Blog of Rights

Under ACLU Fire, Baca Running for Cover

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 6:02pm

Less than two weeks ago, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was indignant.

Called to the carpet by an ACLU report documenting dozens of allegations of brutal abuse of inmates at the Los Angeles County Jail at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, Baca held an angry press conference in which he called into question the validity of the allegations and accused the ACLU of engaging in “hyperbole” aimed at winning a quick headline.

But today he is singing a very different tune.

Under intense media criticism and mounting political pressure, Baca yesterday told the New York Times that “we need to be focusing on the issue of respect for the inmates,” a day after announcing he was putting together a “special task force” to investigate the serious allegations the ACLU brought forth in its report.

But Baca’s announcement is a day late and a dollar short. Burned by the glare of the national media’s spotlight, his willingness to conduct an internal investigation, led by hand-picked commanders and lieutenants, is not nearly enough.

For years, top brass in the sheriff’s department have abdicated their constitutional obligation to maintain humane conditions inside the jail, and Baca himself has stone-walled persistent efforts by the ACLU to bring the horrors that occur regularly behind the jail’s closed doors into daylight.

As Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project, put it to the New York Times, “The time has long passed when Baca could be the positive agent of change. We’ve been bringing these problems to him for years, and it should have been overwhelmingly obvious to him. What he’s doing now is running for cover.”

A far-reaching and independent investigation of all aspects of the Los Angeles County jail is urgently needed, and that’s why we’re asking you to join us in calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the Los Angeles County Jail system and put an end to the unconstitutional and unconscionable abuse of the jail's prisoners.

But this will also take action by the Obama administration. We need the hammer of a federal injunction. A completely independent monitor needs to be appointed by a federal judge, someone with the authority to track down the root causes of the longstanding culture of deputy violence in the jails and who can implement and carry out a plan to fix what ails the largest jail system in the nation.

Now is the time for desperately-needed sweeping reform.

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