More than a dozen officers at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department were indicted Monday for allegedly widespread abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County jails.
After years of complaints and a lengthy FBI investigation into brutality and corruption at the jails, the four grand jury indictments amount to the most dramatic statement against the notorious Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department yet. The indictments accuse deputies of beating inmates and then falsifying records to cover up the attacks. Officers even allegedly assaulted and arrested visitors to the jail, including the Austrian consul general. Another indictment charges top jail officials with hiding and changing the name of an inmate who was collaborating with the FBI, so agents could not reach him.
Reports of brutality have been trickling out of LA county jails, considered some of the most violent in the nation, for years. A 2012 report by the independent Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence placed the blame squarely on Sheriff Lee Baca for allowing high-level perpetrators of violence against inmates to go unpunished and ignoring the problem. Baca is now denying the U.S. Attorney’s charge that this misconduct was an institutionalized problem.
Evidence suggests that, absent pressure from above, a culture of violence festered in the jails. According to one high-level officer, deputies were encouraged to beat inmates, but warned to avoid their faces, where the abuse would be too obviously on display. A harrowing ACLU report from last year suggests even this advice was ignored, as witnesses, former inmates, and current inmates recounted how deputies would routinely stomp on inmates’ heads, even after handcuffing them. “They have bashed inmates’ faces into concrete walls. They have fractured inmates’ facial bones — noses, jaws, cheekbones or eye sockets,” the report reads. In one high profile incident, a man who was simply visiting his brother at the jail was handcuffed and brutally beaten by five officers.
The LASD’s abuses are hardly confined to its jails. The Department of Justice found earlier this year that officers illegally and systematically targeted blacks and Hispanics. The LASD is also in hot water for hiring over a hundred officers who had previously been fired for offenses like falsifying police records, cheating on polygraph tests, accidentally firing weapons, and soliciting prostitutes.