It hasn’t been a good month for Los Angeles law enforcement officials. Earlier, a study analyzing officer involved shootings in the county found that half of the individuals shot by police last year were unarmed, and now an explosive new report by the ACLU alleges heinous inmate abuse carried out by sheriff officers inside county jails.
According to statements from three volunteers–two chaplains and a Hollywood producer– volunteering in county jails, Los Angeles County sheriffs “brutalized” inmates on several occasions and officials did nothing to stop the abuse.
A statement filed by Chaplain Paulina Juarez depicted a particularly brutal attack by officers.
The L.A. Times reports:
In one declaration, Chaplain Paulino Juarez said he was ministering to an inmate at a cell inside Men’s Central Jail on Feb. 11, 2009, when he heard thumps and gasps. He went toward the sounds and saw three deputies pounding an inmate pressed against the wall. Juarez said he believed the inmate was handcuffed because he never raised his hands to protect his face from the deputies’ fists, instead shouting: “I am doing nothing wrong; please stop.”
The inmate, Juarez said, collapsed face first. His “body lay limp and merely absorbed their blows.” The deputies continued kicking for a minute, the chaplain said.
One deputy eventually turned and saw Juarez. “When we made eye contact, the deputy … had a nervous and surprised look on his face. Then he began making signs to the others with his hands, motioning them to stop the beating,” according to the declaration.
Later, the chaplain noticed a pool of blood, 2 feet around. He recalled one sheriff’s official yelling: “Check if he has HIV.”
After witnessing the attack, the chaplain immediately filed a report which was investigated by county officials. Because of the investigation, Juarez said officers taunted him and called him a “rat.” After hearing nothing about the incident after two years, Juarez took his concern to Sheriff Lee Baca, the top cop in L.A. County. Sheriff Baca said he’d never heard of the attack, but that he’d look into it. Baca reviewed the file which claimed the inmate was schizophrenic and that officers used punches (which are acceptable) to get him back into the cell. Sheriff’s report also stated that the inmate’s injuries were a result of being run over by a car prior to incarceration, not an attack by officers.
Another chaplain, who opted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, described a similar attack in February.
The L.A. Times, again, reports:
[The chaplain] saw a group of deputies kicking an inmate face down on the ground with his hands behind his back. One deputy, the chaplain said, held the inmate’s feet and legs, another had a knee on the inmate’s neck, while the other deputies kicked his torso, the chaplain alleged.
“Chaplain, go inside!” he said one deputy yelled.
“I didn’t go inside because I had heard too many inmates tell me about beatings that the deputies had inflicted on them and I wanted to observe what was happening with my own eyes,”
These reports have not only sparked outrage, but have also prompted an FBI investigation. Over the past decade L.A. county jails have been under fire for overcrowding and mounting violence by both inmates and officers. Officers have been accused of forming gang-like cliques, complete with tattoos, and a dozen officers were dismissed last year for misconduct. Although inmates often allege abuse , and jail officials usually brush their claims off as lies, it will be hard to ignore the allegations this time.