ACLU Report Documents Eyewitness Accounts of Brutality Against Los Angeles County Jail Inmates by Sheriff's Deputies

September 28, 2011

ACLU Calls for Immediate Resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Thorough Federal Investigation

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CONTACT: (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

LOS ANGELES – Several chaplain and other civilian eyewitnesses document brutal beatings of Los Angeles County Jail inmates by sheriff’s deputies as part of an annual report on the county’s jail system released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California.

The report details a pattern of severe and pervasive abuse of inmates at the hands of deputies and an ongoing climate of violence that has been allowed to exist for years under Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who the report says has covered up and ignored the claims of savagery.

The ACLU today called for Baca’s immediate resignation and for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to order a full criminal and civil rights investigation into the allegations of deputy-on-inmate assaults, deputy-instigated inmate-on-inmate assaults and the regular use of excessive force inside the jail.  

“Sheriff Baca bears ultimate responsibility for the horrific details we uncovered compiling this report and must step down,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Contrary to what the sheriff and his spokesperson contend, hundreds of inmates are telling the truth about deputy abuse. This report clearly demonstrates that there is a salient pattern of unprovoked, excessive force and abuse against inmates, many of whom are not resisting.”

The ACLU report also includes dozens of allegations by inmates and former inmates.

Though the ACLU has issued two prior reports detailing deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails, today’s report is the first in which chaplains and other civilians have come forward with first-hand accounts.

The ACLU has received several thousand complaints from prisoners in the Los Angeles County Jail system in the past year alone, including:

  • Descriptions of attacks so severe that inmates required multiple surgeries, suffered long-lasting injuries and experienced psychological trauma.
  • Assertions that deputies do not act alone and that groups of them often attack non-resisting inmates.
  • Allegations that deputies enlist other inmates to carry out their orders of abuse.

One complaint documented inmates sexually assaulting another inmate with a broomstick at the behest of sheriff’s deputies. Another complaint described a group of inmates raping a fellow inmate while holding his head in a flushing toilet with the apparent cooperation of sheriff’s department employees. 

“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,” said Margaret Winter,  associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “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."

Former inmate Gordon Grbavac received a severe beating from deputies that sent him to the jail’s clinic.  “One deputy grabbed me on my left side and the other deputy grabbed me on my right side, and as if I was a battering ram,” he said.  “They repeatedly slammed my head and cheek into the window partition that separates the attorneys from the inmates.” 

Thomas Parker, a former FBI agent and assistant special agent in charge of the bureau’s Los Angeles office, reviewed declarations submitted by inmates, civilians and chaplains and conducted a number of in-person interviews. “The violence is not the work of a few rogue deputies, but systemic,” said Parker. “It has continued unchecked for decades. Gang-like groups of deputies have been operating in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department at least since the 1980s, and perhaps since the early 1970s, and these deputy gangs continue to operate today seemingly with impunity, right under the eyes of all levels of the current management of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

A copy of the ACLU’s report is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/cruel-and-usual-punishment-how-savage-gang-deputies-controls-la-county-jails

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