The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the National American Civil Liberties Union today called on the United States Attorney’s Office to launch an independent criminal investigation into last month’s brutal beating by two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies of an inmate at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the Los Angeles County Jail system.
The savage attack Jan. 24 on James Parker, detained on a non-violent marijuana charge, was witnessed by ACLU/SC’s Jails Project Coordinator Esther Lim, who is assigned to monitor all county jails, and another inmate. Both observed the two deputies beating and repeatedly tasering Parker for about two minutes while he was lying on the ground limp, motionless and not resisting the deputies in any way.
“It is crucial that the federal government launch an independent investigation immediately,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “A criminal investigation from an impartial outside agency will not only help the inmates but will also help all those deputies who work hard to do their job properly and who should not be painted with the same brush as those who may have violated the law by beating a non-resisting inmate.”
Sheriff’s department employees have made public statements challenging the motivation and integrity of Lim, calling into question the impartiality of the LASD. Lim would necessarily be a key witness in any criminal case filed against the deputies and so the statements by sheriff’s department employees could significantly harm any prosecution by the county district attorney that relies on an investigation by the LASD.
“It is odd, and indeed troubling, when a law enforcement spokesperson publicly disparages the credibility of a potential prosecution witness,” said Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Law and former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Such comments can undermine the appearance of impartiality critical to maintaining public trust in the criminal justice system. Moreover, if a prosecutor ends up bringing charges, the defense may try to use the comments to undermine the credibility of that witness, a problem that no prosecutor wants to deal with.”
The sheriff’s department has proven itself to be completely unwilling to investigate its own deputies aggressively. The ACLU has received hundreds of complaints over the past two years detailing deputy assaults of inmates similar to what Lim witnessed, dozens of which the sheriff’s department has claimed to investigate. But in each instance, the department has only stonewalled, asserting without presenting a shred of evidence to back up its claims that it has “thoroughly investigated” the complaints before finding them to be false.
“The subculture of deputy violence and abuse at the Los Angeles County jail is extraordinary and unprecedented,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “It has gone unchecked for so long that deputies apparently feel emboldened to carry out a savage beating in full view of ACLU staff. This signals both the depth of the problem and the urgency of the need for an independent federal investigation, which we believe will be forthcoming.”