Sheriff Lee Baca stunned the public this week by announcing that he will immediately retire as the head of Los Angeles County jails. His announcement marks another milestone in the ACLU's campaign to end the culture of rampant deputy-on-prisoner violence that has plagued the Los Angeles County jails for years.

L.A. County Jails are the biggest jail system in the nation – and maybe on the planet. It is surely one of the most notorious. This is a jail where deputies organized in gangs inside the jail savagely beat not only the prisoners but sometimes even prisoners' family members and others who come to the jail to visit their loved ones.

Jail observers were taken off guard by Baca's announcement: Despite repeated public exposures of terrifying abuses of power in the jails, the Sheriff has handily won re-election three times since 1998. He seemed so permanently entrenched that in the last election in 2010 no one even bothered to challenge him.

A couple of years ago Sheriff Baca telephoned me out of the blue, said that he happened to be in DC for a meeting down the street from my office, and could he stop by to say hello? It seemed an odd occasion for a social call since I was helping to lead the team of lawyers in the federal class action lawsuit against him. But he did stop by my office, we exchanged pleasantries about the weather, and as he was leaving he said with great earnestness: "Margaret, believe me: I will never, ever resign. I intend to be Sheriff as long as I live."

Finally, it looks like he's changed his mind. The perfect storm that led to Sheriff Baca's decision to resign has been brewing since 2008. That's when the ACLU began filing a series of public reports cataloging scores of beatings that a clique of deputies were administering to prisoners: shattering legs, fracturing skulls, gouging eyeballs, rupturing eardrums. In response to our reports, high-level jail commanders simply issued broadside indignant denials: the prisoners were all liars.

But in February 2011, an event occurred that would change everything. An ACLU paralegal actually witnessed two deputies viciously beat and Taser to unconsciousness a helpless prisoner – while they monotonously repeated "stop resisting" and "stop fighting" as though they were reading from a script. We reported this incident to the US Attorney's office, the FBI and the federal court. It was the first time that a highly credible civilian eyewitness had come forward, and media reports of the incident opened a floodgate of reports from other civilian eyewitnesses – clergy, teachers, and others who volunteer services in the jail, and had been too intimidated to speak out earlier.

In September 2011, the ACLU issued a massive report, titled "Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails." And in January 2012, the ACLU filed suit against Sheriff Baca, accusing the Sheriff of failing to stop the pattern and practice of deputy-on-prisoner violence.

The ACLU report and lawsuit resulted in a firestorm of media coverage and public outrage. In response, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, a blue-ribbon panel of former federal judges and prosecutors, tasked with gathering evidence, holding public hearings, and issuing findings and recommendations. In September 2012, the Commission issued a blistering final report, explicitly crediting the ACLU's allegations, and finding that "The problem of excessive force in the county jails lies with the department's leadership." In December 2013, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff's deputies accused of beating jail prisoners and visitors and related crimes.

The Sheriff's office is now in negotiations with the ACLU to settle the ACLU's suit for injunctive relief with a permanent federally-enforceable decree. What was almost unimaginable in the recent past—far-reaching reform of the culture in the LA County Jails—is well on its way to becoming a reality. The Sheriff's wise decision to retire will help speed that day.

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Anonymous

One down, now only 3,143 left to check out. Elected sheriffs are a weak point in our justice system. How many of those tails are wagging the dog? What is it about 'good old boys' and abuse of power? I don't understand, where's the indignation? What happened to all the press coverage of Fullerton? It's bad enough that we have to arm our police but turning loose psychologically questionable thugs like the Fullerton police with full military gear and a SWAT team mentality with the present 'thin blue line' social structure is insanity. I wonder what the numbers look like for who's to be more feared, criminals or police. Until we give more notice to these problems I fear we're going to get the 'service and protection' we deserve. I had to dig to find anything on the Fullerton trial.

Suzanne Krause

With Rosas, et al. v. Baca et al. still ongoing, Baca's retirement may well speed up the resolution of that lawsuit. To win this case could be a strong catalyst for future laws enacted to remedy the far-too-common problem of inmate victimization by officers.

However, Baca's actions and those of his staff are absolutely criminal in every sense of the word. Baca should not have been allowed to retire, even if said retirement was somehow forced. He should have been fired and should still be tried for civil rights violations.

Baca's direct reports should also have been fired, and all those who actually committed violence against these inmates should be tried for assault and/or aggravated assault in addition to civil rights violations. Even if he never personally abused an inmate, Baca should also be held criminally liable because of his position of authority.

Sorry for the rant, but this kind of behavior from those who choose public service careers is repugnant. Good luck with the suit. I hope we win and a loud precedent is set!

Anonymous

They don't seem too "wise" to me, if they did that in front of a paralegal. As in they didn't even BOTHER to check and see if they truly WERE around whatever UN-credible witnesses are.
They never freakin' DO check anymore. Their stupidity is positively staggering. Just like Mitt Romney being at that $50,000 a plate party and talking about the 47 percent b/c he was so dang sure there was no ordinary people overhearing it.

As long as they have their egos following, preceding and hanging around them in clouds of pestilential doom, I don't think anyone's going to have to worry that too many things will continue to go unnoticed.

Vicki B.

Oh my god. I just noticed the year; you say this had been brewing since 2008.
My friend who's a police officer left Los Angeles in 2008 and took a job in Arizona. It was a rather sudden decision but he never really told me what prompted his decision. "I thought it was time for a change" says a bit of something but not anything I could comprehend.
I wonder if this issue was one of the reasons.

Anonymous

Thank you for this story

Anonymous

This is way more than a civil liberties issue, as systematic gang beatings were commonplace and severe enough to be in the realm of attempted murder, the Sheriff's department as whole should be indicted as co-conspirators and should to the fullest extent of the Law be on the receiving end of California Penal Code 186.22 PC, Enhanced Sentencing Laws for "Gang" activity.

Anonymous

am being accused of working for al-qaeda terrorists but al-qaeda is a christian muslim organization due to Ayman al-Zawahiri being a good Muslim God in Yemen. The MS-13 gang in which my two sons belong are also Muslim christian and work for al-qaeda in Yemen. The american law enforcement sucks ass cause they ask me for money and try to reach in my pants and sexually molest me. I have a good friend in Leesburg, Va. where I used to work and is Big Ernie's Inc. and I plan to move to Leesburg, Va. to live with where I used to work. They treat me good. I was in Langley Park and the cops and judges asked me to give them a blowjob and they said that they would give me $2000 if I give them four blowjobs. I was mistreated due to being latino and a woman. I want to say that the cops and judges are corrupt and try to inflict harm. I want to move to Leesburg, Va. and live with my good friends that I used to work for at Big Ernie's Inc. and I really thank you for your service if you will get a good lawyer to sue the corrupt law enforcement over in P.G. County that tried to give me a hard time.

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