ACLU Lens: Abuse in the Los Angeles County Jails

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Juan Pablo Reyes was punched by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies over and over again in the ribs, mouth and eyes, breaking his eye socket and leaving his body badly bruised. After falling to the ground, the deputies continued to kick Reyes, an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail, with their steel-toed boots, ignoring his cries.

And the deputies didn't stop there.

They ordered Reyes to strip and forced him to walk naked up and down the hallway of a housing module, in full view of other inmates. One deputy yelled, "Gay boy walking." Reyes began to cry, but the deputies just looked on and laughed. They then put him in a cell where he was beaten and sexually assaulted by other inmates. He desperately pled for help and to be removed from the cell, but to no avail.

In another incident, an inmate who discovered after deputies had searched all the cells in his row that some of his property was missing was savagely beaten after asking to speak to a sergeant. Deputies beat this inmate so violently he suffered a fractured jaw and required eye surgery and stitches in his ear. A deputy shoved him hard against a wall, slapped his ear, punched his face several times and then threw him to the ground. While on the ground, the inmate was kicked by the deputy roughly 10 times in his face, jaw and back of his head, causing a large pool of his blood to form on the floor. The inmate described the beating as being more painful than being hit by a car.

These stories are just two of dozens documented in the annual report on the Los Angeles County Jail system, the largest in the nation, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California.

The court-appointed monitor of the jail since 1985, the ACLU has in past reports detailed deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails. But today's report is the first in which a chaplain and other civilian eyewitnesses come forward with first-hand accounts.

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Combined with thousands of complaints from jail prisoners received by the ACLU in the past year alone — many of which describe attacks so severe that inmates required surgeries, suffered long-lasting injuries and experienced psychological trauma — the stories expose pervasive abuse of inmates at the hands of deputies and an ongoing climate of violence.

But perhaps even more shocking than the violence itself is the fact that it has been allowed to exist for years under Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who has covered up and ignored repeated claims of brutality.

According to Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project who has litigated against unconstitutional jail conditions for decades for the ACLU, the Los Angeles County Jail is the worst of the worst.

No jail in the nation matches the level of pervasive, savage, long-standing and notorious deputy-on-inmate violence of the kind we see in the Los Angeles County Jail system. But what is most stunning of all is the stubborn refusal of Sheriff Baca, the man in charge, to acknowledge there's even a problem.

Baca has repeatedly sought to downplay the problems, he insists that when problems arise they are adequately addressed and says that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is capable of policing itself.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as the ACLU report today makes clear. That's why the ACLU today is calling for Baca's immediate resignation, and demanding that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder launch an independent criminal and civil rights investigation into the allegations documented in the ACLU's report.

And you can help. Join us by sending a letter to Holder asking him to investigate the Los Angeles County Jail system and put an end to the unconstitutional and unconscionable abuse of the jail's prisoners.

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