Crime & Justice

FBI probes civil rights abuse in LA County jails

File photo: The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
File photo: The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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Sheriff Lee Baca shot back Monday at the tactics the FBI is using to probe allegations of civil rights abuses in Los Angeles County jails.

Federal authorities are targeting the country's largest jail system, even smuggling a cellphone into one facility so an inmate could gather information for FBI agents.

"What we learned is that the FBI, unbeknownst to the Sheriff's department, snuck a cellphone into Men's Central jail in downtown Los Angeles to an inmate informant.. who is believed to have been sharing reports from inside," the L.A. Times' Robert Faturechi told KPCC.

The investigation is one among several the FBI has undertaken recently into the workings of the Sheriff's Dept., including an investigation into an inmate's claim that he had a racist slur etched into his scalp, and that of an A.C.L.U. monitor who says she witnessed guards beating an inmate unconscious.

"What we've seen for years is that there're tons of allegations that come out of the jails," Faturechi said. "They're often hard to substantiate one way or another because you've got a deputy's word against an inmate's and obviously a deputy brings more credibility, and rarely are there independent witnesses."

Sheriff Lee Baca on GDLA:

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Monday that the investigation was not warranted, and noted that several independent agencies already keep a close eye on L.A.'s jails, which house about 15,000 inmates.

Sheriff Baca told MyFoxLA Monday morning that he resented the FBI's investigation, and in particular its sneaking a cell phone into Men's Central jail.

"It's illegal. It's a misdemeanor. And then there's a conspiracy law that goes along with it," Baca said. "Quite frankly, it's unacceptable, no matter the reason."

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller declined to comment on the investigation other than to confirm federal agents were investigating allegations of civil rights abuses in at least two separate cases.

Audio: Interview with L.A. Times reporter Robert Faturechi about the FBI investigation into alleged beatings at county jails.