ACLU Witnesses Brutal Beating Of Los Angeles County Jail Inmate By Sheriff’s Deputies

February 8, 2011

Attack Underscores Need For Systemic Reform And Decrease In Jail’s Population

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

LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) today condemned a recent brutal beating by two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of a detainee at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the county jail system.

The violent attack January 24 on James Parker, detained on a non-violent marijuana charge, was witnessed by ACLU/SC’s Esther Lim, who is assigned to monitor all county jails.

“We believe Mr. Parker’s beating is not an isolated incident,” said Hector Villagra, incoming Executive Director of the ACLU/SC. “Rather, it highlights the rampant violence that continues to plague the county’s jails, and demands court intervention to protect detainees from brutal attacks and retaliation. That the ACLU/SC monitor witnessed a brutal attack in plain sight is alarming and can only lead us to conclude detainees are subject to even greater cruelty when no one is looking.”

The beating was made public Monday in a sworn statement submitted in federal court by Lim, who watched through a glass window as deputies repeatedly punched, kneed and tasered Parker while he was lying motionless on the floor.

“Mr. Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching bag,” Lim says in her statement. “I thought he was knocked out, or perhaps even dead.”

Lim hit the glass divider hoping to get the deputies’ attention and stop the attack, but the officers continued to punch and taser Parker.

“Mr. Parker was not fighting with the deputies,” Lim says in her statement, adding he “was not trying to kick, hit or otherwise fight with the deputies.”

Yet deputies continued to order him to “stop resisting” and “stop fighting,” while simultaneously punching and kneeing his limp body repeatedly and tasering him multiple times.

The deputies then wrote in a jail log that Parker had been fighting and resisting, in complete contradiction to what the ACLU witnessed.

“This kind of brutal beating is unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “We are also very concerned that shortly after the beating the sheriff’s department issued a log report contradicting what witnesses, including our monitor, saw. The report claims Parker was resisting and fighting with deputies. That is blatantly false.”

Parker now faces charges for allegedly assaulting the very deputies who beat him.

Lim’s statement, along with that of another witness to the beating, was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to bolster a motion the ACLU filed in November seeking a federal court order prohibiting jail deputies from retaliating against prisoners through violence or threats.

The ACLU first sued Los Angeles County and its sheriff on behalf of all detainees in the county’s jail system in 1975, charging the conditions of their confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Many remedial orders have been issued over the years in the case, Rutherford v. Block. But the systemic problems plaguing the system have recently become so acute the ACLU in December asked U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson to order a new trial in the case based on “an escalating crisis of deputy violence, abuse and inmate suicides” at Men’s Central Jail, another of the system’s facilities. The ACLU contends the problems plaguing the jail system can only be fixed by finding alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment and community-based programs for the low-level, non-violent offenders and detainees with serious mental illnesses that comprise the vast majority of the system’s population, and seeks to prove the jail’s population can be safely, rapidly and radically reduced with existing resources and at great savings to county taxpayers.

A report released by the ACLU in September painted a stark picture of unacceptable levels of violence in the jails, including reports of deputies beating handcuffed detainees, injuring some so badly that they ended up in intensive care. The report also showed retaliation against inmates to be an acute problem. Several prisoners have been severely punished for meeting with representatives of the ACLU, which is the court-appointed monitor of conditions inside L.A.'s county jails.

“The reign of terror we’re uncovering in the Los Angeles County jails is unmatched by any of the hyper-violent prisons and jails across the country we have investigated,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The brutality there is so blatant and routine that the deputies carried out a vicious beating in full view of a court-appointed monitor. The court needs to take immediate action to ensure the protection of prisoners.”

A copy of the ACLU’s sworn statement, as well as that of the beating’s other witness, is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/declarations-esther-lim-and-christopher-brown-regarding-january-24-2011-beating-twi

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