LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the ACLU National Prison Project and the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP today announced a historic settlement in Rosas v. Baca, a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his command staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the jails.
Under the consent decree, the Sheriff’s Department will adopt a detailed and far-reaching plan – drawn up by a panel of three experts – to reform department policies and practices on use of force. The plan includes key recommendations of the county’s Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence– a blue-ribbon commission convened by the Board of Supervisors in 2012 to investigate allegations raised by ACLU SoCal in its 2011 report, “Cruel and Usual Punishment” of a pattern and practice of deputy violence. The corrective plan approved today is subject to federal court oversight and enforcement through the court’s contempt powers.
“For decades, the sheriff’s department has run the jail without any accountability or transparency,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of ACLU SoCal. “This agreement addresses those problems by establishing clear policies and practices the department must implement, and creating an enforcement mechanism to ensure it does. Put simply, the sheriff’s department must now follow the law or risk court intervention.”
“Today’s settlement is the culmination of an extraordinary campaign to bring daylight into a very dark place-- the LA County Jails,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Exposing the culture of savage abuse by deputies to the light of day has been half the battle in putting an end to it – and the federal decree mandated by today’s settlement will take the parties the rest of the way towards a long-lasting and far-reaching change.”
Additionally, under the consent decree the parties have agreed to have the expert panel monitor the department’s compliance with all aspects of the remedial plan.
If ultimately approved by the court, the key changes mandated by today’s agreement include:
    • The implementation of robust policies to prevent abuse of inmates with mental illness.
    • Greatly enhanced training in use of force for all deputies, veterans as well as new hires.
    • Radically enhanced methods for tracking and review of use of force incidents and inmates’ complaints and grievances.
“The consent decree sends a clear message to our elected officials that we cannot tolerate the abuse of inmates in our jails,” said John Durrant, a partner with the law firm of Paul Hastings. “We expect this decree to usher in a new era of oversight in the jails. It should significantly reduce the incidents of abuse and increase accountability when deputies apply excessive force. Paul Hastings is proud to have litigated this matter pro bono, to have done so vigorously, and to have worked alongside the ACLU in achieving this historic settlement.”
The consent decree comes nearly three years after ACLU SoCal sued the county on behalf of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, two pretrial detainees who were viciously beaten by deputies. The federal suit alleged violations of the inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and the rights of pretrial detainees not to be punished prior to conviction.
Today’s milestone agreement, together with the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to ensure court oversight of the treatment of inmates with mental illness in the jails, the 2012 recommendations by the Citizens’ Commission, and the election of a new sheriff present Los Angeles County with an unprecedented opportunity to bring lasting reforms to the nation’s largest jail system.
More information about today’s settlement, including a timeline detailing ACLU SoCal's fight to improve conditions in the L.A. County jails, is available below:
Read the settlement: https://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/settlement/ Implementation Plan: https://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/implementation-plan​ Timeline: https://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/inmate-abuse-timeline/ Expert Bios: http://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/bios/
Contact: Sandra Hernandez, 213.977.5252 or shernandez@aclusocal.org