LA County panel blames sheriff for jail force
Said a "force-first" attitude has reigned in a jail system that relied too much on intimidation and humiliation to establish control of inmates
LOS ANGELES — A commission appointed to investigate Los Angeles County jails said Friday the system has shown a "persistent pattern of unnecessary and excessive force" and blamed Sheriff Lee Baca for a "failure of leadership."
The Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, a seven-member panel made up of several former judges and a police chief, released its final report Friday after a lengthy investigation of the nation's largest county jail system and the treatment of some 15,000 inmates by the Sheriff's Department who runs it.
The commission said a "force-first" attitude has reigned in a jail system that relied too much on intimidation and humiliation to establish control of inmates.
"LASD personnel have used force against inmates when the force was disproportionate to the threat posed or there was no threat at all," the report said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
It said discipline was discouraged against deputies, and there was little training or guidance in instances when force should be used. It said senior managers failed to investigate beatings, and despite a wide array of computer systems, entities with oversight of the jails failed to regularly review data for trends in violent behavior.
The report gives several harsh personal rebukes to Baca, and criticized his contention that his senior managers didn't alert him to the problems.
"A leader who does not want to hear about problems will not be told of them by those who work under him, and this appears to be the case here," the commission wrote.
Though many commission members said they considered recommending Baca's resignation, the report stops short of urging him to step down, saying that the sheriff, still a powerful and popular figure despite his troubles, may be able to carry out reforms.
"I hope I'm not proven wrong," commission member and former federal judge Robert C. Bonner said.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore did not immediately respond to phone messages left by The Associated Press.
Whitmore told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the sheriff would hold a news conference in the coming days after he has thoroughly read the report, but said they disagree with some of the report's central contentions and believe that "a lot of the recommendations have already been done."
"We dispute the finding that there has been an inadequate level of leadership," Whitmore said. "We disagree with that. If anything, the sheriff has stepped up his leadership."
The county's Board of Supervisors created the commission to review deputies' use of force in the jails and to recommend remedies.
The close scrutiny of the jails began last year when the Times revealed that the FBI had launched an investigation of the jail system, and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report documenting dozens of cases of alleged inmate abuse.
On Thursday the ACLU dropped a lawsuit against the department and declared victory, saying that a new system for tracking inmate complaints by deputy's names brings it into line with the law and that the group's aims had been achieved.
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