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ACLU blasts conditions in Men's Central Jail following scanner scam

July 29, 2010 |  7:28 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday blasted the “horrific conditions and abuses” at Men’s Central Jail, following a report last week that exposed a system used by a group of deputies there to avoid making routine checks on inmates’ welfare.

The Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were using fake scanner codes to thwart electronic checkpoints the department had installed around the downtown jail. The county Office of Independent Review reported that the deputies had made copies of the codes on sheets of paper, and instead of doing their mandatory rounds, they scanned the codes at their desks.

A March 2009 suicide prompted an investigation that revealed the inmate had been dead for hours before his body was found, despite records appearing to show that a deputy had passed the man’s cell while he was dead.

The fallout from the scam’s discovery led to two deputies being fired and an additional eight sworn officers being disciplined, according to officials.

The ACLU called the deputies actions after the suicide a “cover-up,” saying they “engaged in a deliberate, systematic faking of surveillance logs.”

In its statement, the civil liberties organization said it received a letter from an inmate in a nearby cell, who described the inmate’s behavior before the suicide as “disturbed.”

“These findings underscore the urgency of the ACLU’s efforts to address the horrific conditions and abuses in Men’s Central Jail, where as many as 50% of the detainees are mentally ill,” read the ACLU release.

Sheriff's internal affairs investigators identified the deputy behind the scheme, who according to the report admitted to using "widely available bar code replication software" to make the fake codes. They also found that the deputy on duty during the suicide had made a “chow run” to a nearby restaurant while he was supposed to be making rounds, according to the oversight report.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said changes had been made at the jail to prevent similar incidents.

“We investigated it. It was wrong. The Sheriffs Department took prompt action,” he said.

-- Robert Faturechi