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ACLU: Sheriff Lee Baca must resign over County Jail report

September 28, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Jail inmate 
The ACLU is calling for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to resign on the heels of a report chronicling what it labeled "pervasive abuse" of jail inmates by deputies.

“Sheriff Baca bears ultimate responsibility for the horrific details we uncovered compiling this report and must step down,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. 

“Deputy-on-inmate abuse has reached levels we’ve never seen before," Eliasberg said.

The ACLU report included declarations from two chaplains and a Hollywood producer who volunteered in the jails.  Two of the volunteers said they heard deputies yell "stop fighting" as they pummeled inmates who appeared to not be fighting back.

Leaders for the ACLU of Southern California said the climate of violence has continued for years under Baca and only solution was for the sheriff, whose post is elective, to step down.

Eliasberg on Wednesday said the information in the report was not gleaned from inmates alone as in prior years, but from respected volunteers in the jails. The ACLU submitted sworn statements from the volunteers, including a Hollywood producer and a pair of chaplains, who say they came forward because they were troubled by what they saw.

"Now we have chaplains and other civilians coming forward who have seen the brutality themselves, and their declarations vindicate the claims of prisoners," Eliasberg said. "This report clearly demonstrates that there is a salient pattern of unprovoked, excessive force and abuse against inmates, many of whom are not resisting."

Baca, at a news conference, said the ACLU did not tell the whole story at the County Jail and that there are violent inmates. Baca, though, said he welcomes the investigation and prides himself on operating an open and transparent jail system.

"If an investigation reveals excessive force, that employee is discharged. The LASD is never hesitant to discipline itself," Baca said, defending his department. "Investigating the facts is what gets the truth, That is what we do."

But the ACLU painted a different picture.

The FBI has confirmed  it is probing at least two inmate allegations of abuse. The bureau is also investigating a January incident in which an ACLU monitor said she witnessed two deputies beat an unconscious inmate for two minutes. According to sources, federal agents recently paid off a deputy in an undercover sting to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate who was secretly serving as an FBI informant.

Thomas Parker, a former assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office who now works with the ACLU, said  gang-like groups of deputies have been operating in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at least since the 1980s, and perhaps since the early 1970s.


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Photo: An inmate talks on the phone at the L.A. County Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times