The ACLU and the ACLU of Southern California filed a federal class-action lawsuit today charging that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top commanders condoned a longstanding, widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the county jails. As we document in a new timeline, the ACLU has long worked to expose and combat the awful conditions in the LA County Jails.
Today’s lawsuit comes on the heels of a blistering ACLU report issued in September documenting dozens of stories of brutal violence carried out by sheriff’s deputies against jail inmates.
The court-appointed monitor of the jail since 1985, the ACLU has in past reports detailed deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails. But the September report is the first in which chaplains and other civilian eyewitnesses come forward with first-hand accounts.
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.
Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said in a statement today:
A sick culture of deputy-on-inmate hyper-violence has been flourishing for decades in the darkness of the L.A. County Jails, and this lawsuit will continue to help expose that culture to the light of day. Because Sheriff Baca has recently taken an important first step – publicly admitting there’s an enormous problem and expressing his commitment to reform – we hope the sheriff and the ACLU will be able to reach a court-ordered injunction that will bring about profound and far-reaching changes.
Los Angeles County has the largest jail system in the nation, with an average population of 15,000 inmates. The lawsuit charges that Baca and his command staff had full knowledge of a pattern of violence in the jails and sought to conceal it from the public.