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L.A. County deputies thwarted bar code system to avoid checking cells, report says

July 21, 2010 |  4:26 pm

Two deputies have been fired and another eight sworn officers disciplined by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department after a suicide in the Men’s Central Jail revealed a scheme to defeat a bar code system that verifies that guards have checked cells regularly.

The scandal, internally dubbed Scannergate, was uncovered after a “high security” inmate hanged himself in a discipline module of the downtown jail, according to the report Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors from the county Office of Independent Review.

The Sheriff’s Department requires its deputies acting as guards to check the cells of “high security inmates” every half hour to ensure their health and safety.

To make sure regular checks occur the department installed electronic checkpoints that deputies must scan with a bar code reader as they walk from location to location in the cell rows. A check of records by investigators revealed that the deputy in the March 2009 suicide case had scanned every point within 35 seconds, a physical impossibility given their spacing.

After determining that the deputy falsified the log, the investigators uncovered a copy of the bar codes in a deputy’s desk.

“The scanner-cheating cases demonstrate a disappointing lapse in integrity on the part of involved deputies. Their actions were overt and premeditated,” wrote Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review, which acts as a watchdog over the Sheriff's Department. He added that “wholesale abdication of their responsibilities” and the suicide demonstrate "the real consequences” of such actions.

Gennaco said that in the case of the suicide, the deputy failed to check on the inmate and instead simply  scanned the bar code like a supermarket checker. Last year alone eight inmates committed suicide. A search of computers showed that the “cheat sheet” scheme had been disseminated around the jail.

Internal affairs investigators eventually confronted the deputy behind the scheme, who admitted he brought “widely available bar code replication software” into the jail and created the “perfect replicas,” according to the report

-- Richard Winton