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Civilian watchdogs ‘too cozy’ with sheriff, supervisors say

September 25, 2012 |  8:20 am

Los Angeles County jail
Pressure is growing to enhance oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in the wake of the jail abuse scandal as critics say the civilian watchdog system is falling short.

Three county supervisors said in interviews this month that they thought the Office of Independent Review was too close to the Sheriff's Department.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the office had become "literally and figuratively embedded" with the department. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he was concerned that its attorneys had been "co-opted or compromised."

Full coverage: Jails under scrutiny

"It's gotten too cozy with the sheriff," said Supervisor Gloria Molina. "They have had a tendency to acquiesce to too much."

On Friday, the county's blue-ribbon commission is expected to propose sweeping changes, and its investigators have suggested giving the watchdogs expanded powers, including the ability to conduct their own investigations and maintain a permanent presence in the jails.

Investigators for a commission examining jail abuse found that neither of the two main civilian monitors regularly analyzed data that track violent encounters between deputies and inmates or examined how the department handled inmate complaints.

When the watchdogs did uncover major problems in the jails, the investigators found, the Sheriff's Department failed to carry out some of the recommended reforms.

"You can't expect civilian oversight to fix all of the problems," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "But in some ways, they've been counterproductive because they've given the sheriff a patina of respectability that he wasn't entitled to."

The calls for improving civilian oversight come after the commission's investigators concluded that sheriff's managers allowed and even fostered an aggressive culture in the jails, and deputies used excessive force and humiliated inmates.

L.A. County has the largest jail system in the country, housing approximately 19,000 in eight facilities.


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Photo: L.A. County Men's Central Jail in November 2011. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times