Jails Commission Slams Sheriff’s Dept. Leadership

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

A commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of violence by deputies against jail inmates slammed the leadership of the sheriff’s department Friday, accusing the sheriff and top brass of failing to address the issue until they were confronted with “adverse publicity.”

“The problem of excessive and unnecessary force in the Los Angeles County jails was the result of many factors, beginning most fundamentally with a failure of leadership in the department,” according to a final report issued by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. “Simply stated, the sheriff did not pay enough attention to the jails until external events forced him to do so.

Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence Chair Lourdes Baird, a retired judge, addresses the Board of Supervisors. (Office of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky)

“Further, his senior leaders failed to monitor conditions in the jails and elevate use-of-force issues so that they received the necessary attention by the sheriff, and the undersheriff engaged in conduct that undermined supervision of aggressive deputies and promoted an environment of lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct.”

The panel issued dozens of recommendations, most notably the creation of an inspector general’s office to provide oversight of the department and the jails. It also stressed that Sheriff Lee Baca needs to be personally engaged in oversight of the jails.

Baca, however, appeared before the Board of Supervisors earlier this month and strongly defended his operation and oversight of the jails.

“All of the dynamics in the jail(s) are fully understood, fully addressed and force is at an all-time low,” Baca said. “We are best in the nation, and that includes Rikers Island and Cook County, which others like to say are better models. In fact, they’re coming to us, asking more about what we’re doing to improve the situation.”

His comments came in response to the findings of a team of investigators working for the commission that issued a scathing report accusing Baca of failing to control the use of force in the jails.

The investigators found that Baca was largely insulated by his command staff from the problem of use of force against inmates, and they suggested a top department manager encouraged deputies to use aggressive tactics in the jails.

Commission investigators said Baca failed to “proactively control use of force” and to properly oversee his top department managers, and “failed to hold senior management accountable.”

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, meanwhile, not only failed to address concerns about violence against inmates, which he did by discouraging investigations into deputy-misconduct allegations, but actually urged deputies to be aggressive against inmates, according to the commission’s investigative team.

The investigators faulted Baca, saying he failed to discipline Tanaka or other top managers despite acknowledging errors in judgment.

In addition to the commission’s investigation, the county jails are also the subject of a federal probe. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which has been critical of deputies’ conduct in the jails, issued a report last week claiming that jailers routinely struck inmates in the head during scuffles.

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