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Internal investigation launched into alleged beating at Twin Towers jail

February 8, 2011 | 12:31 pm

Authorities announced a criminal investigation Tuesday into allegations that two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies beat an unconscious inmate for at least two minutes at Twin Towers jail, an official said.

The internal sheriff’s criminal investigation comes on the heels of a statement filed in court Monday by an ACLU staffer who said she happened upon the beating last month while visiting the jail on unrelated business.

Through a window, Esther Lim said she saw two deputies who seemed to be unaware of her presence punching, kicking and Tasering an inmate while his body was limp "like he was a mannequin.”

An internal sheriff's log also appeared to confirm the Jan. 24 incident, but stated the inmate was punching the deputies, remaining combative until he was Tasered. Lim called the deputies' account a fabrication, saying inmate James Parker was so still while being beaten that she worried he was dead.

During the incident, she said the deputies monotonously repeated "stop resisting" and "stop fighting" as though they "were reading from a script."

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the criminal investigation would be handled internally, and the findings would be passed over to prosecutors.

“We didn’t know anything about this,” Whitmore said, adding the ACLU should have notified them of what their staffer witnessed immediately afterward.

Lim said the ACLU commonly receives complaints from inmates who say deputies beat them while repeating "stop resisting" commands, even when the inmates are not resisting. Lim said she suspects the deputies involved in this incident recited the commands as a ruse to later justify their actions with the help of a jailhouse recording or other deputies who may have heard their commands.

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 an especially rare instance in which a third party was present to observe. One of the deputies involved in the incident was identified in court records as Ryan Hirsch. The other was identified by the ACLU by his last name, Ochoa. Whitmore declined to confirm their names.

Both, he said, declined requests from The Times for an interview.

Whitmore had told the Times on Monday that both deputies remained on active duty, but said Tuesday one was on medical leave due to a broken hand he sustained during the altercation. The other, he said, has been reassigned within the jail.

Parker, 35, is being kept away from other inmates and staff within the jail to “maintain the integrity” of the investigation, Whitmore said. He was charged Monday with felony counts of battery and resisting an officer in connection with the incident.

Parker received stitches to his face, and suffered pain in his ribs and a swollen cheek and eye, according to the ACLU.

A declaration from Christopher Brown, the inmate who was meeting with Lim at the time of the incident, also disputed the deputies' telling.

Brown said Ochoa was present during the first part of his interview with deputies about what he saw, and was being intimidating, a claim the Sheriff’s Department has denied.


ACLU staffer said she witnessed deputies beating inmate at Twin Towers

-- Robert Faturechi