A Sheriff with his Head in the Sand

Originally posted by the ACLU of Southern California.

Gang-like cliques of sheriff’s deputies operating with impunity inside L.A. County jails. Department top brass encouraging a culture of violence and brutality against inmates. And a sheriff with his head in the sand.

We at the ACLU have been calling attention to the medieval conditions inside L.A. County jails for years. But on September 7, 2012, the blue-ribbon Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence held its penultimate hearing on deputy violence in the L.A. County jails. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens’ Commission last October, shortly after we released a report detailing dozens of sworn statements by victims of brutal deputy-on-inmate violence in L.A. County jails.

Our report that prompted the creation of the commission was titled “Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls Men’s Central Jail”. The report — which includes blood-chilling, eyewitness accounts of sadistic deputy-on-inmate violence by jail chaplains, monitors, and other civilian volunteers — triggered a fire-storm of media attention and public criticism of L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

The commission held a series of public hearings, calling witnesses including victims of deputy abuse, nationally-recognized corrections experts, and ACLU jails monitors and counsel. In addition, the staff of the commission, made up of pro bono lawyers from some of the most prestigious law firms in the country, interviewed more than a hundred other witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents.

At the September 7 hearing, a panel of the commission’s attorney investigators issued a preliminary report of their findings. The findings are devastating: investigators confirmed that LASD personnel “have used force against inmates disproportionate to the threat posed, or when there was no threat at all”; LASD’s process for investigating use of force incidents contains “multiple deficiencies”; dangerous, gang-like cliques have been operating inside the jails; Undersheriff Paul Tanaka not only discouraged investigations into alleged deputy abuses but also actually actively encouraged a culture a violence, urging deputies to act aggressively against inmates; Sheriff Baca, in turn, failed to discipline Tanaka or other top managers; and that top jails managers insulated Baca from information about the gang-like deputy cliques operating in the jails.

These findings come as no surprise to the ACLU: for the past four years, we’ve been intensively monitoring, carefully documenting, and vigorously denouncing the escalating pattern of deputy violence in the jails. In January 2012, the ACLU and the law firm of Paul Hastings filed a class-action lawsuit against Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka on behalf of all detainees in the jails, seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief from the violence.

Although not unexpected the Citizens’ Commission findings are extraordinarily important. They strongly corroborate the ACLU’s allegations against Sheriff Baca, Undersheriff Tanaka, and other top jail management — who continue to minimize the pervasiveness of deputy violence, to suppress the evidence of deputy violence, and to malign the deputies’ accusers, even as the reign of terror in the jails continues. We look forward to the release next month of the commission’s final report; with findings by a blue-ribbon panel staffed by many of the finest law firms in the country, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the sheriff to dismiss the deputies’ accusers as lacking in credibility.

Margaret Winter and Peter Eliasberg are two of the lead counsel for Plaintiffs in Rosas v. Baca; Ms. Winter testified in front of the Jail Commission.

Learn more about prison abuse: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (2)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

I'm kind of surprised that this story isn't getting more traction, especially in light of the fact that MSNBC is the "ALL PRISON ALL THE TIME" channel on weekends.

I hope that the lawsuit against Baca and Tanaka (amusingly, Baca is 'fool' in Japanese) results in such a punitive award that it gets the damn county's closer attention. Seriously, if the lawsuit forces the county to drain its coffers, it might take steps to ensure this kind of abuse doesn't happen in future.

I look forward to watching future episodes of 'The Fool and Tanaka!'

Anonymous

I don't remember this and I was once a resident of said jail.
And I thought he had his head up his butt - like people in the government at large. Like people related to Big Brother.

On this Golden Girls episode one time, Rose is reading a story to her Girl Scout troop called the Sunshine Cadets and she says the Indian lost his head and has been crying out for it ever since he lost it.
This one girl asks "If the Indian doesn't have a head, how can he cry out?"
Blanche answers in an aside voice to Dorothy and says "Maybe he talks out of his butt - like the government."
I thought that was hilarious.

Stay Informed