'Asleep at the wheel'
Citizens panel says sheriff knew about jail problems and did nothing, as OIR calls for more oversight of deputy videotaping
By André Coleman 09/12/2012
An independent watchdog group wants changes made to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s videotaping and interviewing procedures, which currently allow deputies to recast potentially damning use-of-force testimony and intimidate witnesses.
Meanwhile, a second report claims that the department has known for years about deputy cliques in the department and problems in the jails and has done nothing about it.
In the Office of Independent Review’s Tenth Annual Report on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, OIR Chair Michael Gennaco recommends that deputies working as guards in Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles not be allowed to review videos of use-of-force situations before making statements describing those incidents.
Further, the report recommends that deputies accused of excessive force not be present when their accusers are being interviewed by sheriff’s personnel.
According to the report released last Thursday, 60 county Sheriff’s Department employees — 40 of them sworn officers — were fired in 2011 for crimes ranging from unlawful sexual conduct with an inmate to insurance fraud. Fourteen of those deputies were charged with crimes. However, the report does not mention any instances last year in which a deputy was arrested for brutalizing a civilian or an inmate while on duty. Nor were there any arrests of deputies working in the jails, which have been the focus of most of the criticism leveled against the department in recent months and seems to be an area most in need of reform.
In another report released on Friday, the Los Angeles County Citizens Commission on Jail Violence reported that the department has known about problem deputy within the department for several years. The report states Undersheriff Paul Tanaka blocked efforts to address problems inside the jail. “This is a devastating account and confirms what we’ve been saying for years: deputies staffing LA County jails are out of control and Sheriff Baca has been asleep at the wheel,” according to a statement issued Friday by the ACLU of Southern California.
An October letter written to US Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller by Pasadena resident and former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp, the Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints Church and 23 others — including civil rights attorneys, public defenders and the Rev. James Lawson, a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. — calls for the FBI to investigate allegations of deputy-sanctioned physical and sexual brutality in county jails made public in an ACLU report the previous month.
In the report, a witness for the ACLU likened Los Angeles County jails to Nazi concentration camps, claiming inmates are routinely beaten, tasered and kicked by deputies.
Seven hundred video cameras have recently been installed in the jail. The department has argued that deputies should have access to the footage before they submit reports to their supervisors.