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L.A. County sheriff investigates captain who oversaw troubled jail

November 9, 2011 |  2:58 pm

A sheriff's deputy prepares to unlock a security door to a cell block at Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials have launched an investigation into the performance of a captain who until recently supervised the troubled Men’s Central Jail, a source confirmed Wednesday.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to detail why Capt. Daniel Cruz was put on leave. The source with knowledge of the case told The Times it was connected to Cruz’s tenure at the Men’s Central Jail. The source asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.

The probe into Cruz represents the first significant action against a high-ranking sheriff’s official since public scrutiny of the department’s jails intensified in recent weeks.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

Cruz, who left the Men’s Central Jail for Transit Services late last year, has been relieved of duty pending the internal administrative investigation, officials confirmed. In these types of investigations, department employees can be reinstated without punishment, suspended, demoted or even fired.

Cruz oversaw the Men’s Central Jail from April 2008 to December 2010. The Times has reported that sheriff’s brass raised warnings in internal audits during that period about inexperienced jailers and excessive force at the downtown L.A. lockup.

Sheriff Lee Baca has not announced any potential reprimands against officials higher up on his command staff. Cruz could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

PHOTOS: Men's Central Jail

The county's jails have come under intensifying criticism since The Times reported in September that federal authorities were investigating reports of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct.

The U.S. attorney's office has demanded a large volume of documents on deputies and others working in the jails, including reports of force used on inmates, since 2009. The county Board of Supervisors has called for reforms and is setting up a commission to investigate the scope of the jails' problems.

Confidential documents reviewed by The Times show that sheriff’s officials identified excessive force as a problem in the Men’s Central Jail in 2009, when Cruz was running it. The records concluded that some deputies used unnecessary force, then escaped punishment because of shoddy investigations by supervisors.

One of the reports audited more than 100 violent encounters with inmates and found that deputies crafted narratives “dramatized to justify” force. Authorities concluded that some confrontations were triggered by deputies who thought inmates had acted disrespectfully to them -- showing “contempt of cop.”

Another document showed that the department had placed some of its least experienced deputies to guard its most dangerous inmates on the third floor of the Men’s Central Jail, a practice that the memo linked to more frequent clashes on the floor than any other part of the jail.

It is unclear from the documents whether Cruz was provided with their findings or what action he took in response.

The warnings from top sheriff's officials echo similar allegations of excessive force and inadequate investigations now being leveled by department outsiders, including the sheriff's watchdog, individual inmates and civil liberties advocates.


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Photo: A sheriff's deputy prepares to unlock a security door to a cell block at Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times