LA jails panel hears more stories of deputy abuse

Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail
Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail Corey Bridwell/KPCC

More stories emerged Monday about Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies allegedly beating up people inside Men's Central Jail. In one case, the alleged victim wasn’t even an inmate.

"Deputies were cursing at me while they were punching me and kicking me," Gabriel Carrillo told the Citizen's Commission on Jail Violence.

Carrillo, 24, said deputies detained him and his girlfriend in February 2011 for having cellphones in the waiting area of Men's Central Jail — a violation of jail policy. They were there to visit his brother.

He said deputies became angry at a comment they perceived as a threat, and beat him while he was handcuffed. "The deputies repeatedly banged my head and face against the floor, and at one point I blacked out," he continued.

In a story that was repeated several times during the hearing, Carrillo described deputies shouting at him to stop resisting even though he was compliant. Prosecutors withdrew assault charges against Carrillo after examining the case. Carrillo has filed a civil lawsuit against L.A. County.

Mary Tiedeman, who served as a court-appointed jail monitor for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the commission that she has witnessed many injuries caused by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies who guard the jails.

“Lots of blacks eyes, broken bones," she said. An emotional Tiedeman said the violence eventually became too much for her, and she resigned. "It was really hard to see all that stuff."

Jail chaplain Paulino Juarez added that in one incident a couple of years ago, a colleague pleaded with deputies to stop beating a man who was not resisting.

“Please somebody stop this. Please somebody stop this," Juarez recounted. The chaplain said he witnessed on beating that left an inmate bloody and unconscious on the jail floor.

Several witnesses also described a 2008 incident that occurred after gang members in Cypress Park killed Sheriff’s Deputy Abel Escalante, who worked as a jail guard. His colleagues, they said, exacted retribution by severely beating a group of inmates. Another jail chaplain George Horan, who's worked in the jails for a quarter century, said the slain deputy's wife was so disturbed she visited the jail.

“She was appalled," Heron said. "She talked to some of Abel’s friends that she knew and said, 'If any deputy is doing this in honor of my husband, they’re dishonoring his memory.'”

Witnesses described deputies intimidating witnesses to violence, and even retaliating against a colleague who reported misconduct.

One panel member expressed skepticism. Former Federal Judge Dick Tevrizian said many of the witnesses' accounts came from inmates, who have filed lawsuits against the county.

“Doesn’t that raise a concern that some of these inmates may have financial incentive maybe to exaggerate the depth of the problem?" he asked.

Another panel member, former federal judge Robert Bonner, seemed more willing to accept that deep problems exist at the jails, particularly Men's Central Jail downtown. He wondered how to fix a problem that seems to have persisted even as two independent county watchdogs and the ACLU have kept watch over the jails.

"The thesis is — and it may well be right — that there is and continues to be the use of excessive force on levels that is systemic and totally unacceptable. What should we do as a commission?"

The panel, which plans to take testimony from former inmates, deputies and jail experts, is expected to issue a report in September.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees the jails, has said that he is fixing any problems on his own, and that his deputies' use of force is down at the jails. Several witnesses attested to that, but the ACLU said only a federal consent decree mandating long-term reforms would hold Baca’s feet to the fire.

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