By The Vanguard Staff
LOS ANGELES, CA – Although—according to news reports, including by the Orange County Register—videos unsealed this week from the Los Angeles County Jail system show deputies beating inmates and using excessive force in apparent violation of an agreement with the ACLU, the Sheriff’s Department said it’s not its fault.
Sheriff’s officials claim the security recordings “taken during a previous administration are not representative of the department’s interactions with inmates and do not reflect the changes made under current Sheriff Robert Luna.”
The videos, here, spanning a time frame from October 2019 to July 2022, were released late Thursday, by U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson as part of a lawsuit brought by Alex Rosas and the American Civil Liberties Union against the Sheriff’s Department over the treatment of inmates in the jail system, said the OCR.
The videos, wrote the OCR, are “gritty and troubling,” and, said the newspaper, “show deputies controlling inmates with punches to the head, the use of a questionable restraining device and a knee on the neck.”
The ACLU and the Sheriff’s Department are continuing to refine a 2014 agreement to reduce the use of head strikes as well as a controversial restraining device known as the body WRAP, but Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU attorney, said the department has a long way to go toward fulfilling its commitment.
“Deputies continue to punch people who are incarcerated in the head during force incidents when this dangerous tactic is unnecessary and dangerous,” Eliasberg said. “Worse still, supervisors approve these out-of-policy head punches as permissible even though year after year the federal court monitors … conclude that the department far too often signs off on head strikes that are clearly out of policy.”
He added, “As long as deputies think, ‘We can do this stuff and nothing is going to happen,’ it will continue.”
The OCR said court monitors, in a recent report, “disagreed with 85 percent of the head strikes that department supervisors concluded were justified.”
Head blows can cause brain hemorrhaging, facial fractures and eye injuries…they can exacerbate mental illnesses suffered by many jail inmates, the ACLU has said, noting that 41 percent of inmates have serious mental illnesses.
The OCR wrote, “In one video, two deputies can be seen bashing an inmate’s head against a window while escorting him down a jail corridor. The inmate’s hands are behind his back. The video is time-stamped July 2022, when Alex Villanueva was sheriff.”
“That’s totally brutal, totally uncalled for and very, very dangerous,” Eliasberg said. “There is just no justification for it.”
The Sheriff’s Department said it has referred that incident to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for potential prosecution.
In another video, noted OCR, a deputy can be seen pushing an inmate against a jail cell and then repeatedly punching him in the head. The inmate apparently had asked for soap and complained when he didn’t get it, Eliasberg told OCR.
“Even when force is necessary, the force should be proportional to the situation. It almost never should be a head punch,” he said.
“Sheriff’s officials countered that the use of head strikes at the county’s nine jails has fallen dramatically over the past two years and are on pace to hit only 48 in 2023, the lowest of any year since the lawsuit was filed in 2012. The department estimated that up to 60,000 inmates pass through the system in any given year,” wrote the OCR.
“In the 11 years since this case was instituted, there has been a complete cultural shift away from the days when such abuses were tolerated, and Sheriff Luna is intent on building on that progress comprehensively, and at a more rapid pace than his predecessors,” the Sheriff’s Department, on its website, said.
The SD added, on the site, “Sheriff Luna has set a new tone when it has come to making it clear that, regardless of this dramatic drop in uses of force involving inmates, when deputies engage in uses of force in a manner that violates the department’s strict use of force policies, they will be held accountable.”
But the OCR said in another just released video, “a deputy places a knee on the neck of an inmate who has been taken to the ground, reminiscent of the police tactic that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. In the Los Angeles County incident, the knee remains in place for less than a minute, compared to the more than nine minutes for Floyd.”
“Another video shows deputies employing the controversial WRAP device, which encircles an inmate’s legs and connects to a chest harness. Doctors say the device can lead to positional asphyxiation, which is putting the inmate in a physical position that restricts breathing,” wrote the OCR.
California law enforcement agencies have paid out large amounts of taxpayer dollars after wrongful death cases were filed involving the WRAP, including Pleasanton ($5.9 million), Alameda County ($2.7 million), Hayward (three cases totaling $2.4 million), San Diego County ($1.35 million) and National City ($300,000), said the OCR.