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Sheriff Baca under fire in report on L.A. County jail violence [Video discussion]

September 7, 2012 |  2:42 pm

Sheriff Lee Baca came under criticism in a report issued Friday by investigators for a blue-ribbon commission looking into allegations of violence in the L.A. County jails.

Times deputy metro editor Matt Lait will discuss the findings in a Google+ Hangout at 3 p.m. PDT.

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 investigate deputies’ force against inmates. Some department leaders “had a lax attitude toward deputy aggression and discouraged deputy discipline,” the investigators said.

The panel's investigators -- who are pro bono attorneys -- also focused criticism on Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, saying there was "substantial evidence" that Tanaka urged deputies to be aggressive and "work in the gray area" of law enforcement. The investigators said there was evidence that Tanaka discouraged supervisors from investigating alleged deputy misconduct and "vetoed" efforts to address deputy cliques.

The commission will discuss the findings in more depth later Friday.

Baca and Tanaka could not immediately be reached for comment. But in testimony before the commission in July, both strongly defended their records, though Baca admitted some mistakes.

"We know we screwed up in the past," Baca told members of the county Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence. "I'm a guy that says let's go forward .... I just need this commission to understand the limits of digging up dirt that doesn't have any water going into it."

While investigators found that the majority of deputies were hard-working and ethical, they concluded that other deputies had a “disturbing mind-set” that valued using force first rather than as a last resort. In addition, some department leaders tolerated and even expressly encouraged "a code of silence" in which jailers were reluctant to report excessive force and other problems.

Last month, a federal grand jury demanded that sheriff's officials turn over all correspondence they have had with the blue-ribbon commission.

The subpoena suggests that federal authorities, in the midst of a widespread investigation of the jails, are expanding their probe to include allegations unearthed by the commission.

In recent months, the county panel has heard testimony from current and former sheriff's supervisors who have publicly alleged that top managers fostered a culture of abuse inside the jails.

But many more sheriff's employees have spoken to the commission privately. The subpoena could inadvertently force those sheriff's officials to out themselves to the department as informants.

In addition to seeking documents, federal authorities have been conducting interviews with current and former sheriff's officials, some of whom have told The Times that the questions have gone beyond jail issues to include other allegations of misconduct.

Federal prosecutors last year subpoenaed The Times for information about online commenters who complained about jailer misconduct, but that subpoena was withdrawn after the newspaper's attorneys objected.