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L.A. Sheriff Pressured To Resign Over Abuse Claims

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
October 12, 2011

Longtime Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is accused of turning a blind eye to widespread abuse of inmates by his deputies and is now under pressure to resign.

Baca, who spent days blasting his critics, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which ran a sting operation in one of his jails.

Volunteers in the jail, including two chaplains, filed sworn affidavits they witnessed subdued inmates being beaten. A top ranked rookie deputy reportedly quit after refusing orders to beat a mentally ill inmate and calls for Baca to resign grew louder. But now the four-term sheriff says he’s instituting reforms and will open his cell doors to independent inspectors.

Last week, flanked by dozens of his top brass, Baca told reporters allegations of abuse were being exaggerated. Tuesday, he toned down his defiance a little.

“I’m going to continue to receive the criticism as positively as I can but I’m not going anywhere,” Baca said.

Baca showed up Tuesday at a small church near downtown L.A. About a dozen African-American activists from some of the city’s lesser known churches gathered to show their support for the sheriff.

“I just want the community to know that he’s not resigning,” says Sandra Moore of Concerned Citizens for Fair Policing. “We will not allow it. He’s not going anywhere.”

Moore praised Baca for being a true humanitarian and she blasted his critics for not trusting him to right his own ship.

“We are going to work side by side,” Moore says. “But before you say the house is on fire … tell the firemen.”

Baca said he understands there are problems of excessive force in the jails. He says his deputies have a tough job maintaining order in the county’s overcrowded and antiquated facilities, but he’s showing them how to do better.

“My admonition to my own deputies is you will never find me disrespecting an inmate and therefore I’m asking you to not disrespect an inmate,” Baca says. “And not only am I asking but I’m ordering you not to disrespect and inmate.”

Baca has been holding townhall style meetings with inmates in the jails the past two weekends. He says he set up a 35-member task force of internal investigators to look into past and future abuse allegations. And he says he will now be given information directly about all inmate concerns.

But Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long complained about abuse in the jails, says Baca’s promises ring hollow.

“The sheriff’s department has shown itself unable to police itself in the past,” Eliasberg says. “It is amazing to me that Sheriff Baca is saying, ‘Gee I didn’t know about this stuff before but now I’m really going to pay attention’.”

A federal court has placed an ACLU observer in Los Angeles’ biggest jail. Eliasberg says the Sheriff needs to step down and federal authorities need to come in, investigate and order reforms.

Currently, the FBI says it’s investigating several allegations, including one witnessed by the ACLU’s monitor. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is also looking into allegations of racial discrimination by Sheriff Deputies in northern Los Angeles county.

For now the County Board of Supervisors are backing the sheriff. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says he hasn’t lost confidence in Baca, but he does want an independent review of the jails. He wants local retired officials to do it, not the feds.

“But if the department doesn’t get it’s act together then I think we are inviting a federal takeover a consent decree which the LAPD had which was long, costly and ultimately successful but disruptive in the meantime.”

Baca says he’s willing to let anyone come in to his jails who wants to, but he’ll make any necessary changes.

“Let’s not just look at what’s happened in the past and try to account for it let’s go forward and build a better future for inmates and deputies alike,” Baca says.

The future for Baca and his deputies is about to get even more challenging. The state is under court order to slash its prison population by 30,000. For the County and Sheriff Lee Baca that means thousands more inmates will be staying in Los Angeles’ jails. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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