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Feud between Antonovich, ACLU heats up over discussion of jail violence

Michael Antonovich

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has accused the ACLU of not doing enough to prevent violence in the jails.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A long-running feud between Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and the American Civil Liberties Union heated up again Tuesday after the supervisor accused the group of not doing enough to prevent abuses in the county’s jails.

During a discussion about reforms made based on recommendations from a commission that studied jail violence, Antonovich said he wanted to know how much money the county had paid the ACLU to monitor conditions in the lockups.

“We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the jail to see that everything was going well and to be the eyes of the public, so to say, and yet we had all of these allegations which were proven to be factual because of convictions that have taken place,” Antonovich said. “I would like to know how much money did we pay the ACLU to observe the conditions of the jail, and what did they actually do to stop some of the abuses that we’ve had people convicted for that occurred during their watch.”

A federal criminal investigation into conditions in the jails has resulted in convictions of several sheriff’s officials on charges related to excessive use of force and obstructing a federal investigation.

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In a written response to the supervisors after the meeting, the ACLU of Southern California’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said his organization had issued repeated warnings about abuses in the jails between 2009 and 2012. 

“Supervisor Antonovich has apparently forgotten not only the multiple reports that we provided to him and his justice deputy about these abuses but also the multiple requests we made to him to discuss the reports and how to fix the problems they detailed -- all of which he ignored,” Eliasberg wrote.

The organization later represented plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit against the county over beatings in the jails. A settlement was finalized in April, requiring a court-appointed panel to monitor use of force in the jails.

Eliasberg said the county had never paid the ACLU to monitor jail violence, but rather the group had received court-ordered attorneys fees to monitor jail overcrowding as the result of a previous lawsuit judgment.

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He said the organization stopped accepting those fees in early 2011 after deciding they "would have to sue the Sheriff’s Department to stop the pattern of excessive force.”

Alex Busansky, a former member of the county-appointed commission that studied jail violence, also defended the ACLU’s record, saying the group “played a critically important role in uncovering the problems in the jails and worked tirelessly to bring attention to them.”

Anna Mouradian, justice deputy to Antonovich, said the supervisor had not received a response from county staff to his question about payments to the ACLU. 

The supervisor and the legal group have an acrimonious history. They have sparred over the county’s plans to build a new downtown jail to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail and the ACLU is suing the county over the supervisors’ decision -- championed by Antonovich -- to restore a Christian cross to the county seal.

Antonovich has sometimes referred to the organization as the “American Criminal Liberties Union.”

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.


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