Crime & Justice

Key figure in LA jail abuse investigation retires

The commanding officer at Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail has retired amid claims that he allowed deputies to engage in
The commanding officer at Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail has retired amid claims that he allowed deputies to engage in "gang-like" behavior. A sheriff's department spokesman said the captain had "an admirable career."
Corey Bridwell/KPCC

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For more than two-and-a-half years, until the end of 2010, L.A. County Sheriff’s Captain Daniel Cruz oversaw Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.  Activists say he presided during a particularly troubled time at the lock-up.

“From what we saw on the ground in the jail, he was not a good captain,” said Peter Eliasberg, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who monitors the jails.  “He clearly contributed to some pretty gross civil rights violations.”

A colleague also said Cruz permitted inmate abuse.  One former sheriff’s lieutenant testified during a jail violence commission hearing that Cruz once joked about hitting inmates and allowed abuse investigations to languish.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said investigators recently completed an internal inquiry into Cruz, but he declined to reveal the results.  “Appropriate action was taken,” he said.

Cruz decided to retire on his own, and “had an admirable career,” Whitmore said.  Cruz joined the department in 1979.

A continuing F.B.I. investigation into the jails could result in criminal charges against individual deputies or commanders.

Read more about how 2013 is a critical year for Sheriff Lee Baca, and his jails:

Another embattled Sheriff’s captain also has retired.  Whitmore said Bernice Abram, who once oversaw the Carson station, retired after 25 years on the job.

Abram, 54, allegedly warned a Compton drug trafficker of Sheriff’s raids.  She was dating Dion Grim’s father, the Los Angeles Times reported, when she allegedly was heard on a federal wiretap talking to Grim.  Prosecutors said they could not prove she was talking to someone involved in illegal activities, and did not file charges against her.  An internal investigation continues, Whitmore said.

Cruz and Abram will retain their pensions. Under California law, public employees keep their pensions even if they are convicted of a felony or are found to have violated department policies.

There is one exception that went into effect January 1st, after public outcry over the ability of teachers who molest students to retain their pensions.  Public employees must forfeit pensions if they’re convicted of felonies “arising out of, or in the performance of, his or her official duties.”

It’s unclear whether that would apply to Cruz or Abram, if they are charged and convicted.