LA's jail violence commission wants secret testimony

Men's Central Jail

Corey Bridwell/KPCC

Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail

Members of the Los Angeles Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence on Monday said they may want to allow sheriff’s deputies to provide testimony in secret. The panel, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, is examining inmate abuse by deputies.

Former federal Judge Robert Bonner said because of the “extremely sensitive” nature of inquiring about jail violence, deputies should be allowed to testify in private to a subcommittee of the commission.

“I think you’re going to get a lot more candid testimony if you interview them in a setting that is not necessarily open,” Bonner told his colleagues in their second-ever meeting. “They should have some assurance of confidentiality.”

Bonner, who once led the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, added, “I don’t think we want a situation where people are coming in with hoods over their faces” in a public meeting.

Sheriff’s deputies may be unwilling to publicly talk about wrongdoing at the jails out of fear of retaliation by their colleagues. Law enforcement experts have long said some cops still believe in a “code of silence.”

Another panel member, former federal Judge Dick Tevrizian, said whistleblowers have already contacted him about allegations of inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., the focus of an ongoing FBI investigation.

“I’ve received several letters from former sheriff’s deputies that have worked in the facility and have expressed concerns that they have had,” Tevrizian said. He did not elaborate.

The Citizens Commission on Jail Violence is just beginning its work. Monday, it appointed attorney Richard Drooyan as its chief lawyer. Drooyan worked on the Christopher Commission that examined the LAPD after the Rodney King beating. He currently serves on the Board of Police Commissioners and is a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Panel members have discussed to what extent they want to examine allegations of abuse. Tevrizian said doing that could jeopardize criminal investigations.

“Because there is a federal investigation going on, we have to be very careful as to where we tread,” he said. “The focus of the commission should be what we can recommend to the sheriff on a going forward basis.”

Bonner said the panel must look at the “ground truth” at the jails.

“The nature of the problem has something to do with informing the solution,” he said. “I don’t want to start off assuming that everything in the L.A. Times that I’ve read is true, or not true. I don’t know.” The Times first reported many aspect of the jail abuse scandal.

Another panel member, the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, suggested the panel invite the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review to provide reports. Both groups have documented jail violence.

In addition to Murray, Bonner and Tevrizian, the jail violence panel includes former federal judge Lourdes Baird, who serves as the chair; former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno; Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell; and Alexander Busansky, the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Busansky is the former executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons for the Vera Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Commission members initially said their work would last about six months. On Monday, some said it could take longer. They noted the Christopher Commission investigated the LAPD for more than a year.

The panel’s next meeting is Jan. 6.

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