LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California today sent a letter to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca demanding that he not employ against prisoners at the Los Angeles County jails a high-technology device employing heat rays, built for military use.
Sheriff's Department officials announced last week they intend to begin using an “Assault Intervention Device” -- developed by the Raytheon Co. that fires an invisible heat beam capable of causing unbearable pain on inmates -- at the Pitchess Detention Center's North County Correctional Facility.
“I'm extremely disappointed in the willingness of Sheriff Lee Baca to employ this weapon-like device without consulting with the ACLU, which has court-appointment responsibility to monitor the Los Angeles County jails,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Historically, we have found Sheriff Baca to understand that not everybody in county jail has been convicted of a crime. We have had advance discussions with Sheriff Baca about several different procedures, but we have not been consulted about this inhumane device."
The ACLU's letter dismisses claims made by Baca last week that the “Assault Intervention Device” is uniquely suited to address some of the more difficult inmate violence issues and will allow Sheriff's Department officials to intervene in disturbances involving inmates without risking injury to jail staff or inmates. The ACLU letter highlights the fact that the military incarnation of the device was briefly fielded in Afghanistan in June and then withdrawn in July without ever being used. While the device was being tested by the Air Force, a miscalibration of the device's power settings caused five airmen in its path to suffer lasting burns, including one whose injuries were so severe that he was airlifted to an off-base burn treatment center.
The ACLU's letter also cites a 2008 report by physicist and less-lethal weapons expert Dr. Juergen Altmann which says that the device has the ability to cause second and third degree burns over up to 50 percent of the body's surface and that without reliable protections against the re-triggering of the device against the same target subject, it has the potential to produce permanent injury or even death.
“There is no justification for subjecting any incarcerated population to a level of excessive force,” said Peter J. Eliasberg, Managing Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “The 'pain ray' was tested by the military, and the military decided not to deploy it – that's all we need to know. Moreover, given the long and troubled history of deputy violence at the Los Angeles County Jail, entrusting use of this device to deputies there is also a significant cause for concern.”
“The idea that a military weapon designed to cause intolerable pain should be used against county jail inmates is staggeringly wrongheaded,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Unnecessarily inflicting severe pain and taking such unnecessary risks with people's lives is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.”