Sheriff Baca announces changes in wake of jail abuse allegations
Amid mounting scrutiny of deputy brutality in his jails, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca released a plan Sunday promising to reexamine allegations of abuse from the past and improve inmate safety in the future.
Among the cases Baca said his department would reopen is that of a top department rookie who abruptly resigned after he was allegedly forced by his supervisor to beat a mentally ill inmate inside Twin Towers jail. In that case, The Times reported the rookie’s uncle, a sheriff’s gang detective, was so upset about what his nephew had been put through that he allegedly threatened to “put a bullet” in the supervisor’s head.
Baca also pledged to reopen inquiries into dozens of allegations of deputy abuse from inmates and jailhouse volunteers, including two chaplains, presented recently by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The sheriff’s push to internally investigate and reform his jails comes as the FBI scrutinizes jailhouse abuse and other deputy misconduct. Federal authorities are probing at least three cases of potential brutality, including an allegation that two jailers were seen beating an unconscious inmate for two minutes.
Federal agents also recently set up an undercover sting in which a deputy was offered $1,500 to smuggle a cellphone to a Men’s Central Jail inmate who was secretly working as a federal informant.
Even as those probes have been made public, U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. has declined to comment on whether his department has plans to launch a wider-scale so-called pattern and practice investigation.
Among the reforms Baca announced Sunday was the creation of a team of top department brass responsible for improving “educational opportunities, health benefits, and spiritual growth” for inmates, hosting “town hall” meetings where they’ll hear the concerns of inmates directly, and ensuring sheriff’s personnel interact with inmates respectfully.
“We need to get deputies and inmates to sit down together and collaborate on how they can function,” Baca said.
The leaders of three sheriff’s stations — Temple, Lakewood and Century — were removed from their posts and promoted to focus solely on the jails. Baca said those station-level leadership posts were already in the process of being filled from within.
Baca also announced that he had created a special jail investigations task force consisting of 35 full-time investigators to reexamine old allegations of abuse, including the dozens presented by the ACLU. Baca said the department must look at the case reported by The Times last week of a top recruit who said his supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill inmate and cover it up. Department investigators had previously evaluated those allegations and found no wrongdoing.
Even as he pledged to reopen that case, Baca asserted that the rookie involved, Joshua Sather, had been hit by the inmate in question but didn’t remember it.
The sheriff’s reorganization of resources comes as the department continues to reel from severe budget cuts that have created case backlogs and possible delays in 911 response time.
In an interview, Baca did not specify how much the efforts to clean up the jails would cost the department. “I have to do it whether or not I have the money to do it,” he said.
The sheriff has also ordered a review of the department’s personnel monitoring database, which tracks deputy performance and is supposed to alert to early warning signs of problems.
“Deputies need to do things to manage violent inmates but do it to the point that when the violence ends the force ends as well,” Baca said.
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