ACLU Report Alleges Deputy Brutality in LA County Jails

Marks first time civilian witnesses of violence came forward to ACLU

The ACLU released a report on Wednesday detailing numerous accounts of deputy brutality directed at Los Angeles County jail inmates.

The report marks the first time civilian witnesses of jail violence came forward to the ACLU with accounts of deputy violence against non-resisting inmates.

"The overwhelming majority of the complaints of deputy brutality came from the Men’s Central Jail,” said Margaret Winter, the Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. "There still was a significant number from Twins Towers of also very serious incidents."

As a result of the report, the civil rights organization’s Southern California branch on Wednesday called for the resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Late Wednesday, Sheriff Lee Baca questioned some of the report's findings, and said that he would not agree to step down.

"The voters of Los Angeles County are who decides who's the Sheriff of Los Angeles County," said Sheriff Baca. "We'll wait for the election."

Sheriff Baca especially objected to the ACLU report's finding that organized deputy gangs operate inside the jails.

"That is a very false allegation," said Sheriff Baca. "There are no gangs in the Sheriff's Department working the custody. They don't even have time to learn how to figure out as a group to go to which restroom in the system, let alone figure out how to conspire against inmates."

The ACLU also filed a report for a full criminal and civil rights investigation by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to address the accusations of assaults and excessive force that have occurred within the jails.

The ACLU foundation of Southern California received numerous complaints of violence in the past year from prisoners and their families.

The national report details different eyewitness accounts from inmates, former inmates, and civilian volunteers, all who bore witness to beatings of inmates on the part of deputies. 

 "Of all the jails I have had the occasion to visit, tour, or conduct investigations within, I’ve never experienced any facility exhibiting the volume and repetitive patterns of violence…impacting the LA County jail system,” Thomas Parker, a former FBI agent and Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau’s Los Angeles Field Office, stated in the report.

The ACLU makes the case that the violence detailed in the report is only a fraction of what occurs within the jail system. The report states that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department ignores most inmate reports of deputy’s violent behavior.

Winter said the ACLU has not received an official response from the LA County Sheriff’s Department regarding the lawsuit filed.

"We have already given the sheriff dozens and dozens and dozens of similar complaints over the last few years," said Winter.  "And we always get the same response, which is 'Inmates lie and exaggerate. And we thoroughly investigate these complaints and we know they are essentially all false.' What we know is that they don’t investigate them.

"This is a problem that has been going on for at least a decade, if not more," said Winter.  "We hope this is a turning point. And we really are calling on people to read the evidence that the ACLU is making publicly available, and we believe they will want to join the call for a thorough federal investigation." 

Rev. Dennis Gibbs, director of the Prism Program, which provides chaplain services to county facilities, including the Twin Towers and Men's Central Jail, said he's had "chaplains come back and say 'I witnessed something, of deputies diminishing inmates' dignity.' It may not be physical, but it's language, it's power tripping over these inmates. We see that. I’m not saying we're seeing it every day, but we do see it on a regular basis.

"When you first walk in the jail, there’s a big sign that’s painted on the wall, and I'm paraphrasing but the sign reads something like, 'they [the deputies] will respect the dignity of all people in that facility and that they will not use demeaning language,'" said Gibbs. "It’s the first thing you see. It makes the department look good, but I’m not sure it's put into action by all the deputies.

"I know the deputies have to have a posture of control, but sometimes they cross the line, at least in my perspective" said Gibbs.

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