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File photo: The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
With civilian witnesses to support their claims, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is bringing new allegations of brutalization and abuse against Los Angeles County jail deputies and sheriffs' supervisors.
"This is the third major report that the ACLU has filed over the last couple years," said Margaret Winter, associate director for the ACLU's prison project, on the Madeleine Brand Show Wednesday.
The ACLU, which is a court-appointed monitor of jail conditions, released a 26-page report that includes 70 sworn statements. It comes amid reports of an FBI investigation into deputy conduct at county jails.
An ACLU jail monitor, chaplains and a teacher who tutors in the jail have all been eyewitnesses to the "savage, brutal beatings" of inmates, Winter said. Although there have been hundreds of previous complaints filed, Winter said, reports from civilians are more difficult to ignore.
Two volunteers said they heard deputies yell "stop fighting" as deputies pummeled inmates who appeared to be doing nothing to fight back.
Declarations by "Hangover" producer Scott Budnick, a former jail writing tutor, and chaplain Paulino Juarez described instances of abuse in the jails, while another chaplain's declaration was submitted anonymously.
Prisoners are often intimidated by the sheriffs into not giving statements, Winter said, and in some cases the prisoners are purposely delayed in reporting the incidents so that their injuries begin to fade.
"When you have a massive problem like this, it goes on only if the man at the top allows it too," Winter said.
The ACLU of Southern California has called for the immediate resignation of county Sheriff Lee Baca. Winter said he was doing nothing but "deny, deny, deny."
But Michael Gennaco, president of the Office of Independent Review, said in some instances Winter merely had the facts wrong. Gennaco said he's seen videotapes and photographs of inmates' injuries, demonstrating that at least some of these incidents are reported fully and handled correctly.
"The fact of the matter remains, you've got to rely on facts," said Gennaco on the Madeleine Brand Show Wednesday.
Gennaco is part of the civilian oversight group that reviews officer misconduct cases and said that even though it's often difficult to make criminal charges against deputies stick, there is still administrative action that can be a taken.
"Unfortunately, a number of deputies have to be terminated as a result of their use of excessive force every year," Gennaco said.
Gennaco said the Office of Review is pushing for the installation of more cameras in jails to act as reliable "tiebreakers" over disputed facts. He attributes the slow process of actually installing these cameras to "bureaucratic hold-ups" and some jail infrastructure not built for cameras.
"We see the same men going on year after year and new ones coming up behind then and being taught the same culture," Winter said of the deputies' behavior in jail.
The ACLU is demanding that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder conduct a criminal and civil rights investigation into the alleged jailhouse brutality.