ACLU report documents widespread inmate abuse in LA county jails

A year-long investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered pervasive inmate abuse by sheriff deputies in Los Angeles county jails.

“Many attacks [against inmates] are unprovoked. Nearly all go unpunished: these acts of violence are covered up by a department that refuses to acknowledge the pervasiveness of deputy violence in the jail system,” according to the ACLU’s report, “Cruel and Unusual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails.”

The severe deputy-on-inmate beatings documented in the report have prompted an investigation by the FBI. Meanwhile, the ACLU is circulating an online petition calling for the resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. (Click here to sign the petition.)

“Sheriff Baca bears ultimate responsibility for the horrific details we uncovered compiling this report and must step down,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU Southern California’s legal director.

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” – Friedrich Nietzsche 

Many attacks on inmates were allegedly carried out by deputy gangs. Like street gangs, the deputy gangs demand violence against inmates as a rite of passage and consider brutal beatings as “badges of honor.” A recent lawsuit filed by two LA sheriff deputies, who were allegedly beaten by a gang of deputies, accused the sheriff’s department of cultivating “gang-like activity” among jail deputies, fomenting violence against and between inmates.”

Examples of deputy-on-inmate violence include:

  • slamming inmates’ heads into walls and windows;
  • pushing inmates to the ground and kicking them repeatedly with steel-toed boots;
  • shooting unresisting inmates with Tasers;
  • and forcing inmates to beat or sexually assault each other.

Notably, the violence was inflicted on non-resisting inmates in all the examples cited by the ACLU, including attacks witnessed by civilians. While it may be difficult to sympathize with criminals, the level of brutality and widespread abuse of power documented in the report are reprehensible and inexcusable. As one inmate explained to the ACLU, “I understand I pled guilty to a crime and I needed to serve my sentence, but I did not sign up to being beaten by deputies. Nor did I sign up to have deputies arrange to have me beaten and sexually assaulted by other inmates.”


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