LA sheriff faces mounting legal challenges
Associated Press | July 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES – Jail commanders condoning the beating of inmates. Evidence withheld from inmates accused of attacking guards. A photo of a woman wearing an official-looking badge while brandishing handguns at a nightclub.
Allegations and litigation continue to dog Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who has acknowledged being out of touch about problems in his jails and failing to reform his massive department that oversees the largest county jail system in the nation.
Bad news in the past week has come from his own brass, his chief critics and a photo that surfaced in an unrelated federal investigation – all serving to sully the reputation of the popular four-term sheriff, who enjoys the limelight and is flown around the world at the invitation of others to talk about policing tactics.
“We could call for his resignation daily, but it’s not going to do any good,” said Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU Southern California legal director, who called for Baca to step down late last year. “If he stays on, he’s got to fix these problems. There are some glimmers of hope, but it’s far from what we’d like to see.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, a constant critic of the sheriff and a court-appointed monitor of jail conditions, sued Tuesday alleging that inmates charged with assaulting deputies have been unable to get evidence that could help exonerate them.
At the core of the problems facing the department is how its deputies treat some of the estimated 15,000 inmates in county jails. The ACLU has filed another lawsuit accusing Baca and some other department officials of condoning violence against inmates.
Last year the civil rights group released a report that documented more than 70 cases of alleged abuse and other misconduct by deputies, many of which occurred at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI has launched its own investigation and asked for internal department records dealing with inmate abuse.
On July 6, Capt. Michael Bornman testified before a county commission looking into deputy abuse in the jails that the former head of the jail, Capt. Daniel Cruz, resisted efforts to investigate employees who were accused of excessive force. Bornman described a culture of brutality where Cruz allegedly joked about not hitting inmates in their face so marks wouldn’t be visible. Cruz has denied the accusations.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes