By The Vanguard Staff
LOS ANGELES, CA – The ACLU of Southern California continued its battle with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over alleged abuse of the incarcerated in its jails, and this week argued, according to a story in The Appeal, “LASD Says It Wants to Keep Hitting People in the Head.”
The Appeal said deputies “have needlessly hit incarcerated people in the head with impunity. According to LASD, its deputies hit prisoners in the head at least 52 times last year—meaning deputies punched about one person in the head per week.”
The ACLU, according to The Appeal, is “taking the sheriff’s department to federal court over the matter,” stating “that number is inexcusable. But in federal court yesterday, the sheriff’s department argued it has already made significant changes and should not be forced to change its head strike policy.”
“The hearing was the latest development in a decade-old lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. In 2012, the ACLU sued LASD for routinely using excessive force against people incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails. In 2015, a judge approved a settlement agreement requiring LASD to reform its use-of-force-related policies and practices,” wrote The Appeal.
“On May 31 of this year, the ACLU filed a motion arguing that the LASD has failed to comply with key provisions of the plan. The ACLU asked the court to prohibit the use of head strikes by LASD deputies (except in rare instances when deadly force is authorized), limit the use of a restraint device known as the WRAP, and impose mandatory discipline on LASD employees who use excessive force or lie on use-of-force reports,” according to The Appeal story.
“Over eight years, the court has never once found the LASD to be in compliance with the head strike provisions of the plan,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel at the ACLU of Southern California, during the hearing urging the court to modify the court order to prevent deputies from continuing to use dangerous and unnecessary force.
An LASD spokesman said “the department currently allows deputies to hit people in the head when ‘an inmate is assaultive,’ (or) the deputy faces imminent threat of ‘serious bodily injury,’ and there is no other way the deputy can avoid serious injury
The ACLU argued, according to The Appeal, “the LASD has repeatedly failed to meet its own standard when it comes to head strikes. In a sworn declaration submitted on behalf of the ACLU, Stephen Sinclair, a former Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections, said he reviewed nine incidents in which deputies used head strikes.
“In eight of the nine incidents, Sinclair said, ‘it was obvious to me that the use of head strikes was unnecessary and excessive force’ under the LASD’s own head strike policy.”
Emergency room physician Dr. Shamsher Samra, who worked at the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, said in a sworn statement that punches or strikes to the head “can, and frequently do result in severe, and potentially, fatal injuries,” including traumatic brain injuries, fractured facial bones, and retinal detachment, according to The Appeal.
The Appeal added, “As of March, about half of the 14,000 people incarcerated in Los Angeles county jails were being held pretrial, meaning they have not been convicted of a crime. About 6,000 people—or 41 percent of the jail’s total population—were mentally ill.”
Three independent court-appointed monitors also echoed the ACLU’s concerns over deputies’ use of head strikes during the hearing yesterday. The monitors pointed out that many institutions simply do not allow head strikes at all, said The Appeal.
U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson yesterday asked LASD about a video the ACLU shared on June 2, which showed a deputy slamming a handcuffed man’s head into a concrete wall. The man was walking past the deputy and did not appear to do anything to provoke the deputy’s attack. A photo of the man taken afterwards shows a large gash in his head and blood all over his face and clothes.
Pregerson asked the LASD “if the video showed what the department would consider a ‘head strike.’” The department “said no, because a head strike is when a deputy uses their hands to hit someone in the head and does not include occasions when a deputy hits someone’s head on an object,” said The Appeal.
Of the 52 head strikes LASD deputies committed last year, Dugdale said “12 of those were referred to administrative investigation. Eight of those investigations are complete and deputies were found to have acted outside of policy and disciplined.”
Eight of 12 head strike investigations last year were found to be outside policy, said the LASD, but added those guilty “were either given ten days off work or a written reprimand.”
“This only proves our point,” Eliasberg said during the proceedings. “The LASD’s own disciplinary policies say that when someone is found to use excessive force, people should be disciplined with a 15-day suspension or termination. A written reprimand is not sufficient.”
Judge Pregerson asked LASD and the ACLU to work together to reach an agreement and come back in 60 days with proposals. Pregerson said he would reserve judgment until the next hearing Aug. 28, adding, reported The Appeal, “My history in dealing with the sheriff’s department over the years has, in some cases, been a lot of promises that have evaporated.”