It's rare to catch L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca and his shadow leader, Paul Tanaka (who also bizarrely serves as the mayor of Gardena), candidly speaking about the hundreds of deputy-abuse allegations that have piled up against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department these last few years. We call Baca the "Teflon sheriff" because his prepared statements always manage to repel bad press. And Tanaka, his weird bodyguard/undersheriff, will briskly deny all wrongdoing when prodded.
So this morning's meeting of the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence...
... is a refreshing moment in the sunlight. Baca and Tanaka are finally being forced to answer direct questions about bloody inmate beatings carried out under their watch.
Commissioners begin on the topic of deputy placement and work hours. They're wondering why the sheriff never initiated a "rotating shift" to break up cliques within the ranks (like the terrifying Jump Out Boys, who pride themselves on officer-involved shootings) and discourage excessive force.
Tanaka is first in the hot seat -- his interrogation kicked off around 9:15 a.m. -- and he's slowly unraveling, insisting he has no recollection whatsoever of a whole slew of past emails and meetings, in which he was allegedly informed about violent deputy gangs. The commission argues that he turned a blind eye.
"I have never, ever suggested indirectly ... that it is the job of a supervisor to coddle a deputy," says Tanaka, despite court testimony from witnesses. He's getting angrier.
Witness LA, local blog and diligent sheriff's watchdog, provides a way to listen in:
The hearing is bound to contain some interesting theater, but for those of you who can't attend (yet wish you could) you can listen to audio of the meeting live. Call (877) 873-8017, Access Code: 111111# .
According to Stoltze, 100-odd sheriff's deputies are at the hearing to "support" top brass. Which prompted a pretty good question from a commissioner:
"I wanna know who's on the streets patrolling" says commissioner about #LASD turnout."yeah, ha ha" mumbles homicide detective sarcastically
— Robert Faturechi (@RobertFaturechi) July 27, 2012
Update, 10:15 a.m.: The commissioners show Tanaka evidence that dozens of excessive-force allegations were never filed. If not through paperwork, "What is the way that policy violations can be identified?", they ask Tanaka.
"Well, it just could be through your day-today observations and interactions," he mumbles.
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So apparently he expects deputies and their supervisors to regulate themselves? Tanaka's casual, hands-off attitude makes it pretty clear how a culture of bullyish policing has been allowed to fester within the nation's largest sheriff's department.
A quick refresher course from the LA Weekly archives:
- "Men's County Jail Visitor Viciously Beaten by Guards"
- "ACLU Sues Sheriff Lee Baca & Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Over Long-Standing Deputy Violence Against Inmates"
- "Heroin Burrito Allegedly Smuggled Into L.A. County Jail by Deputy Henry Marin"
- "Men's Central Jail Inmate Is Suing After Deputies Allegedly Broke His Ribs and Punctured His Lung"
- "Shawne Fletcher, L.A. County Jail Inmate, Sues Sheriff Lee Baca for Another Brutal Beating"
- "Wheelchair Hell in Men's Central Jail"
- "VIDEO: L.A. Sheriff's Deputy Punches Special-Needs Woman on Bus"
- "Lee Baca's Bad Month Gets Worse: L.A. Sheriff's Deputies 'Detained,' Investigated Following Off-Duty Shots Fired in Park After-Hours"
- "Lee Baca, L.A. County Sheriff, Pissed That FBI Smuggled Cellphone Into His Jail: Shouldn't he be Worried About Inmate Beatings?"