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Supervisors launch county jails commission

October 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is facing increased scrutiny for alleged inmate abuse. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has voted to create an oversight commission and take other steps. But it's up to the sheriff to implement any actual changes.

Los Angeles County supervisors say the credibility of the sheriff's department is at stake, and they voted to investigate what is happening in L.A. County jails. They say things need to change right away.

What is happening behind bars? The allegations are serious: Sheriff's deputies mistreating inmates. Some inmates have died.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report citing incidents of excessive force.

"We have got to end the kind of crisis that we have in our jails," said L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Two weeks ago 18-year-old Jorge Rosales died at the Twin Towers Jail two days after a deputy punched him in the head.

The coroner's office is still investigating.

A report by the Office of Independent Review found 30 jail employees were disciplined for beating inmates or covering up abuse.

The report says installing cameras in all jails would provide evidence in these cases.

"It will help us do our job for you, which is to ensure that when there's evidence of misconduct, that appropriate action will be taken by the sheriff's department," said Michael Gennaco, Office of Independent Review.

Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took up proposals to change procedures at the jail and to set up a special commission to investigate the problem.

Among the recommended changes: deputies should not use flashlights as batons to subdue inmates.

"How did this culture develop? How did it evolve? How do we turn that culture around?" asked L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky Tuesday.

Sheriff Lee Baca recently has taken responsibility for not knowing about these problems. He wasn't at Tuesday's public hearing.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) was present to stress the problem isn't widespread.

"I'm here to ask you not to paint all of us with a broad brush and think that we are not performing our jobs to the best of our ability, with honor, dignity and respect," said Floyd Hayhurst, president, ALADS. "We know this is the norm and not the rarity."

"We have so many law enforcement personnel that really sign up to do a good job, and unfortunately there's been a culture there that's been allowed to fester, that has now brewed and has gone over the top, and the sheriff has got to put a stop to it," said Molina.

The supervisors hope the sheriff will implement these recommendations, but some aren't sure that will happen. The Board of Supervisors does have control over the sheriff's department budget.


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