LASD brass failed to root out deputy abuse, ACLU suit alleges
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department brass of failing to root out deputy brutality inside the county’s jails.
The lawsuit details multiple allegations of abuse from inmates, including claims Sheriff Lee Baca and his top executives are “aware of the culture of deputy violence that pervades the Jails but have failed to take reasonable measures to remedy the problem.” The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of jailhouse conditions.
Accusations of deputy brutality in the jails have been common for years but are difficult to substantiate one way or another without more evidence. The FBI is investigating allegations of abuse and other deputy misconduct inside the jails.
The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks a federal court injunction ordering the Sheriff’s Department to provide better training to deputies to prevent force, more thorough investigation of force incidents and appropriate discipline of misconduct.
Among the claims in the ACLU’s lawsuit is that some violence against inmates is commonplace, that deputies are poorly trained in dealing with mentally ill inmates and that jailers have formed “gangs.”
“Like members of street gangs, these deputies sport tattoos to signal their gang membership,” the ACLU alleges. “They beat up inmates to gain prestige among their peers, and ‘earn their ink’ by breaking inmates’ bones.”
In an interview with The Times, a recently retired jails commander also said that deputies had formed cliques inside Men’s Central Jail and that some guards earned respect from veteran members of those cliques by using excessive force.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore disputed the ACLU’s claims, saying the Sheriff's Department has implemented a variety of reforms he said have helped drive down the number of force incidents in the jails.
“There is no gang mentality among the deputies,” Whitmore said. “The deputies come to work every day to keep those jails safe and sound for everybody.”
Whitmore said ACLU representatives never mentioned their intention to file a lawsuit during a meeting last week with sheriff’s officials. He said the department would continue to cooperate with the organization, despite the lawsuit.
Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the Sheriff’s Department only recently provided his organization with a full policy on using force inside the jails. He complained the policy lacks details and helpful scenario-based instructions for deputies.
“Their force policies are a joke,” he said. “They might as well not have any.”
The lawsuit makes reference to several issues reported recently in The Times. In it, the ACLU accuses Baca of failing to shake up his executive staff despite receiving warnings of brutality inside the jails.
The Times reported recently that former jails Commander Robert Olmsted warned sheriff’s executives about excessive force and shoddy investigations but was told that the jail culture couldn’t be changed. One executive denied making such a comment.
The lawsuit also references allegations in The Times by a former top sheriff’s rookie who resigned from his jail’s post after alleging his supervisor made him beat up a mentally disabled inmate and then cover it up.
-- Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard