter and her husband, including two to county jail
psychiatrists that the husband was able to contract because of his professional connections, Vetter could find out little more than the additional fact that Reid’s custody level had been elevated to K-10.

K-10 means keep away from all other inmates..

I called the inmate information line and verified that indeed Reid was a K-10 and was in 4500, but could find out nothing else

Later in the evening, I spoke to a friend who knows the Central Jail layout much better than I do. She said that 4500 module had tiny, one man cells with virtually nothing in them, no windows and little light. The inmates housed there had almost no human contact, not even with guards. It was solitary confinement of a very unpleasant sort, she said.

Many of the elements of Reid’s situation sounded queasily similar to the story of another inmate, John Horton, whose mother also suddenly found that she could not visit her jailed son, nor could he call her, and no one could seem to tell her why. Horton too was waiting to be transferred to prison. After repeated frantic calls and visits, a kindly watch commander told Horton’s mother he would get to the bottom of the matter.

A few days later still, Horton’s mother was told her son had killed himself.
The circumstances of his death remain troubling and were the final straw that triggered the ACLU’s recent call to shut CJ altogether.

(I wrote about Horton’s case here. The LA Times wrote about it here.)

In an unpleasantly eerie coincidence, when Vetter tried to visit her brother on Saturday, she got to talking with a young woman at the jail who said she had a cousin who had been housed in 4500.

“They said he committed suicide,” said the young woman.

Vetter suddenly had a bad feeling and asked the girl for her cousin’s name.

“John Horton.”


Maybe Henry Reid is fine and his sister’s panic
is over nothing. But maybe not. I have gotten alarming calls myself, of late, from jail inmates who are much, much tougher men than Vetter’s brother.

If I were in her position, I would be worried too.

And I would damned well want some better answers than Patricia Vetter is being given.


  • She (Vetter), should be afraid, very afraid. LA County jail is a very sick and perverse place and if Vetters brother pissed off someone there he could be on the shit list and in grave danger.
    Vetter should not hesitate and go right to Sheriff Baca’s office and the press if need be.

  • i have been to county(many years ago) and the only fear i had was of the gruards and the only fights i saw where the gruards handing out beatings.

  • I had a neighbor (I will call her Annie) who was a guard at LA County Jail (Women’s Division).

    Annie’s two children got into the DCFS system because they were playing doctor and copying what the President did.

    Her two kids a 13 year old boy and a 12 year old girl were taken away by DCFS,

    She had to mortgaging her house to pay the DCFS bills (many thousands of dollars) and then attend all sorts of child abuse classes to teach her not to beat her children, because they didn’t have a classification for a brother and sister copying Bill Clinton and Monica.

    Anyway, Annie finally got fed up with the whole system and moved her kids out of the system and out of the state to Oregon where she got a job at the Oregon Correctional system.

    When she started at the Oregon county Jail, Annie began to treat the prisoners in the way she had been taught at LA County using the typical treat them like the scum they are attitude.

    She was shortly corrected by her superior and told, ”we treat our prisoners as human beings not as garbage. I know things are different in LA, but this is how we do it in Oregon”. She was quite surprised by this and reported her reprimand to my wife a short time later.

  • In 1956 I worked the jail in the old Hall of Justice we had 4300 inmates in a facility that was designed for 1800. It was difficult for inmate and deputy due to the severe overcrowding. As a new deputy I recall the sign on the wall in the ODR, The inmates are here as punishment not for punishment, E. W. Biscailuz, Sheriff.

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