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ACLU asks for federal investigation into alleged inmate beating at jail

February 17, 2011 |  4:23 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union called for a federal investigation Thursday into allegations that two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies beat an unconscious inmate for two minutes at a County Jail last month. ACLU officials said they hope the United States attorney's office will get involved because the Sheriff's Department "has proven itself to be completely unwilling to investigate its own deputies aggressively."

Last month, Esther Lim, an ACLU staffer, filed a statement in court after witnessing the alleged beating while visiting the downtown Los Angeles jail on unrelated business. Lim said she looked through a window and saw two deputies punching and kicking an inmate while his body was limp "like he was a mannequin." The deputies seemed to be unaware of her presence, she said in the statement.

An internal sheriff's log appeared to confirm the Jan. 24 incident, but stated that the inmate was punching the deputies and remained combative until he was Tasered. Lim called the deputies' account a fabrication. James Parker remained so still during the beating, she said, that she worried he was dead.

Authorities announced a criminal investigation soon after.

After the ACLU publicized the incident, sheriff's officials questioned why Lim and the ACLU did not immediately report it given the severity of their allegations. ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said their statements implied doubt in the veracity of Lim's claims. If the deputies are eventually charged, ACLU officials said, prosecutors would be put into the awkward position of having their key witness' credibility questioned by the agency whose investigation they would be basing their case on.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore, one of at least two officials who have asked why the ACLU waited to report the incident, said Thursday that he stood by his prior comments, calling the question a "reasonable" one.

The Sheriff's Department is open to federal investigators getting involved, he said.

Allegations of deputy brutality in county jails are common, but hard to substantiate. Aside from other deputies, usually the only witnesses are inmates, whose accounts are inherently considered less credible, experts say.

This incident offers a rare instance in which a third party was present to observe.

Parker, the inmate, was charged with felony counts of battery and resisting an officer in connection with the incident.

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--Robert Faturechi

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