Sheriff Baca Under Fire For Inmate Abuse
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that’s how several deputies under Sheriff Lee Baca have handled disputes in Los Angeles County jails.
A report released Wednesday titled “Sheriff Baca’s Strike Force: Deputy Violence and Head Injuries of Inmates in LA County Jails” accused county jail deputies of punching, kicking and stomping inmates in the head with "alarming regularity" and leaving many of them with broken facial bones.
“Sixty-four people have made sworn statements describing incidents in which deputies targeted inmates’ heads for attack between 2009 and 2012,” the report said.
It noted that “the fundamental widely recognized rule regarding use of force by a custodial officer is that head strikes are almost never permissible” even when the inmate is the aggressor.
The ACLU has sued Baca several times for the conduct of his deputies. Disturbing allegations of police abuse have occurred regularly under the sheriff's watch. Among them: roughing up county jail visitors, beating inmates, raping prisoners and forming a gang -- complete with its own signs -- called the “3000 Boys.”
The ACLU is not alone. Tomorrow, the “Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence” -- a panel created by the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of jail violence -- will release their own findings regarding inmate abuse.
According to the ACLU, rough treatment has sent three inmates to the hospital room while leaving one inmate blind in one eye.
A spokesperson for Sheriff Baca told the Los Angeles Daily News that the sheriff needed time before determining the validity of the report’s claims:
“Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the sheriff received the report on Tuesday and needs time to "decipher out the truth."
"First, we need to investigate the fact from the fiction," he said, via email, about the allegations. "When we do, we will make those findings public."
Baca may not find much fiction in ACLU’s allegations, however. Seth Kurzban, an assistant professor at USC’s School of Social Work, explained that the ACLU acts as the “caretaker” for LA county jails. The civil liberties group can interview inmates confidentially, obtain medical records and evaluate conditions behind prison walls that otherwise escape the general public’s perception.
“I see no reason not to (trust the report),” said Kruzban.
These new allegations raise questions regarding Baca’s handling of the sheriff’s department. On one hand, Baca reached out to Muslims after 9/11 and once advocated for building a homeless shelter. KPCC profiled the sheriff in April:
Nearly bald and rail thin, he doesn’t drink caffeine, rarely partakes of alcohol and mostly reads in his spare time. He never tweets and doesn’t use email.
Last week, investigators called upon by the commission criticized Baca for being out of touch with prison matters. They argued the sheriff’s disengagement with his deputies have left him unaware of such abuses. As the Los Angeles Times reported:
"The sheriff should be sweating an awful lot of bullets," said Supervisor Gloria Molina. "This is his come-to-Jesus moment."