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Criminal Justice

Judge Calls For Plan To Address Excessive Force By Deputies In LA County Jails

A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department police cruiser sedan sits in front of a bank of payphones on a sidewalk in front of a fenced-off concrete building labeled as Los Angeles County Sheriff Men's Central Jail
Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A.
AFP via Getty Images)
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A federal judge has directed the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, lawyers for people held in the jails and jail monitors to come up with a plan to address excessive use of force by deputies in the jails, and to hold those responsible accountable.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson issued the directive Thursday after holding a status conference requested by the two court-appointed jail monitors. Last month, the monitors issued a reportthat criticized jail deputies’ use of force, calling out examples such as “head shots” — deputies punching inmates in the head — along with a lack of accountability and communication.

The monitors were put in place as part of a consent decree in a class-action lawsuit that sought to stop a pattern of deputies beating inmates in the county’s jails. They’ve monitored the Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to resolve the problem since 2016.

Pregerson wants the parties “to put together … a roadmap to bring the department into compliance” with the consent decree, said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The ACLU, along with a private law firm, has represented the plaintiffs in the original suit.

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In an emailed statement late Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department said it’s “looking forward to our continued collaboration with the ACLU and the Federal monitors on this matter.”

According to the monitors’ report, while there was initial progress made early on, “we are no longer seeing progression towards professional management of force situations. It is time for the jail culture to stop supporting behaviors that are forbidden by Policy.”

They went on to say they are “deeply concerned that progress on some key issues has ‘plateaued’ … and actually regressed on some others.”

The Sheriff's Department provided its response to the monitors’ report, which it filed in court last week. The response claims the monitors minimized “significant successes curbing use of force” and that the report contains “contradictory conclusions and factual inaccuracies.”

The department asserted it’s “taking corrective actions “ to achieve compliance with the consent decree in areas where the monitors said it has not.

In their report, the monitors cited concerns about ongoing violence from jail staff, noting that “the use of ‘head shots’ (punches to the head of an inmate) where prohibited by policy, has been relatively unchanged in the last two years or more, and may be increasing. No issue has been discussed more with management over the last six years and especially in the last two years, to little avail.”

The offending deputies are “counseled” or sent to remedial training, but “actual discipline is seldom imposed,” according to the report.

That’s one of the issues Pregerson wants the parties to address, said Eliasberg. “If somebody's using excessive force and then the supervisor who reviews the force rubber stamps it, somebody has to catch that,” he said.

A Smuggling Report Leads To A ‘Shakedown’

The report also detailed concerns over the use of a restraining device called the WRAP, which has been connected with several deaths, and cites other examples of mistreatment, including an incident in September 2021 at Men’s Central Jail following reports of a possible smuggled firearm.

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According to the report, this led to a “shakedown” of incarcerated people in at least two tiers of the jail: They were taken from their cells in the morning, strip searched, then walked “naked en masse through the jail and down to the room with the x-ray machine, passing large numbers of male and female staff members, some of whom, according to the inmates we interviewed, mocked them or made other humiliating comments.”

The detainees told the monitors they were given “boxers but … no shoes” and kept in the yard for hours until they could return to their cells that night.

According to the report, the Sheriff’s Department said it had completed an after-action report and corrective action plans, but the monitors had received none of these.

“The quick response of ‘We will look into this and get back to you,’ followed by nothing, makes it particularly difficult to determine the Department’s compliance status,” the report added.

The report was written by two monitors, corrections experts Robert Houston and Jeffrey Schwartz, after a third monitor resigned last fall.

Pregerson scheduled another status conference for Aug. 15.

This story was updated at 6 p.m. on May 12, 2022 to include the statements from the Sheriff's Department.

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