It could happen to anyone
Problems with deputies patrolling Metro trains and buses need a closer look
By Kevin Uhrich 09/12/2012
Think only bad people get into trouble with law enforcement?
Think only people behind bars are beaten up by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, as numerous former inmates and others have claimed?
In 2009, friend of the Weekly Carla Sameth suffered a broken nose and several serious physical and emotional injuries at the hands of overzealous deputies patrolling the Gold Line, all for being unable to immediately produce a boarding pass.
I became physically ill after hearing Carla’s story, reading some of the deposition testimony from her lawsuit and then watching a videotape of the aftermath of her beating, produced by deputies for their own legal protection.
But then I thought: If mild-mannered Carla, who makes a living at public relations and promoting other writers, could be beaten, handcuffed, humiliated and threatened with arrest over the most miniscule of alleged infractions, then surely such a thing could happen to any of us.
In Carla’s case, trouble started when she was asked by a deputy for her ticket and couldn’t produce it. She had a receipt for a $5 day pass in her purse. She just couldn’t find the ticket right away. But apparently that was enough provocation for the impatient deputy to order Carla off the train in Highland Park.
Once on the passenger landing, Carla was led before two deputies standing around doing nothing, as usual. (Why these erstwhile tax-collectors aren’t equipped to sell tickets is anyone’s guess.) Although she was neither armed nor remotely dangerous, Carla was turned around by a woman deputy and searched. When she turned slightly to say she was being hurt, the deputy grabbed the back of Carla’s head and rammed her face into a steel support beam twice.
How many other people with “ticket issues,” one has to wonder, have had similar experiences since the Sheriff’s Department took over “security” duties on Metro bus and rail lines? Would other targets of deputy violence and harassment be fortunate enough, like Carla, to have friends who are lawyers or newspaper people? Would they even know how to file a complaint?
Many people who do not speak English or have the ability to get around any other way than public transit have to deal with these Gestapo-like tactics on a daily basis and probably wouldn’t want to risk reprisal by filing a complaint.
It’s difficult to imagine what could have prompted such barbarism against Carla, who actually did public relations work for Metro a few years ago and in June ended her lawsuit against the county and the Sheriff’s Department for a $199,000 out-of-court settlement.
But let there be no question: What these deputies did and did not do, as well as their total lack of contrition and accountability, is a shameful, unconscionable disgrace to the county, if not the state’s entire law enforcement community. That not one of these deputies interceded on Carla’s behalf, and the fact that nothing has been done to prevent incidents like this in the future, only fuels concerns that the Sheriff’s Department has become little more than an unmanageable gang of sadistic thugs who are allowed — if not actually expected — to inflict injury on anyone at any time with total impunity and without fear of reprimand.
That aloof, untouchable, bad-ass identity seems to suit the department’s top brass just fine, so it should come as no surprise to learn that people no longer respect the LA County Sheriff’s Department as much as they fear and loathe it.
It’s too bad, because this type of brown-shirt behavior only continues to erode any remaining confidence the public might have in either Metro or the Sheriff’s Department, now seen by many as an agency unable or unwilling to change.
Just as a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the Board of Supervisors and headed by retired US District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, a Pasadena resident, looked into allegations that deputies working in county jails routinely beat and torture inmates, finding deficiencies in leadership at the very top of the sheriff’s management system, we believe the Metro Board of Directors or the Board of Supervisors should investigate incidents involving deputy violence committed against rail and bus passengers.
Interestingly enough, Carla learned through the course of her legal journey that the person who’d beaten her up had just come from working in the jail, where deputies receive their very first three to five years of job training. Carla said one of her relatives suspects her assailant may have been showing her fellow male deputies how tough she could be. If that’s the case, how many other former jailers with such contempt for other humans are now patrolling the mass transit system?
We also suggest Metro begin the process of seeking out a different law enforcement agency or a private security firm to provide protection for riders on our public transit system — one that is accountable and isn’t under federal investigation for violating the civil rights of inmates and citizens alike.
And travelers, in the meantime, whatever you do, keep that boarding pass handy. The $1.50 fare is not worth your life, which, as we’ve learned, could ultimately be threatened as punishment for riding the Gold Line without a ticket.