Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls L.A. County Jails

Document Date: September 28, 2011
Affiliate: ACLU of Southern California

To be an inmate in the Los Angeles County jails is to fear deputy attacks. In the past year, deputies have assaulted scores of non-resisting inmates, according to reports from jail chaplains, civilians, and inmates. Deputies have attacked inmates for complaining about property missing from their cells. They have beaten inmates for asking for medical treatment, for the nature of their alleged offenses, and for the color of their skin. They have beaten inmates in wheelchairs. They have beaten an inmate, paraded him naked down a jail module, and placed him in a cell to be sexually assaulted. Many attacks are unprovoked. Nearly all go unpunished: these acts of violence are covered up by a department that refuses to acknowledge the pervasiveness of deputy violence in the jail system.

Deputies act with such impunity that in the past year even civilians have begun coming forward with eyewitness accounts of deputies beating non-resisting inmates in the jails. These civilian accounts support the seventy inmate declarations describing deputy-on-inmate beatings and deputy-instigated inmate-on-inmate violence and deputy threats of assaults against inmates that the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU/SC) has collected in the past year, as well as the myriad inmate declarations the ACLU/SC has collected over the years.

The violence that takes place in the Los Angeles County jails is far from normal. These are not average jails with isolated or sporadic incidents of deputy misbehavior. Thomas Parker, a former FBI Agent and Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau’s Los Angeles Field Office, reviewed inmate, former inmate, chaplain and civilian declarations, reports, correspondence, media articles, and legal filings, and found: “Of all the jails I have had the occasion to visit, tour, or conduct investigations within, domestically and internationally, I have never experienced any facility exhibiting the volume and repetitive patterns of violence, misfeasance, and malfeasance impacting the Los Angeles County jail system. …” “There is at least a two decade history of corruption within the ranks of the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department (LASD). In most of those cases, lower level deputies and civilian employees were prosecuted, but no one at the command level responsible for those employees appears to have been held accountable and appropriately punished for failure to properly supervise and manage their subordinate personnel and resources. In my opinion, this has provided the ‘seedbed’ for continued lax supervision, violence, and corruption within LASD and the county jails it administers,” Mr. Parker concluded.

The Kolts Commission “made various recommendations for reform within the LASD to then Sheriff Sherman Block and the Board of Supervisors, which, if implemented back then, have seemingly not survived over the past two decades, since excessive use of force, especially in the jails, is still common place in 2011.”

Mr. Parker’s conclusion is based on his extensive experience with investigations into malfeasance by law enforcement agencies, including in jails and prisons throughout the country. He oversaw the FBI investigation into the highprofile Rodney King beating, studying Los Angeles police officers’ use of excessive force. He played the same role in a major FBI investigation into corruption in the LASD Narcotics Division. In the words of Mr. Parker: “The misfeasance and malfeasance of LASD described in this report, and in the litigation for which it has been prepared, should not be allowed to continue nor to perpetuate itself, as it has apparently done over the past two decades and perhaps longer. To allow this to continue would be nothing short of criminal.”

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