The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is investigating the sudden death of an inmate found unresponsive on Thursday inside his one-person cell in the Twin Towers medical ward.
George Rosales, 18, had been incarcerated since July for armed robbery. On Tuesday he was punched in the face by a deputy when he tried to make a break for the elevator, according to department officials.
"Anytime there's a use of force there is an investigation that takes place," said Deputy Jeffrey Gordon from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "I know that he was seen by the nurse after the use of force."
Sheriff's officials say during a routine check 15 minutes earlier, Rosales had been drinking water and seemed fine. But during the next check he was in medical distress, prompting deputies to call for an ambulance. Rosales died on the way to the hospital.
This latest incident within the country's largest jail system raises the question- did the blow to head by a deputy play a role in Rosales' death?
"There's an epidemic of deputy-on-inmate abuse in the jails and in poor management, poor security. The jails are a mess," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for ACLU of Southern California.
A recent report by the ACLU is a scathing condemnation of L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and the way he runs the county jails.
The report accuses the sheriff of covering up and ignoring evidence of constant deputy brutality against inmates.
"There needs to be a complete overhaul of the way the system is run," said Eliasberg. "They need to have in place real investigations; they need to have new management and leadership."
The FBI is also investigating inmates' allegations of abuse by deputies.
Friday, in an interview with the L.A. Times, Baca said he would welcome a comprehensive federal civil rights investigation into the L.A. County jail system.
"I see there's a pattern of disrespect to inmates by a small percent of deputies," said Baca. "But a small percent of deputies is too much. There shouldn't be any disrespect. We have to change the culture of the jail, improve it."
On Friday, a sheriff's spokesperson said that the death of Rosales didn't appear to be related to the altercation with the deputy. But a report from the L.A. County Coroner's Office is still needed to determine the exact cause of death.