SECTION REDIRECT: newsREDIRECT SECTION: opinionREDIRECT SECTION: opinionla

What's going on at our jails?

FBIJustice SystemAmerican Civil Liberties UnionLee Baca

This week, The Times' Robert Faturechi reported that the FBI is investigating allegations of brutality and misconduct on the part of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in the jails. And a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California provides sworn testimony about inmate beatings from three witnesses, including a chaplain who described watching deputies repeatedly kick an inmate who "lay limp and merely absorbed their blows." The report comes eight months after an ACLU monitor assigned to the Twin Towers jail said she saw several deputies repeatedly Taser and beat an inmate as if he were a "human punching bag."

The allegations are piling up, yet Sheriff Lee Baca and his top aides continue to insist that everything's under control and that the department can police itself, thank you very much. But it can't.

Baca, unfortunately, appears more interested in whining about the federal inquiry than uncovering the truth. He has spent a lot of time, for instance, complaining that as part of its investigation, the FBI paid a deputy about $1,500 to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate at Men's Central Jail. The deputy was unaware that the prisoner was an FBI informant.

Instead of expressing outrage that one of his deputies took a bribe, or vowing to help the FBI get to the bottom of the misconduct and brutality allegations, Baca has criticized the FBI for failing to notify his office about the cellphone sting, and has suggested that agents committed a crime that put deputies' and inmates' lives at risk. He has dismissed past ACLU allegations as "unsubstantiated," although in at least two of the cases cited in the most recent report, internal investigators never contacted witnesses, the civil liberties group said.

The county jails have a long history of trouble that precedes Baca. They have been under federal court oversight for overcrowding and other problems for more than 30 years. And over the last decade, there have been inmate riots, killings by inmates and even accusations that deputies in the jails have formed gang-like cliques. Deputies, mind you. Not inmates. At least a dozen deputies were fired for misconduct last year.

The county cannot afford to ignore these problems. Beginning next week, newly convicted low-level felons who until now have been sent to state prison will be sent to county jails. Baca must bring his deputies under control immediately; the potential for violence and misconduct will only grow as the inmate population increases.

If Baca is truly interested in demonstrating the integrity of his department and protecting the reputation of his deputies, he should welcome the FBI probe, not obstruct it.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
FBIJustice SystemAmerican Civil Liberties UnionLee Baca
  • Why so many injury claims from L.A. public safety workers?
    Why so many injury claims from L.A. public safety workers?

    Los Angeles' police and firefighters take paid injury leave at significantly higher rates than public safety employees elsewhere in California. Why? Is it more strenuous or stressful to work in the city of Los Angeles, compared with L.A. County or Long Beach? Does the city have an older...

  • Daniele Watts, in her own words
    Daniele Watts, in her own words

    Some experiences stay with us. When I was 16, my father was driving me home from a school play when we saw flashing lights. We hadn't been speeding. I remember my father asking the police officer what was wrong. The officer ignored his question and demanded identification.

  • Daniele Watts case: Did confrontation with LAPD have to happen?
    Daniele Watts case: Did confrontation with LAPD have to happen?

    Here’s the basic question about the case of Daniele Watts, the young black actress who was detained and handcuffed on a Studio City sidewalk Thursday after refusing to provide identification to police officers: Did the confrontation have to happen at all?   

  • James Hahn: An L.A. mayor to remember
    James Hahn: An L.A. mayor to remember

    In a city of big egos and bigger-than-life politicians, the accomplishments of a courageous and hardworking mayor who avoided the limelight tend to get lost. That makes it especially gratifying that the Los Angeles City Hall East building will soon be renamed in honor of former Mayor James...

  • Chief Charlie Beck talks about perfecting the LAPD
    Chief Charlie Beck talks about perfecting the LAPD

    That TV-friendly phrase "top cop"? It doesn't begin to describe Charlie Beck's job as the chief of the LAPD. Just how much the job entails became clear during the application process for his second five-year term. He's a lawman, yes, but also a diplomat, civic preacher,...

  • Ferguson's police force can learn from LAPD
    Ferguson's police force can learn from LAPD

    The ongoing violence in Ferguson, Mo., is dismaying and — for those who have been in Los Angeles a long time — painfully familiar. As this city long ago learned, when the public loses trust in its police, many people suffer.

  • LAPD's faulty crime data
    LAPD's faulty crime data

    Over the last decade, Los Angeles has made the CompStat crime mapping system the foundation of the Police Department, with crime statistics informing decisions on where to deploy officers and how to make the city safer. The LAPD's data-driven policing has been credited with reducing...

  • Reappoint Charlie Beck as police chief
    Reappoint Charlie Beck as police chief

    Should Charlie Beck be reappointed? Yes. But that answer would be expected from someone the chief has called his partner in police reform for 12 years.

Comments
Loading