Sheriff Baca Takes Heat for Prisoner Abuse in L.A. County Jails

Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles County | Courtesy the ACLU of Southern California
Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles County | Courtesy the ACLU of Southern California

It's been a bad week for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

He is under intense heat over the conduct of his deputies in the jail system, with a damning new report on prison conditions from a court-appointed monitor shedding light on related federal investigations.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of prison conditions in L.A. County, released a report on Wednesday documenting hundreds of inmate complaints about deputy-on-inmate abuse. The report also includes testimony from civilian witnesses, including two chaplains and a volunteer tutor.

One chaplain, who was not identified in the ACLU report, recalled that "he saw four or five deputies repeatedly kicking an inmate. The inmate was lying motionless, facedown on the ground. His hands appeared to be tucked behind his back; they remained there throughout the attack. The inmate pleaded with the deputies to stop, yelling, 'help me.'"

"I was afraid that if I had tried to stop the beating or even just yell at the deputies to stop, they would come over and hurt me," the chaplain said, according to the report.

The revelations come at a bad time for the sheriff.

His department is already under investigation for deputy misconduct in the jail system by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The FBI investigation -- the full details of which have not been disclosed -- is looking into multiple reports of abuse of inmates by the prison guards who are supposed to ensure their safety.

But the FBI is tracking more problems in the L.A. County jails than just police violence against inmates.

The FBI paid a deputy $1,500 to smuggle a cell phone into the beleaguered Men's Central Jail, the Los Angeles Times reported, and then busted the sheriff's deputy in an undercover sting operation.

Sheriff's deputies have also been implicated for smuggling narcotics into the prison system for inmates, as detailed in another exclusive report by the Times.

But Baca told the Times that he knows that he has a problem.

"Some deputies are not getting it," he said. "And it didn't take the ACLU or anyone else to tell me that."



Mary Slosson is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.

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