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Sheriff Promises to Deal ‘Severely’ With Jail Abusers

Times Staff Writer

Reacting to harsh criticism of his supervision of the San Diego County jail system, Sheriff John Duffy said Wednesday that members of his staff “will be held accountable” for abuses recently detailed in a grand jury report confirming assaults by deputies against inmates.

Duffy also indicated in an eight-page written response to the county panel that he intends to find out who was directly responsible for the abuses.

“While I must bear the responsibility for the shameful misconduct of the handful of deputies you described and their wanton disregard of my established department policies and procedures, I assure you that those responsible will be held accountable and will be dealt with severely,” he said.

Warning Memo to Staff

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“Captains, lieutenants and sergeants who have failed in their management and supervisory duties will also be held accountable.”

Duffy also issued a two-page memorandum to his entire staff, warning them against continued abuse as outlined by the grand jury in its description of a “Rambo Squad” of deputies in the County Jail at El Cajon.

“The actions of these deputies were far more than simply being unprofessional,” he told his staff of more than 2,000 employees.

“They were disgusting, inexcusably juvenile, unconscionable and unacceptable in this organization.”

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Grand jury Foreman Armistead B. Smith said he welcomed the sheriff’s swift response to the report, which was issued March 21.

The report concludes that inmates were assaulted and harassed by deputies, that there were internal cover-ups of the assaults and that Duffy and his top command did not provide the leadership necessary to prevent the abusive conduct.

‘Wish the Sheriff Well’

“The grand jury is appreciative of the positive approach being taken by the sheriff,” Smith said. “We are pleased with the response, and we wish the sheriff well as he conducts his housecleaning.”

But Smith declined to comment on whether Duffy appeared to be passing much of the blame for the problems on to his subordinates, and not shouldering enough of the responsibility himself.

“I wouldn’t want to interpret the sheriff’s response,” Smith said. “I don’t want to get into a discussion of the sheriff’s reply beyond what I’ve said.”

Duffy, as he has most of the past year, refused to be interviewed Wednesday.

Deputy Al Bates, a sheriff’s spokesman, said the two letters released Wednesday are the only public comment Duffy will have about the grand jury’s findings. And he said the sheriff will not hold a press conference, as earlier suggested, to discuss the grand jury’s report and his plans to correct the abuses.

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In both his letters, Duffy sharply criticized the media for its reporting on scores of lawsuits, claims and allegations from past and current inmates of assaults by deputies in each of the six county detention facilities.

Little Sympathy

And he scolded the press for not highlighting portions of the grand jury report that he said show “the professionalism and dedication of most members of this department.”

But for those members of the sheriff’s staff who have engaged in misconduct, Duffy made it clear, he holds little sympathy.

Calling the activities of the Rambo Squad “stupid, disgusting and outrageous,” he said he was disappointed that the grand jury did not name the individual deputies and supervisors responsible for abusive behavior.

But he said his Internal Affairs Division will push ahead to “independently obtain the same conclusive evidence” against those errant officers and deal with them accordingly.

“Every man and woman who wears our badge has been tarnished by the misconduct of a few,” he said in his memo to the staff.

“Any deputies who have knowledge of that misconduct and who have failed to report it to department superiors, the Internal Affairs Division or me, or who actually helped conceal it, have violated department policies, the peace officers’ code of ethics and their oath of office.

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‘Exhausting and Frustrating’

“The grand jury foreman has given us the opportunity to clean up our own house, and I expect everyone’s help in doing just that.”

As to the grand jury’s recommendations, Duffy said:

“Everyone in the Sheriff’s Department is anxious to correct the inadequacies you (the grand jury) have reported, take disciplinary action where appropriate and move forward. The past year has been exhausting and frustrating for virtually everyone in my department.”

The sheriff said he will act on the recommendations by:

- Restoring his “personal leadership over jail operations.”

- Continuing to work for the establishment of an inspections and control division within the department.

- Working with the county’s chief administrative officer to secure the funds for doubling the size of the Internal Affairs Division.

- Striving to “improve the quality of promotions and assignments of sergeants, lieutenants and captains, as well as to improve their training, performance and accountability.”

- Implementing a procedure whereby all allegations of excessive or unnecessary force are referred to the Internal Affairs Division and to each facility’s commander.

- Assuring that jail captains report all allegations of inmate abuse to Duffy personally, which the sheriff told the grand jury “certainly goes to the heart of your overall findings, conclusions and recommendations.”


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