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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

ACLU Report Claims 'Excessive' Inmate Abuse

Reports show that inmates were abused by deputies under the scrutiny of Sheriff Baca.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is asking Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to resign as the organization released a report Wednesday accusing police deputies of wrongly beating L.A. County prisoners. 

Courtesy of the Associated Press
Courtesy of the Associated Press

Three jail volunteers claim they saw deputies beating inmates, but the jail supervisors did not take the beatings seriously, according to American Civil Liberties Union report.

While it is not unusual for inmates to complain of abuse, these statements were crucial because the three volunteers came forward after they felt troubled by what they saw, the report said.

Chaplain Paulino Juarez heard thumps and gasps when he was ministering to an inmate inside Men's Central Jail on Feb. 11, 2009. He believes the inmate was handcuffed, beaten helplessly crying out "I am doing nothing wrong; please stop."

As a pool of blood formed around the inmate, Juarez said he heard the deputies order to "Check if he has HIV."

Jaurez filed a report at the time, but it was not until two years later that he was granted an interview with Baca, who said the inmate was schizophrenic and the bruises were results of being run over by a car before being incarcerated.

Another witness, movie producer Scott Budnick swore he saw deputies kicking and punching an inmate, yelling at him to "stop resisting" while tutoring writing at Men's Central Jail.

The third unidentified witness claimed he saw deputies kick an inmate's torso, hold his hands and feet together, and kick him face down.

Leaders of ACLU said violence has been going on for years under Baca, and the only solution was to force his resignation.

"Sheriff Baca bears ultimate responsibility for the horrific details we uncovered compiling this report and must step down," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU to the LA Times. Because hundreds of inmates are stepping forward to tell the truth, Eliasburg claim's the group's report "clearly demonstrates that there is a salient pattern of unprovoked, excessive force and abuse against inmates, many of whom are not resisiting."

A former assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office who now works with ACLU said gang-like groups of deputies have been going on for years in jails atleast since 1980's and 1970's.

"The level of deputy on inmate abuse in the LA County Jails makes the Rodney King incident look like childsplay," said Eliasberg.

At a news conference Wednesday, Baca said the ACLU did not tell the entire story and that there were violent inmates. He is open to investigation and prides himself on running a transparent jail system.

"The Sheriff has stated that you know he has an open and transparent jail system and so he's welcoming anybody to come into the jail and see for themself," said Eliasberg.

"If an investigation reveals excessive force, that employee is discharged. The LASD is never hesitant to discipline itself," said Baca in defense to the LA Times.

The FBI is currently investigating the department after it was revealed that a deputy accepted about $1,500 to sneak in a cellphone to an inmate serving as an FBI Informant.

COMMENTS

[...] ACLU Report Claims 'Excessive' Inmate Abuse [...]

I am a retired Los Angeles County Deputy sheriff, and through departmental contacts (line-officers) presently working with in the jail, this current small group of abusive rogue Deputy Sheriffs are not representative of the majority of Deputies on the Sheriff Department or presently assigned to the jail. From my contacts, they told me two years ago that a small number of Deputies were starting to become inappropriately abusive towards Inmates as a control measure.

I lay the majority of blame for this underlying developing trend totally on the assigned administrative Captain down to all Jail Lieutenants and supervising Sergeants for lacking managerial insight and adequate understanding that such an adverse trend was emerging and to stop it in its tracks.

Moreover in his decade tenure as elected Sheriff, and in my opinion, Lee Baca had lowered the hiring standards to a point where the Sheriff's Department is obtaining lesser type of quality individuals. Also in correlation to this, I also see a growing development during Sheriff Baca's political elected occupancy where a greater widespread and increase of incidents of police officer misconduct and abuse than what had ever occurred under either past Sheriff Sherman Block or Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess. While it is admirable that Sheriff Baca defends the reputation of his Deputy Sheriffs, who the great majority do their jobs with integrity, dedication, and honor, however, I feel that his blind respect and appreciation clouds his judgment and causes him to be denial that there some people on the department that should never have become or ever be Deputy Sheriffs.

Lastly, the comment from the former FBI agent that now works with ACLU that said "gang-like groups of deputies have been going on for years in jails at least since 1980's and 1970's" is full of crap. Yes, there were a few rogue Deputies that did abuse inmates, but this was an anomaly and the Jail administration and supervisors back then had a more hands-on control over the situation. I know this for a fact because I was assigned to jail during that time period.

Bottom-line: Whether Lee Baca stays on or we get a new county sheriff, the department needs an entire departmental cleansing of the few bad apples it definitely has. Moreover, there is an immediate need to put in place pragmatic workable protocols and conducive preventive programs to thwart and avert police misconduct and abuse both in the streets and in the jail. One of the best ways to approach and help accomplish this objective is to glean beneficial ideas and get honest feedback from all line-officer Deputy Sheriffs for administrative assessment and consideration.

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