The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating allegations by a female deputy that inmates at a Santa Clarita Valley jail exposed themselves and threw eggs and tomatoes at her because male deputies told them to as part of a "hazing" process, sheriff's officials said Thursday.
The 26-year-old female deputy alleges that a group of 10 inmates harassed her from the ground while she was on duty in a guard tower and that male deputies ignored her calls for aid, said Sheriff's Capt. Tom Hehir.
Four male deputies at the 9,000-inmate Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho have been reassigned during the investigation of the incident by the Sheriff's Internal Investigations Bureau.
Investigators are looking into allegations that male deputies promised inmates extra food in exchange for harassing the woman deputy, who has been on leave since the incident two weeks ago, complaining of stress, officials said. None of the deputies were identified.
The woman has been a sheriff's deputy for less than six months. The four men under investigation have been deputies longer than that, but are still in their first year, officials said. The investigation should be complete in about 45 days, Capt. Jerry Conklin said.
Hehir emphasized that the allegations have not been proved. But he said: "The fact that we've relieved them of duty shows we believe the allegations to be serious . . . . Any use of inmates for any purpose is totally inappropriate."
The deputies involved were assigned to the Rancho's medium-security South facility, where the Sheriff's Department is investigating allegations by a black inmate that he was beaten last year by deputies belonging to a white supremacist group. The two cases are not related, Hehir said.
The woman deputy said she had been harassed previously as part of a hazing or initiation process, Hehir said, but he gave no details of other incidents. She told supervisors that the latest incident took place behind a barracks during the early morning of July 19, Hehir said.
A group of about 10 inmates allegedly emerged from their barracks, exposed themselves and yelled abuse for several minutes at the female deputy, who was in a guard tower with a barbed wire fence between her and the inmates, Hehir said.
Investigators are looking into reports that male deputies watched the incident from another barracks as she called for assistance on her radio, but did not come to her aid, Hehir said. The inmates went back inside, but about two hours later several inmates allegedly threw eggs and tomatoes at the tower, officials said.
Supervisors said the inmates posed no danger to the deputy and had no chance of escape. The barracks' rear doors are unlocked, but inmates are supposed to remain inside at night and the compound is monitored by roving deputies and deputies stationed in observation towers, Hehir said.
If the allegations are found to be true, the male deputies could face reprimands, suspension or discharge, Hehir said, but the inmates would not be disciplined because they did the bidding of guards.
When asked if harassment related to hazing activity has been a problem among first-year deputies at the jail, Hehir said, "I have never had to deal with an incident like this in the past."