Sheriff Baca reopens cases of alleged inmate abuse by deputies [Updated]
[For The Record: A previous verson of this post said that L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca pledged to create two task forces to address jail issues. Baca has alredy created the task forces and announced them to the public on Sunday.]
Amid mounting scrutiny of reported brutality in his jails, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca released a plan Sunday promising to reexamine multiple allegations of deputy abuse and to improve inmate safety.
Among the cases Baca said his department would reopen is that of a top rookie sheriff's deputy who abruptly resigned after he was allegedly forced by his supervisor to beat a mentally disabled inmate inside Twin Towers jail. In that case, The Times has reported, the rookie’s uncle, a sheriff’s gang detective, was so upset about what his nephew was put through that he allegedly threatened to "put a bullet" in the supervisor’s head.
Baca also pledged to reopen inquiries into dozens of allegations of abuse made by inmates and jailhouse volunteers, including two chaplains, that were recently compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The sheriff’s move comes amid a flurry of FBI scrutiny of alleged jailhouse abuse and other deputy misconduct. Federal authorities are probing at least three cases of potential brutality, including an allegation that jailers beat an inmate for two minutes after he became unconscious. Agents also recently set up an undercover sting in which a deputy was offered $1,500 to smuggle a cellphone to a Men’s Central Jail inmate who was secretly working as a federal informant.
U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. has declined to comment on whether his department plans to launch a broader inquiry -- known as a pattern and practice investigation -- of the L.A. County jails.
Among the reforms Baca announced Sunday to complete in-house is the creation of a task force of top department brass responsible for improving "educational opportunities, health benefits, and spiritual growth" for inmates, hosting "town hall" meetings where top officials will hear the concerns of inmates directly, and ensuring that sheriff’s personnel interact with inmates respectfully.
"We need to get deputies and inmates to sit down together and collaborate on how they can function," Baca said.
The sheriff also announced a special task force of 35 full-time investigators who would reexamine allegations of abuse, including the dozens presented by the ACLU. Baca said the department also must look at the case reported by The Times last week of a top recruit who said his supervisor made him beat up a mentally disabled inmate and cover it up. Department investigators previously evaluated those allegations and found no wrongdoing.
Even as he pledged to reopen the case of the ex-rookie, Joshua Sather, Baca asserted that Sather had been hit by the inmate in question but didn't remember it.
The sheriff has also ordered a review of the department's personnel monitoring database, which tracks deputy performance and is supposed to alert department leaders to early warning signs of problems.
"Deputies need to do things to manage violent inmates but do it to the point that when the violence ends the force ends as well," Baca said in an interview.
Baca did not say how much the efforts to clean up the jails would cost. "I have to do it whether or not I have the money to do it," he said.
The sheriff's reorganization of resources comes as the department continues to reel from severe budget cuts that have created case backlogs and possibly delays in 911 response times.
-- Robert Faturechi
Photo: Sheriff Lee Baca meets with inmates to listen to their complaints about the Men's Central Jail. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.