On Tuesday at the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Sheriff Jim McDonnell had just finished giving an update regarding which of the reforms requested by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence had been accomplished, and which still remained to be completed. When the sheriff had concluded, Supervisor Michael Antonovich said he had a question, his tone somewhat contentious.
“We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the jail to see that everything was going well and to be the eyes of the public,” said Antonovich, “…and yet we had all of these allegations which were proven to be factual because of convictions that have taken place. I would like to know how much money did we pay the ACLU to observe the conditions of the jail, and what did they actually do to stop some of the abuses that we’ve had people convicted for that occurred during their watch.”
It was an odd moment.
The rough translation seemed to be that, according to Antonovich, the County of Los Angeles was paying the ACLU many thousands of dollars to report to the supervisors on abuses in the jails. And now those abuses have resulted in a bunch of convictions in federal and in civil court, thus proving their validity, and so what was the ACLU doing all this time to prevent these abuses that they seem not to have noticed?
First there was the bizarre fact that Antonovich seemed to think that the board had hired and had elected to pay the ACLU to monitor the jails. (Mr. Supervisor, you do know that, for several decades now, the ACLU has had monitors in Men’s Central Jail by order of a federal judge, right? Rutherford v. Baca? Does the case name sound at all familiar? If not try its predecessor, Rutherford v. Block, or its predecessor, Rutherford v. Pitchess.)
And then there is the fact that the ACLU puts out very large detailed reports every year, some times twice a year, that the supervisors all receive, yet that Antonovich, it seems, has pointedly ignored.
* There is the ACLU’s 2009 report detailing systemic problems with the treatment of inmates with mental illness, and also about excessive use of force, the use of solitary confinement as punishment, and a bunch of other cheery stuff.
That same year, there was a companion report that suggested ways to make things better. (This report, Mr. Supervisor, you might want to note, described a lot of the issues that turned up most recently in that court ordered agreement with the DOJ that you and the rest of the board signed off on this summer.)
* A year later, in ACLU’s May 2010 report they laid out an array of systemic abuses in the jails, including excessive force, illegal retaliation against inmates, severe overcrowding particularly in Men’s Central Jail, and inadequate mental health care.
* In September of that same year, the ACLU wrote yet another report about excessive force and retaliation by deputies against inmates.
One of the really interesting things about this report was that it included among the multi-dozen declarations by inmates, two that described beatings by Deputy Fernando Luviano. Deputy Luviano, in case you don’t remember, was one of the three former LASD members convicted by the feds of beating a jail visitor and then covering up their wrongdoing by lying about it and then falsifying criminal charges against the victim of the beatings. Nice guy that Luviano.
* The next year, in September of 2011, the ACLU folks were tired of being ignored by Mr. Antonovich, among others, so they pulled out all the stops with their newest report entitled Cruel and Usual Punishment, How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails. This time, in addition to the more than 60 sworn declarations by inmates, they also included statements from a bunch of civilians, including a famous film producer, a chaplain, and a former FBI agent. In some cases, the civilians and inmates described the abuse they had witnessed or experienced on video, all of which was both dramatic and disturbing. The NY Times picked it up, as did other national news outlets. Rachel Maddow even showed some of the video clips on her news broadcast.
(And what was your response, Mr. Supervisor? Did you become concerned? Meet with the ACLU? Ask for more information? Suggest action?)
Although Antonovich reportedly again ignored the ACLU’s newest offering, the feds did not. In fact the declaration by the jail chaplain, who described a harrowing beatings by deputies, formed the basis for another of the federal criminal indictments.
*There was the 2012 report, which had a lot about a pattern of inflicting severe head injuries by deputies in use of force incidents…
There are additional reports and letters in that same vein. But those are the relevant broad strokes.
So, yeah, the ACLU was paying attention. But for a long time, it seemed that no one else was.
(You’re welcome, Mr. Supervisor.)
NOTE: Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the Southern California ACLU, sent the supervisor and the rest of the board a letter in which he described what I’ve mentioned above, however in better and more specific detail.