Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies too often strike the heads of jail inmates during scuffles, causing at least 12 serious head injuries since 2009, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The ACLU, which has been severely critical of the department's use-of-force record, based its report on statements from 64 inmates, former inmates and civilian eyewitnesses as well as photographs and medical records. The witnesses described attacks in which deputies specifically targeted inmates'
Sheriff Lee Baca's department and jails are the subject of a federal probe of deputy violence against inmates and a Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence. An investigative team for the commission, which is expected to release a final report and recommendations on Friday, criticized Baca as being insulated and out-of-touch with the problems in his jails, and said there was a "force first'' culture in the jails.
Baca defended his jails and use-of-force policy last week during testimony before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
"All of the dynamics in the jail(s) are fully understood, fully addressed and force is at an all-time low,'' Baca said. ``We are best in the nation and that includes Rikers Island and Cook County, which others like to say are better models. In fact, they're coming to us, asking more about what we're doing to improve the situation.''
The department installed hundreds of cameras in the Men's Central Jail, Twin Towers and an inmate reception center as a result of the investigations into its jails.
The report out Wednesday questions the department's use-of-force policy and accuses Baca's deputies of failing to accurately report, investigate and discipline excessive force incidents. The report cites a ``miniscule number of unreasonable force findings'' as grounds for the accusation.
"If the past is any indication, we can predict how the sheriff's department will respond,'' ACLU/SC legal director Peter Eliasberg said. ``It's always the inmate's fault. The inmate was always the aggressor. But the corroborating documents we've gathered demonstrate that the use of force is excessive regardless, whatever the provocation.''
A department spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment on
the ACLU report.
The ACLU has challenged the Sheriff's Department in court, demanding
changes in the county's jails. The civil liberties group also sued the department over the summer for allegedly hiding evidence involving abuses of jail inmates.