Report Says Calif. Deputies Regularly Strike Inmates

Sept. 27, 2012
Increasing the pressure on Sheriff Lee Baca, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a report Wednesday accusing deputies of using head strikes with "alarming regularity" in county jails.

Sept. 27--Increasing the pressure on Sheriff Lee Baca, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a report Wednesday accusing deputies of using head strikes with "alarming regularity" in county jails, severely injuring inmates.

According to the report entitled "Sheriff Baca's Strike Force: Deputy Violence and Head Injuries of Inmates in LA County Jails," deputies have "stomped on inmates' heads, after shackling those inmates' hands."

"They have bashed inmates' faces into concrete walls," it added. "They have fractured inmates' facial bones -- noses, jaws, cheekbones or eye sockets."

Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the sheriff received the report on Tuesday and needs time to "decipher out the truth."

"First, we need to investigate the fact from the fiction," he said, via email, about the allegations. "When we do, we will make those findings public."

Whitmore added: "The sheriff believes, after all, that deputies should be the civil rights leaders of the community, not the civil abusers of the community."

ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg said the report included 64 sworn statements from inmates, former inmates and civilian eyewitnesses taken since 2009, as well as photographs and medical records.

It also said deputies have broken facial bones of at least 11 inmates, blinded an inmate in one eye, sent three inmates to operating rooms, and left 14 inmates with deep gashes that needed sutures.

Despite the number and severity of injuries, the ACLU complained that too few cases were identified by the sheriff's department as having excessive uses of force.

All the documents and images have been submitted to the federal court overseeing litigation on violence at the county jails. The ACLU had sued the Sheriff's Department in March to demand reforms.

On Friday, the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the county Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of deputies abusing inmates, will issue its recommendations to Baca.

Eliasberg said in a news conference Wednesday the sheriff needs to take action.

"This issue can only be addressed if the department owns up to what is going on in its jails," he said. "If it adopts proper use of force policies. If it rigorously trains its deputies to follow those policies.

And if it firmly disciplines those deputies that do not follow them."

Sandra Neal, a registered nurse and adult educator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said her 26-year-old son sustained severe injuries after deputies punched and kicked him in the head hours after he was arrested for fare evasion.

"The beating caused multiple facial fractures, nasal fractures, fractured teeth, multiple contusions and fractured ribs," she said. "The beating caused him to suffer a collapsed lung that eventually required surgery. He also had burning on his skin from pepper spray."

Neal said after she expressed outrage and despair over the incident, Baca sent her a letter saying the case had been thoroughly investigated and the deputies' actions were found to be in compliance with the department's use of force policy.

"How is that possible?" she asked. "My son is not violent; he is not aggressive. But even if he had done something aggressive, which I do not believe for a moment, how could it be within the sheriff's policy for deputies to kick my son's teeth in and shatter bones in his face?"

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Copyright 2012 - Daily News, Los Angeles

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