L.A. County sheriff’s official tells of jail brutality
The Los Angeles County sheriff’s captain who ran the Men’s Central Jail fostered a culture of brutality by protecting dishonest deputies and permitting his underlings to use excessive force on inmates, his former lieutenant alleged in testimony Friday.
Capt. Daniel Cruz even joked at the department’s annual Christmas party about hitting inmates, according to Michael Bornman, who is now a department captain. While toasting deputies at the party, Cruz allegedly asked a banquet hall-full of jailers: “What do I always tell you guys?”
In unison, Bornman said, the jail deputies — many of whom were laughing — responded “Not in the face.”
“That’s right,” Cruz replied, according to Bornman. “Not in the face.” Bornman said the slogan was an instruction to strike inmates on parts of the body where their blows wouldn’t leave marks.
Bornman testified Friday before the county commission created to address allegations of brutality inside the sheriff’s jails. He told the commission that as a result of Cruz’s 2009 comments, he avoided the department’s Christmas party the next year. At that party, violence broke out among deputies, including several who had allegedly formed a gang-like jailer clique.
“I could’ve predicted what happened there,” Bornman said.
Bornman’s testimony, along with that of another department captain, painted a picture of a dysfunctional department whose supervisors are reluctant to address deputies’ misconduct and are sometimes antagonistic toward those who do.
Cruz did not return calls to his home for comment. Bornman is not the only sheriff’s official to criticize Cruz’s management. Cruz’s former boss, now a retired commander, also blamed the captain for many of the lockup’s woes. And last year, Cruz was relieved of duty as internal investigators probe his tenure at the helm of the downtown Los Angeles jail.
Bornman described multiple instances in which Cruz resisted cracking down on deputies’ misconduct. In one case, he described a roomful of supervisors watching footage of deputies beating an inmate. The video showed one jailer casually leaning against a door frame, occasionally landing knee drops into the prisoner’s torso.
Despite the clear excessive force by the deputies, Bornman said Cruz turned to the other jail supervisors and said “I see nothing wrong with that use of force.”
In another instance, Bornman said, deputies got into a brawl with patrons at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in West Covina. In the ensuing investigation, it became obvious that some deputies weren’t being honest about which of their colleagues were involved. When Bornman took that concern to Cruz, he said Cruz told him “Don’t look too hard.”
Bornman said Cruz’s managing style, in part, led to dozens of force and misconduct cases not being properly investigated or processed.
Bornman and Capt. Patrick Maxwell, who also testified, said the department’s problems went all the way to the top. Maxwell, who heads the sheriff’s Norwalk station, said Paul Tanaka, currently the department’s second in command, was disdainful of internal affairs investigators, who are responsible for probing misconduct. According to Maxwell, Tanaka said at a meeting: “Do you believe LAPD, they have 200 and some [internal affairs] investigators and we have 45. In my opinion, that’s 44 too many.”
Maxwell said Tanaka told supervisors at another meeting that they needed to “allow deputies to work in the gray area” — a comment the captain suggested could have been interpreted to mean deputies were allowed to violate policy or the law while policing.
Maxwell’s testimony was bolstered by a 2007 memo written by another station captain who alleged that Tanka made a similar comment at another staff meeting. According to then-Capt. Steven Roller, Tanaka said deputies need to be aggressive with gang members and “function right on the edge of the line.”
According to the memo, Tanaka threatened to take action against the captains who were most often seeking to discipline deputies.
Maxwell also recounted an instance in which he got a call from another sheriff’s employee who was soliciting donations for Tanaka’s mayoral campaign in the city of Gardena, informing Maxwell that captains were “expected” to give $250. Both Sheriff Lee Baca and Tanaka have collected tens of thousands of dollars from department employees in political contributions, a practice that critics say creates a conflict of interest.
Baca and Tanaka declined to comment, through sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore. Whitmore said neither has ever required employees to donate to their political campaigns. He also denied that Tanaka would ever encourage deputies to violate policy or the law, or target those who want to investigate misconduct. “The sheriff would never allow that,” Whitmore said.
Five commanders assigned last year by Baca to reform the jails also testified. Two of them warned commissioners that those testifying may be presenting a biased picture.
“You are seeing one side. Unfortunately there’s not a cross-examination,” Cmdr. Christy Guyovich said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.