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Jail captain denies protecting abusive, dishonest deputies

July 9, 2012 | 12:30 pm

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. jails under scrutiny

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department captain accused of protecting brutal and dishonest jail deputies has spoken out publicly for the first time, saying the allegations are untrue.

“I'm just shaking my head at some of these statements,” said Daniel Cruz, who was placed on leave last year as allegations of abuse inside Men’s Central Jail mounted. “I'm just sitting here waiting for my turn.”

During Cruz’s tenure, sheriff's brass expressed concerns in internal audits about inexperienced jailers and excessive force on inmates. Most notably, officials said an aggressive gang-like clique of deputies existed on the jail’s third floor. Some members of the clique brawled with fellow deputies at a department Christmas party in 2010.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. jails under scrutiny

On Friday, the allegations against Cruz grew with one of his former lieutenants, Michael Bornman, testifying before a county jails commission that Cruz resisted rooting out jailer misconduct and allowed force investigations to languish. Bornman, now a captain, recounted one instance in which Cruz joked at a department party about hitting inmates.

Speaking to The Times, Cruz said “a lot of that stuff can be easily proven to be untrue.” Cruz declined to discuss the specific allegations against him, citing the ongoing investigation of his tenure, but he accused his critics of wanting “to be in the limelight.”

Cruz said he has not been interviewed by department investigators, even though he’s been on leave since November. He said he might like to speak to the commission created by the county Board of Supervisors to examine allegations of abuse.

“I accept responsibility for anything I've done wrong,” Cruz said. “I should get commended for the things I have done right.”

His former lieutenant, Bornman, testified that in several instances, Cruz allowed misconduct to go unchecked. In one case, Bornman described a roomful of supervisors watching footage of deputies beating an inmate. The video showed one jailer casually leaning against a door frame, occasionally landing knee drops into the prisoner's torso. Despite the excessive force by the deputies, Bornman said, Cruz turned to the other jail supervisors and commented: “I see nothing wrong with that use of force.”

In another instance, Bornman said, deputies got into a brawl with patrons at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in West Covina. In the ensuing investigation, it became obvious that some deputies weren't being honest about which of their colleagues were involved. When Bornman took that concern to Cruz, he said Cruz told him, “Don't look too hard.”

Internal memos found Cruz’s jailers crafted narratives “dramatized to justify” force. Authorities concluded that some confrontations with inmates were triggered by deputies who thought inmates had acted disrespectfully to them -- showing “contempt of cop.” Other documents 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.

Cruz said he’s looking forward to telling his side of the story, and getting back to work. “I'm a guy who's been working since he's 14…I'm a guy who likes to work.”


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Photo: An inmate peers from his cell at the Men's Central Jail. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times