L.A. County jail abuse commission to recommend fixes
A county commission created to examine allegations of abuse in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s jails said it would release its findings Friday, including 63 recommendations on how to fix problems with management, deputy culture and other issues.
For months, the commission and its investigators have taken accounts from former and current sheriff’s officials and reviewed internal sheriff’s documents. Earlier this month, the panel’s investigators used that evidence to issue a searing critique of Sheriff Lee Baca and his top assistants, accusing them of fostering a culture in which deputies were permitted to beat and humiliate inmates, cover-up misconduct and form aggressive deputy cliques in the L.A. County jails.
Baca was described as an out-of-touch boss who was "insulated ... from force issues and other bad news" by his underlings. Members of his command staff, investigators said, tolerated a "code of silence" and failed to control and thoroughly investigate deputies' force against inmates.
There was no evidence, investigators said, that Baca had tried to hold members of his senior management team accountable for their failures after he learned of the problems late last year, even though he has publicly faulted them for not alerting him to abuse in the jails. Baca's second-in-command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, came under harsh criticism from investigators for helping promote the corrosive culture that contributed to many of the jails' problems.
Baca, an elected official ultimately only accountable to voters, cannot be forced to implement the commission’s recommendations. He has said he supported the commission’s work and would take their ideas seriously, but he has refused to commit to implementing all of their recommendations without first seeing them. Supervisor Gloria Molina has said she would call for the sheriff’s resignation if he did not embrace the commission's advice.
Commission investigators have said the majority of deputies were hard-working and ethical. Some, however, preferred using force quickly during encounters with inmates rather than as a last resort, the investigators said. Some deputies used strip searches to harass and humiliate inmates, they said. There was also evidence that deputies allowed inmates to attack one another and intentionally endangered high-security prisoners by putting them in the jails' general population and announcing their crimes to other inmates. The investigators, who are prominent attorneys volunteering their services, presented their findings at a public hearing of the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence.
The seven commissioners have been reviewing those findings this month before they publish their own final report.
The panel was formed by the county board in October after it was revealed that federal authorities were investigating allegations of deputies abusing inmates.
The commission’s report Friday morning will include more than 77 findings – along with its recommendations on jail management, culture, personnel and training, oversight, discipline and accountability, according to a release.
-- Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard
Photo: Sheriff Lee Baca in 2010. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times