Federal authorities launch civil rights investigation into allegations of excessive force at LA County jails

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Federal authorities have launched a civil rights investigation into the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said they've opened a “pattern or practice” investigation into the sheriff's department, focusing on  allegations of use of excessive force by sheriff deputies and staff at the Los Angeles County Jail.

The investigation comes nearly a year after a blue ribbon commission found there was a culture of violence at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The commission also found that Sheriff Lee Baca and members of his command staff failed to take corrective measures when made aware of the alleged abuses.

“Both Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff [Paul] Tanaka have, in different ways, enabled or failed to remediate overly aggressive deputy behavior as well as lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct," the commission's report said.

A spokesman for Baca said the department would cooperate with the new federal probe. Steve Whitmore noted that department has also made significant reforms in an effort to deal with excessive force by jailers.

The investigation would be conducted separately from the FBI's ongoing criminal probe into allegations of excessive force and other misconduct at the jails. That investigation has been under way since at least 2011.

Baca is up for reelection in June 2014 and is facing challenges from two former sheriff's department employees.

Paul Tanaka, who retired in the spring, announced he'll run against his former boss. Also in the race is Bob Olmstead, a retired commander who says he tried to warn Baca about deputies using excessive force against inmates at Men's Central Jail.