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Sheriff’s Dept. Sued by Retired Sergeant : Courts: Doug Sparkes, who leaked tape of 1986 jail riot, alleges the department is punishing him for being a whistle blower. He claims he was forced to retire.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A retired sergeant, who embroiled the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in a brutality furor by leaking videotaped footage of a 1986 jail riot, on Tuesday filed a lawsuit accusing his former superiors of punishing him for being a whistle blower over that incident and others.

“I’m a good soldier being put out to pasture,” Doug Sparkes, 43, said at a news conference.

The lawsuit, which seeks $1 million in lost wages and damages, claims Sparkes was forced to retire in 1990 after 21 years on the force because he was “outspoken about questionable and illegal acts and practices within the Sheriff’s Department.”

Sparkes, who is considering running for a council seat if his hometown of Chino Hills becomes a city, insisted his release of the video last week to a local television station was not connected to his ongoing efforts to find a publisher for a book on his experiences.

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“I’m not promoting a book, I’m promoting a lawsuit,” said Sparkes, flanked by his attorney, Helena Sunny Wise. “But I do want people to read the book because it’s an insider’s perspective of what’s going on.”

A Sheriff’s Department spokesman declined to respond to Sparkes’ remarks or the lawsuit, except to say that “significant changes in policy, procedures and training resulted from the department’s analysis of the insurrection.”

Block said last week that three deputies used “unnecessary force” on some inmates after quelling the uprising, which was recorded by a department video camera.

Sheriff’s officials said none of the deputies were punished, although Sparkes claims that he wrote and filed at least 10 reports of alleged brutality based on interviews with as many victims.

“I expected to see internal affairs investigators swarm the jail and interview inmates,” said Sparkes, who declined to say whether he possessed copies of his reports. “But they (investigators) never materialized.”

The three-hour video includes scenes of riot-clad and baton-wielding deputies firing rubber bullets at the inmates, who made makeshift body armor with drain grates and torn mattresses.

In the video, Undersheriff Robert Edmonds, the ranking officer at the scene, can be heard giving orders to the helmeted deputies who eventually stopped the riot with a “sting bomb,” which showered the inmates with 90 high-velocity hard rubber pellets.

Some prisoners were later beaten with batons after they were ordered to crawl along a narrow cellblock corridor.

Department officials say only four inmates were hospitalized in the incident. Ten deputies were also injured, however, including one whose jaw was broken.

But Sparkes said there were “40 to 50 seriously injured inmates,” some of whom were beaten in elevators by deputies ostensibly escorting them to the medical ward. Other deputies, he said, were ordered later to mop up blood on the elevator floors.

“Sheriff (Sherman) Block called it ‘unnecessary force,’ ” Sparkes said. “I have another definition for it . . . excessive force.”

Sparkes also alleged that at least two raw videotapes of the insurrection were “confiscated” by department officials moments after they were played for jail staff during a debriefing the same day.

Although an edited version of the tapes was used for training purposes, Sparkes said he was given a copy of an original “six to eight weeks ago” by a sheriff’s employee “who knew I was putting a lawsuit together.”

Sparkes said his complaint of excessive force during the riot was only one reason the department refused to allow him to return to work in a “light duty position” after taking leave of duty in January, 1988, after back surgery for a work-related injury.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Sparkes also protested “abuses within the promotional examination process,” as well as “unpersuasive attempts” in 1989 to “mold” his testimony on behalf of the county in connection with a civil lawsuit stemming from a false arrest case in which he was a defendant.

Sparkes joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1969 after he returned from duty with the Army’s Military Police in Vietnam. In 1976, he was placed in charge of emergency operations at the Men’s Central Jail.

Sparkes, who was promoted to sergeant in 1982, received mostly competent, outstanding and superior ratings in annual reviews he provided to reporters, although one pointed out that he “does not suffer from an under-inflated ego.”

Standing among reporters at the news conference was Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Miller, who said he was videotaping the news conference on orders from Assistant Sheriff Richard Foreman. The department, he said, wanted to review Sparkes’ allegations.

“This is very uncomfortable,” added Miller, who worked with Sparkes in the East Los Angeles station during the early 1970s.


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