LOS ANGELES, Calif. – In response to multiple reports of continued retaliation by guards at the Men’s Central Jail against detainees who report wrongdoing, the ACLU and the ACLU of Southern California, together with Disability Rights California and the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, today filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking a protective order for inmates detained there.
“Retaliation against prisoners for cooperating in investigations of official wrongdoing isn’t uncommon, but the retaliation at issue here is so extreme – multiple credible accounts of beatings, stomping and shattered bones – that I haven’t seen anything to equal it in 17 years of prison litigation around the country,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “These witnesses must have the court’s protection.”
The motion asks the federal court to order that all officers and agents of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department be prohibited from punishing inmates for communicating with the ACLU. Additionally, the order asks that the sheriff’s department be required to post their anti-retaliation policy throughout the jail, as well as thoroughly investigate any claims of retaliation.
The ACLU and ACLU/SC are the court-appointed monitors of conditions within the jail. In May the ACLU released a damning report detailing the culture of violence and fear in Men’s Central Jail, a dungeon-like, overcrowded facility where prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and the use of excessive force by deputies is routine.
“For two years we have been trying to work with the sheriff’s department to end the practice of deputies’ retaliating against prisoners for talking with the ACLU,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “However, the problem has just gotten worse, so we had no choice but to seek relief from the court.”
With approximately 20,000 detainees, the Los Angeles County jail system is the largest and most expensive in the nation, costing nearly $1 billion a year to operate. Men’s Central Jail is nearly 50 years old and currently houses an average of 4,500 detainees. Almost 80 percent of them are simply awaiting trial – in other words, they are presumed innocent and have yet to get their day in court.
Sheriff Baca has acknowledged that many are also mentally ill, often stating that he runs the largest mental facility in the nation. “These detainees are especially vulnerable to deputy violence and intimidation," said Melinda Bird of Disability Rights California.