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Opinion L.A.
Opinion Opinion L.A.

What's going on at our jails?

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 © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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