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.
Pilgrim says he stayed in line and received his pills. When he returned to his cell, he says other inmates told him they saw what happened and began shouting out that they would testify against the officers.
Several minutes passed by, then the same crew of officers ordered everyone out of their cells for recreation time. As other inmates filed toward the day room, an officer told Pilgrim to stay behind.
Facing the wall with his legs spread wide, Pilgrim says the deputies began to beat him in the face.
“I lost count of how many punches there were,” he says. “I lost consciousness and when I woke up I was on the floor. The deputies were still punching me. I tried to cover my face with my fingers to protect myself, but then one of the deputies pulled my fingers and bent them, like he was trying to break my fingers off.
“I screamed for help the entire time and the deputies said, ‘Stop fighting.’ I was not fighting. I screamed ‘Why?’ because I did not know why they were doing this to me and how to make it stop. They kept on punching me in the face and one of them shoved my head face-first into the concrete floor, chipping my teeth.”
Pilgrim eventually was taken to the hospital, where doctors told him he had fractures in his face and needed a procedure to fix his ear. He told the doctors that he was afraid to go back to jail.
Less than a week later, Pilgrim says, the deputies told him he was being disciplined and had lost privileges, such as recreation, phones and visits, for 29 days for fighting with deputies.
“I told the review board the deputies beat me up and I did not fight with them,” Pilgrim says, “but a senior deputy said the deputies would not beat me up for no reason.”
On June 19, 2009, deputies removed 23-year-old Darrell Garrett from his cell in Men’s Central Jail to take him to court. As he was walking, deputies kept pushing him from behind; eventually he fell down some steps. At that point, a deputy told him to “shut the fuck up” and began kicking him in the face. Other deputies soon joined in.
“I was being kicked on both sides and couldn’t see anything,” Garrett says. “Another deputy was holding me down. I then felt something hard, which I later learned was a milk crate. They were hitting me on my head with the milk crate, which is hard plastic. Later on there were patterns on my head from the milk crate.”
Next, Garrett says, officers threw him to the ground.
“They grabbed my head and started cheese-grating my face onto the concrete,” he says. “They then took two cans of mace and emptied them in my mouth, ears, nose and eyes. They dragged me down the steps. I was bleeding everywhere. They tried to clean me up with some water, but I was bleeding and I had crapped my pants.”
Garrett blacked out and awoke at the USC Medical Center.
When the doctors asked whether Garrett felt well enough to go back to the jail, Garrett says he “was pressured out of fear to say yes.”
When they arrived back at the jail, Garrett says he was not given any more medical attention but instead was placed in “the hole.”
Since then, Garrett says, “Multiple deputies beat me up, they have verbally threatened me and taunted me, telling me they are going to get me. They tell me I am not going to get out of the hole and they can charge me with anything.”
Eric White says that as he was talking to an inmate on May 13, 2009, a deputy told him other officers needed to speak with him. After walking down the hallway, the deputy grabbed White’s hands, leaned toward his ear and said, “Who’s the fucking punk now? Put your fucking nose to the wall.”
White says, “I kept telling him that I don’t want any problems. He said, ‘It’s too late now.’ ”
The first blow knocked White to the ground.
“When I went down, I received a crushing blow to the top of my head. … All I can remember is trying to crawl away. Then a door flew open and a bunch more deputies came in. I thought they were going to make the others stop, but they all joined in. As I began to lose consciousness, I looked down and saw a pool of blood.”
White says the officers tore off his pants and Tasered him. The next thing he remembered was being interviewed on videotape by officers at the hospital.
“I can’t think of a single thing that I could have done to deserve this beating,” White says. “I admit I’ve been disrespectful at times, but nothing that deserves me nearly losing my life.”
White says he had four fractured vertebrae, a shattered right shoulder, a broken rib and two sprained ankles. He also required five staples on the top of his head, five stitches on his forehead and seven stitches above his eyes.
The months “since coming back from the hospital have been nothing but terror,” he says.
Michael Holguin, a 29-year-old construction worker from Walnut, became upset on Oct. 18, 2009, because he wasn’t allowed to shower. He complained, but a week passed by and still he wasn’t allowed to shower. Finally, Holguin complained to a sergeant, and the following day Holguin was taken to the shower room, where water blasted out of the shower heads.
When Holguin walked toward the shower, a deputy told him to step back.
“Why?” Holguin asked.
“You wanna know why, I’ll tell you why,” said the deputy as he placed handcuffs around Holguin’s wrists.
Holguin remembered being hit and pepper-sprayed in the face, and hearing a deputy say, “That’s why you don’t say why, just do what you’re told.”
Holguin says he was beaten up and then taken to the hospital, where he stayed for three days with a broken leg. He received surgery to repair his knee, as well as staples in his head and stitches over an eye.
“When I came back from the hospital, some deputy gave me a piece of paper that said I have 29 days in the hole for attacking a deputy,” Holguin says. “I don’t think that makes any sense. I was handcuffed and they attacked me. There was no way I could do anything to them. There is no reason why they did this to me. They were supposed to be giving us showers, and those deputies just attacked me without reason.”
On March 2, 2009, inmate Daysuan Rushing told the ACLU jail monitor that he was not being allowed to shower and needed to see a doctor.
A day or so later, Rushing was returning to his cell from court when an officer put him up against a wall and began searching him for contraband.
“You don’t like my program?” the deputy said. “We can fix that.”
The deputy slapped the back of Rushing’s head. Rushing called the officer a punk, and the deputy slapped him again. Then, Rushing says, “The deputy began kicking me in the back. Then the other officer joined in and they both started kicking me. He then smacked his flashlight across my face. Then he hit me in the jaw with the flashlight. Then they hit me in the knees. The deputies have [a] technique where they hit inmates on their elbows and knees so it makes you limp around.
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“While I was on the ground, they also sprayed me in the face” and “said, ‘You fucking whiners, tell this to the ACLU, I dare you.’ ”
Next, Rushing says the officers grabbed him by the pants and threw him down some stairs, where a crowd of deputies was standing. “It was weird, it was like they were clapping or something. I was bleeding all over the place.”
Rushing was taken to the hospital, where he received an unspecified number of stitches.
“Retaliation happens all the time around this jail,” he says. “Most of these deputies are really young and they think they can do whatever they want — at least, that’s what their behavior seems like. It is fear and intimidation that they use around here. I have complained about the incident to the jail and they told me that Internal Affairs has the complaint. However, I have never spoken to anyone from there about it.”