In jail-violence lawsuit, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agrees to …

17 Dec 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

ACLU reaches settlement over alleged inmate abuse in L.A. County jails.

The nation’s largest sheriff’s department agreed to federal court oversight and will adopt a new use-of-force policy to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by jail inmates who said they were beaten by guards.The Los Angeles County jail system, the nation’s largest, agreed Tuesday to impose sweeping changes, a year after guards were charged with regularly beating prisoners and supervisors in the Sheriff’s Department were accused of seeking to thwart a federal investigation into corruption and violence in the jails. Approved Tuesday by county supervisors, the settlement stipulates that jailers would be directed to only strike an inmate in the head when the inmate poses a serious danger. It is the latest in several efforts to reform the scandal-plagued department beset with allegations of rampant abuse by deputies, costly lawsuits and federal convictions of deputies for obstructing an FBI probe into jail beatings.

The three-person panel, appointed by a federal court, will be responsible for curbing a decades-old culture of violence administered by sheriff’s deputies who act as guards in the 15,000-inmate system. The panel will also act as an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the plan, according to the ACLU. “This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence,” said McDonnell, who sat on the commission. “I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes. During the past year, disclosures about corruption and brutality inside the jails have led to the conviction of seven sheriff’s lieutenants, sergeants and deputies on federal charges, the federal indictment of others, and a number of lawsuits won by inmates.

One of the claims in the class action lawsuit that led to Tuesday’s agreement said that a group of deputies, acting as a de facto gang in the county’s jails, wore tattoos on the back of their necks and awarded one another points for breaking prisoners’ bones. The need for joint cooperation with the department and the board to commit the needed resources to improve custody and make these changes is critical.” In 2011, the ACLU released a report that found deputies regularly used excessive force on detainees, including those with mental illnesses, resulting in serious injuries and even death. The suit filed on behalf of two men awaiting trial, Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, claimed they were among dozens of inmates savagely beaten by guards, many of whom were said to be in gangs formed within the department.

Department of Justice is not involved in the suit, but the settlement is in essence a consent decree, similar in some ways to the decree under which the Los Angeles Police Department operated for more than a decade until the middle of last year. Appointees include Richard Drooyan, who served as chief counsel to the jail violence commission and headed a team that oversaw implementation of that panel’s recommendations.

Eliasberg said the ACLU is receiving fewer complaints from inmates about such incidents. “Before the CCJV, it was a disaster,” Eliasberg said of the county jails, which hold about 19,000 inmates. “It’s better now but it still needs a significant amount of work.” A 2008 ACLU report concluded that use of force by deputies was disproportionately directed at detainees with mental illness, and ex-Sheriff Lee Baca confirmed that the conclusion still held in 2012. The directives, if implemented properly, should protect inmates from beatings, well-meaning deputies from mismanagement by superiors, and the public pocketbook from some large damage awards. Justice Department has sharply criticized the department for its treatment of mentally ill inmates, threatening to seek a court order to oversee the jails. But it would be a mistake to see the Rosas settlement as merely the conclusion of an unfortunate three-year period in which the sheriff’s jail operations went off the rails.

The federal suit alleged violations of the detainees’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and the rights of pretrial detainees not to be punished prior to conviction. Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a $350,000 payment to Derek Griscavage, a former inmate who said he had been knocked unconscious during a beating by four or five deputies on Christmas Day in 2010. Deputies also sought to provoke racial tensions to their advantage, using racial slurs against African-American inmates and encouraging gang members to assault rivals. The deputies then placed him in a cell with two gang members who beat him and sexually assaulted him for hours, sticking his head into a toilet while they raped him. The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities.

The sergeants, Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, were sentenced to 33 months and 24 months, respectively, in federal prison for their part in the attempted cover-up.

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