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Sheriff Lee Baca's Staff Knew Jailer Brutality Was a Problem, But He Never Got the Memo

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Photo by eyetwist via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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Two weeks ago Sheriff Lee Baca met with the Los Angeles Times editorial board to say that he was shocked! shocked! to hear that jailer brutality was a problem in county jails. His exact words at the time were: "I wasn't ignoring the jails. I just didn't know. People can say, 'What the hell kind of leader is that?' The truth is I should've known. So now I do know."

At the time, this response didn't sit well with some critics, including WitnessLA editor Celeste Fremon who was the first to offer Baca the Captain Louis Renault award. Fremon asked why heads of his command staff weren't rolling, if they were keeping this crucial information from Baca.

Now the Los Angeles Times has obtained clear evidence that Baca's command staff knew jailer brutality was a problem, but the department is still saying that Baca never got the memo — literally.

The Los Angeles Times has obtained internal memos showing that Baca's command staff was raising the alarm that there were serious problem with the way the department was handling jailer brutality. The Times obtained one report that audited more than 100 violent encounters in county jails. The report concluded that deputies were coming up with narratives "dramatized to justify" force. Instead of using the pepper spray or stun guns to end a fight, deputies would choose "to dispense appropriate jailhouse 'justice,'" according to a quote from the report. Some of these fights started because jailers thought that the inmates weren't showing them proper respect, the report said.

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Another report obtained by the Times suggested that the deputies were doing a terrible job documenting these violent incidents. Supervisors left out information about significant injuries, and they wouldn't talk to all the witnesses. When deputies crossed the line and used excessive force, the report said that supervisors weren't doing anything about it. They wouldn't discipline deputies or train them to stop.

The author of that report Lt. Mark McCorkle rang the alarm, saying that this was going to come back to bite the department: "it could be quite damaging to the department and expose us to unnecessary liability."

But Cmdr. James Hellmond is saying that all of those internal memos never made it to Baca's desk. He told the Times, "The sheriff has acknowledged in part of his self-analysis that he needs to find out what the commanders have done, and what information they had at what time."