"These incidents did not take place in a vacuum. In fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized."
Charges were announced at a news conference on Monday against 18 current and former L.A. County sheriff's deputies who beat inmates and visitors, falsified reports, and tried to block an FBI probe of the nation's biggest jail system.
16 of the 18 defendants were arrested earlier in the day on Monday. The 13 arraigned entered not guilty pleas. At least two of the deputies no longer work for the department.
One of the many incidents occurred three years ago when a visitor, referred to in a federal indictment as "Visitor LF," went to Men's Central Jail to discuss visiting his brother there, which he had been unable to do in the past. When he arrived, an L.A. deputy allegedly handcuffed him, took him to a break room with no windows, and threw him against the refrigerator.
During the incident, the man received cuts to his nose and face and a fracture to his arm after which four deputies falsely charged him with resisting an executive officer and detained him for five days. He was finally released without being charged.
On Monday, Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters that he was troubled by the charges and called it a sad day for his department. He said that the department would continue to cooperate with the FBI and that the deputies who have been charged would be relieved of duty and have their pay suspended.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, some of the allegations in a criminal complaint and four grand jury indictments include:
— Deputies unlawfully detaining and using force on visitors to Men's Central Jail, including detaining and handcuffing the Austrian consul general in one instance, and in another, grabbing a man by the neck, forcing his head into a refrigerator, throwing him to the floor and pepper-spraying his eyes.
— Deputies falsifying reports to make arrests seem lawful or in one case, struck, kicked and pepper-sprayed an inmate and made false reports to have the inmate charged with and prosecuted for assaulting deputies.
— Deputies trying to thwart the investigation by unsuccessfully seeking a court order to get the FBI to provide documents and attempted to intimidate a lead FBI agent by falsely saying they were going to seek a warrant for her arrest.
Two lieutenants were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Along with two sergeants and three deputies, they are accused with trying to prevent the FBI from contacting an informant by falsifying records to appear that he had been released when he had actually been moved to different cells under false names.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. would not say whether the lieutenant and sergeants involved were directed by their superiors or whether the alleged abuse came from the top.
Baca, running for re-election in 2014, admitted mistakes in the department but, at the same time, defended his department and distanced himself from the allegations. He denies that the abuse was rampant.
"You haven't seen me retire from the job," he said. "You haven't seen me blame somebody else besides me for whatever the challenges are."
In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Sheriff's Department, claiming that the sheriff and his top commanders had condoned violence against the inmates, and released a report documenting more than 70 cases of deputy misconduct.
In October, a federal jury found Baca personally liable for $100,000 for failing to stop the abuse in a case brought forth by a man who said he was severely beaten while awaiting trial in Men's Central Jail.
In June, Baca disputed the findings that deputies in the Antelope Valley discriminated against blacks and Latinos by making unconstitutional searches and seizures and using excessive force. However, Baca also said that he had instituted reforms.
The Sheriff's Department oversees 18,7000 inmates and has a history of abuse allegations dating back to the 1970s.
image via: Wikimedia Commons