September 26, 2012

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are responsible for horrific head injuries, such as broken orbital bones and deep cuts on the face and head, which often send inmates to the hospital, according to a report released today by the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC). The report, “Sheriff Baca’s Strike Force: Deputy Violence and Head Injuries of Inmates in LA County Jails,” compiles some 64 sworn statements from inmates, former inmates and civilian eyewitnesses taken since 2009, describing attacks in which deputies targeted inmates’ heads. It also provides substantial corroborating documentation, including photographs and medical records, and the opinion of a nationally recognized corrections expert on the impropriety of using head strikes, even when inmates are aggressive.

The high incidence of head strikes and injuries supports the recent preliminary findings of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence in several key areas:

  • LASD personnel have used force against inmates disproportionate to the threat posed or when there was no threat at all;
  • LASD does not have a comprehensive, integrated and understandable use of force policy;
  • A “force first” approach has been used as a means of discipline and to establish authority rather than a last-resort response to assaultive behavior;
  • LASD training for custody is far below both industry best practices and training standards in other correction systems;
  • There is substantial evidence of failures in reporting, investigating and disciplining use of force in the jails; and
  • The miniscule number of unreasonable force findings casts doubt on the integrity of the investigatory process.
“If the past is any indication, we can predict how the sheriff’s department will respond,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC legal director. “It’s always the inmate’s fault -- the inmate was always the aggressor. But the corroborating documents we’ve gathered demonstrate that the use of force is excessive regardless, whatever the provocation.”
In March, the ACLU filed Rosas v. Baca against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, demanding that it reform county jails. In July, the ACLU/SC sued the sheriff’s department and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley for deliberately hiding evidence in potentially thousands of criminal cases, including cases involving abuse of jail inmates.
As part of their monitoring efforts, representatives from the ACLU’s Jails Project regularly visit the jail facilities and process inmate complaints. Last year’s Jails Report garnered international attention and resulted in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors forming the Citizens Commission on Jails Violence. The commission is expected to release its final report and recommendations on Friday, September 28, 2012.