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Watchdog says 30-plus LA sheriff’s jailers disciplined in connection with inmate beatings

Sheriff Lee Baca talks with reporters as he leads a tour inside the Men's Central Jail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 19, 2004. At that time, he faced criticism over a spate of deaths in the country's largest jail.
Sheriff Lee Baca talks with reporters as he leads a tour inside the Men's Central Jail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, Wednesday, May 19, 2004. At that time, he faced criticism over a spate of deaths in the country's largest jail.
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Los Angeles County’s Office of Independent Review Thursday added its voice to the growing chorus of concerns about inmate abuse at L.A. County jails. In a new report, Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco said sheriff’s officials have disciplined more than 30 jail employees for beating inmates or engaging in cover-ups over the past two years.

“The report is intended to inform the reader on violence in Los Angeles County jails,” Gennaco said.

In one case, a sheriff’s deputy claimed he tazed an inmate because he was trying to get away. But a nearby camera showed the inmate was non-resistant. The deputy Tazed the inmate again - even after he was handcuffed.

“The deputy was not telling the truth,” he said.

Lies appear to be part of the fabric of abuse at the jails. Gennaco said some deputies subscribe to a code of silence.

“Not only did they not intercede to stop the force, they didn’t report the force after it occurred.”

The independent watchdog described an atmosphere where “ungrounded” deputies inflict punishment or retaliate against inmates for being “mouthy.” He added that many inmate complaints of abuse are not taken seriously by supervisors.

“You find some evidence of bias, and sort of a dismissive tone with regard to the inmate’s complaint,” Gennaco said.

The report comes amid increasing scrutiny of how the Sheriff’s Department operates the jails. The F.B.I. is investigating abuse allegations. The Los Angeles Times quoted a former rookie deputy who said he resigned because a supervisor forced him to beat a mentally ill inmate.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union presented dozens of abuse allegations. A jail chaplain witnessed some of them. The A.C.L.U. has called for the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees the jails.

The sheriff initially was dismissive of the F.B.I. investigation and abuse allegations. Under increasing heat, he’s since said he welcomes the review. Baca also recently held a “town hall” at one jail to listen to inmates concerns.

Gennaco said the department performed better when investigating the most serious complaints of abuse, and he praised it for firing some brutal deputies. But he indicated the sheriff hasn’t gotten a grip on inmate abuse, and expressed disappointment in Baca’s failure to install cameras to monitor deputies, especially at the troubled Men’s Central Jail downtown.

“The fact that cameras are not in the jails and should have been a long time ago is troublesome,” Gennaco said. Baca has said he intends to install more video cameras.

Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor, said its important to address the problems at L.A. County jails because they'll soon be handling thousands of more inmates under the state program to transfer control of less serious criminals from prisons to county lock-ups.

“I’m glad a lot of attention has been focused on this issue because we’re going to get a lot more inmates in the jail - and we need to be prepared for that.”