During its decades-long federal court case against Los Angeles County, the ACLU of Southern California has regularly filed sworn declarations from inmates. Over the last 12 months alone, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed more than 40 sworn statements, including 28 from alleged victims of physical abuse by Sheriff’s personnel and seven from inmates claiming to have witnessed deputies abusing other inmates.
The ACLU says it does not track inmates after they give their statements and therefore rarely knows what becomes of them. The ACLU was not allowed to take photographs of the injured inmates.
The following accounts are taken from sworn declarations made by inmates to the ACLU and admitted into the federal case file.
By June 10, 2010, Jimmie Knott had been in Men’s Central Jail for about a month. He and 30 or 40 other inmates were lined up facing the wall in a hallway on this Thursday morning, waiting for their second round of hepatitis shots.
As Knott was slowly moving toward the head of the line, a bald, heavyset Hispanic officer walked by, telling Knott to tuck in his shirt. Knott looked down and saw that the back of his prison shirt was out, so he quickly jammed the cloth into his pants. Then he told the officer that his shoes were tearing apart and asked if he could have a new pair.
“Get out of the line, jackass,” the officer said. He instructed Knott to strip down.
Knott disrobed, except for a pair of boxer shorts. Following orders, he began to get down on his knees and cross his ankles, but before he could fully lower himself, Knott felt a heavy blow to the right side of his head.
The deputy’s punch knocked Knott off balance and to the ground. As he stood back up, bleeding, Knott thought, “Why did you hit me like this?”
Suddenly, a bald-headed, large Caucasian deputy landed a closed-fist punch to the left side of Knott’s head, saying, “You’re going to look at my senior [commander] like that?”
At that point, a number of deputies joined in.
“I went to the ground,” Knott says. “They were kneeing me in my ribs, in my back, in my temple. There were lots of blows at the same time. They were stepping on my arms, but my hands were free and I was trying to cover my face and head with my hands to protect myself. Two of them kept telling me to put my hands behind my back, but I couldn’t because they were stepping on my arm. They were just cussing and stuff, telling me to put my hands behind my back, but they wouldn’t let me. I was never resisting.”
After what felt like several minutes, one of the officers said, “Enough, enough.” The beating ceased. Knott uncurled from the fetal position and was escorted to the medical clinic.
While there, Knott says, “When the nurse asked me what happened, I said I fell down the stairs. I lied because they told me they were really going to beat my ass if I said something else. I was scared.”
After being released from the clinic, Knott was disciplined for fighting with the deputies.
“I didn’t even fight with the deputies,” Knott says. “I just asked for some shoes.”
He says the physical pain was nothing compared to how he felt inside after being attacked.
“It’s not the pain that’s making me cry,” he says. “It’s something else. I guess it’s just them doing what they want to do to me, and I can’t do nothing about it. They just beat me, while I was covered up in a fetal position. I was really scared for my life. I didn’t know that was going to happen if I asked for shoes.”
Rashaad Pilgrim had been locked up on the third floor of Men’s Central Jail for about two months when he walked out of his cell at 6:30 p.m. on July 19, 2010, for pill call, the time when inmates receive their daily medications. As always, a deputy ordered everyone on his row to line up and face the wall.
Standing with hands behind his back, Pilgrim says he felt an officer walk up behind him and force him to interlace his fingers.
“What’s your fucking problem?” the officer said.
“I don’t have a problem,” Pilgrim said.
“Don’t respond,” snapped the officer, before punching Pilgrim on the side of his face.
When Pilgrim tried to turn his neck to get a glimpse of the officer’s name tag, the officer punched him again, then another deputy chimed in, saying, “What’s your fucking problem?”
This time Pilgrim did not respond. The deputy punched Pilgrim in the shoulder.