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Sheriff's jailers unnecessarily strike inmates on head, ACLU says

September 26, 2012 | 10:00 am

L.A. County Mens Central Jail
Los Angeles County sheriff’s jailers have routinely hit inmates with unnecessary blows to the head, according to allegations in a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Blows to the head -– with fists, objects or against jail bars -– should only be used when deputies are in fear of their lives, the report said, but deputies have not saved the technique as a last resort, causing inmates serious, avoidable injuries.

The civil liberties group argued that the Sheriff’s Department’s assertion that inmates are often the aggressors -– not deputies -– does not justify the practice.

“Even if you take the Sheriff’s Department at its word, there’s a difference between reasonable force and unreasonable force. And the Sheriff’s Department on a routine basis has been using unreasonable force,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.

For two decades, the Sheriff’s Department has had a policy against intentionally striking inmates' heads with impact weapons unless the deputy is in danger and circumstances justify the use of deadly force.

Department monitors, however, have said the department's commitment to enforcing that policy has wavered. That policy was revamped in the last year -– amid growing scrutiny of abuse in the jails -– to include blows that bring an inmate’s head into contact with any hard object, including walls or jail bars.

“Deputies have stomped on inmates’ heads, even after shackling those inmates’ hands,” the ACLU report alleged. “They have bashed inmates’ faces into concrete walls. They have fractured inmates’ facial bones.”

The organization, which is a federal court-appointed monitor of the jails, based its new report on 64 sworn statements, mainly from inmates -– saying they corroborated that head injuries occurred in 12 of those instances using “medical records, photographic documentation, or civilian reports.”

The inmates, many of whom had their names withheld by the ACLU to protect them from retaliation, described harrowing accounts of abuse. One said a jailer kicked him multiple times in the head and jaw while he was on the floor.

“He was kicking me so hard that I saw a pool of my own blood on the floor,” the inmate wrote.

Most of those statements have been publicized by the ACLU in the past. The organization’s report comes just days before a county commission created to examine allegations of jail abuse releases its final report.

That blue-ribbon panel was created after The Times reported last year that the FBI was investigating abuse and other deputy misconduct in the sheriff’s jails.


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Photo: L.A. County Men's Central Jail last year. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times