LOS ANGELES (AP) — A scalding report Friday depicted a rogue culture inside the nation’s largest county jail system in which deputies abused and humiliated inmates while top management failed to recognize problems or weed out bad officers.
The preliminary findings by investigators for a Los Angeles County panel said a “force first” approach was used in jails to establish authority over inmates, rather than as a last resort. The investigators concluded that a “code of silence” blocked the county Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the jails, from detecting or preventing excessive force used against inmates.
The report provided a sharply critical critique of Sheriff Lee Baca, describing him as aloof from the trouble festering in his senior ranks, and faulting him for failing to monitor and control how force is used in the jails.
Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the sheriff disagreed with many of the panel’s findings and the department would soon issue a report on its separate investigation of the jails. He disputed the suggestion that Baca was a detached manager who failed to recognize trouble in the system.
“Are there challenges in our jails? Absolutely. Has he acknowledged that? Yes,” Whitmore said. He added that “people are going to be somewhat surprised” by the findings in the review ordered by Baca, but didn’t elaborate.
The report issued by attorney investigators for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence comes as the latest development following allegations of beatings and abuse in the jails. The county’s Board of Supervisors created the commission to review deputies’ use of force in the jails and to recommend corrective action as necessary.
At the core of the problems facing the department is how its deputies treat some of the estimated 15,000 inmates in county jails. The American Civil Liberties Union, a constant critic of the sheriff, has filed a lawsuit accusing Baca and other department officials of condoning violence against inmates.
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