L.A. County supervisors embrace proposed jail reforms


Reacting to a scathing report of sheriff’s deputy brutality in the Los Angeles County jails, county supervisors Tuesday embraced dozens of reforms to curb inmate abuse and said they would be responsible for ensuring that Sheriff Lee Baca carries them out.

The Board of Supervisors accepted the findings of a blue-ribbon commission that spent nine months investigating allegations of excessive force before concluding that Baca failed to heed repeated warnings over the years about abuse and other misconduct in the Sheriff’s Department’s jail system.

“It is our hope that this report will not be simply another one to be added to the very large bookshelves that contain scores of reports that have been issued over decades,” Miriam Krinsky, the commission’s executive director, told county supervisors. “The solutions that have been seen thus far have been stop gap... What is needed is a steadfast commitment and vigilance to bringing these changes about.”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said the Sheriff’s Department needs to rapidly execute the commission’s 63 recommendations, which include hiring a new head of custody, revamping discipline for excessive force and other sweeping changes.

“Time is of the essence,” Antonovich said.

Baca last week publicly agreed to carry out all of the reforms proposed by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested that the board appoint a special panel to monitor the progress of the changes. He also renewed calls for an independent civilian commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department. To create such a panel could require a county charter amendment, state legislation or both.

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Ridley-Thomas said a separate commission could better focus on sheriff’s operations than the Board of Supervisors, which must also oversee the county’s public healthcare, foster care and other important social services. In the past, he said, the board had shown more deference to the sheriff “than what’s defensible in light of what we now know.”

Supervisor Don Knabe, however, disagreed that creating a new commission was the best approach.

“It’s our responsibility,” he said. “I don’t think a commission is going to relieve us of that responsibility.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina praised the commission’s work but said real reform would be challenging. She expressed frustration that Baca had not disciplined senior managers over the jail scandal, particularly Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who the commission said helped foster a culture of abuse in the jails. Molina, who recently called on Baca to get rid of Tanaka, noted that the board has no authority to discipline sheriff’s employees.

Baca said last week that his internal affairs investigators were probing the commission’s findings on Tanaka but also raised questions about whether the allegations were true.

Meanwhile, Baca, who has been slammed for being out of touch on jail operations, was in Qatar for a conference on policing and terrorism. His spokesman said the Arab nation paid for Baca, who has traveled extensively in the Middle East, to fly out Sunday night and return late Wednesday.

The spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the sheriff has been addressing jail issues for months. Baca assigned the day-to-day operating of the department to his two assistant sheriffs and is in “constant contact with them,” Whitmore said.

“The sheriff decides when it’s best to go and when it’s best to stay,” Whitmore said. “It’s not costing the taxpayers any money. It’s an invaluable way to learn how other nations deal with security issues.”