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Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, discusses the lawsuit at a news conference announcing the suit.
District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca allegedly condoned a secret practice that hid evidence during criminal cases of deputy assault against inmates, according to a civil suit filed Tuesday by several legal experts and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 33-page complaint (PDF), filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleged that the district attorney's office violated California law by adopting a formal policy that repeatedly failed to disclose "exculpatory evidence" -- evidence that would help the defense -- to defendants in criminal cases.
Officials are required by law to disclose such evidence to the opposing counsel.
The complaint, filed by defense attorney Jeffrey Douglas, calls for the practice's "immediate cessation" and urges officials to appoint an independent counsel to review cases that may have been affected by the policy.
"The policies of District Attorney Cooley and Sheriff Baca challenged in this lawsuit have for over a decade now corrupted LA criminal trials into truth-concealing perversions of justice: a system of injustice for all criminal defendants," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, in a Tuesday press release.
In addition, the ACLU has filed a complaint with the State Bar of California against Cooley and has asked for a civil grand jury investigation of the program.
But Cooley and Baca have challenged the lawsuit, claiming that the move blames the wrong people.
"We have done nothing wrong, nothing illegal," said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, in an interview Wednesday. "We have kept nothing secret, especially from the court. This appears to be a gross mischaracterization of the facts."
He added that the complaint "inappropriately raises the blame in the wrong arena."
In addition, Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Cooley, called the lawsuit a "blatant attempt to mislead the public and the court" in a written statement to NBC4.
The complaint further alleged that the Sheriff's Department frequently filed criminal charges against inmates involved with an altercation with deputies, falsely claiming that the inmates acted aggressively, according to the ACLU.
The other plaintiffs in the case include law firm Bird Marella, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree and USC Law Professor Michael Brennan.