We call him the Teflon Sheriff because, despite more than a decade's worth of serious problems inside the L.A. jail system, woes that include gang-like cliques of tatted-up deputies, you keep electing Lee Baca as the county's top cop.
Nothing seems to stick.
Well, that might have changed today:
The excessive force over a period of years in Los Angeles County jails — and in
particular Men's Central Jail — was due, in no small part, to significant failures of the senior leadership in the Sheriff's Department. Both Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka have, in different ways, enabled or failed to remediate overly aggressive deputy behavior as well as lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct in the jails for far too long.
The report card comes only two days after the ACLU unleashed a report of its own that claimed …
… the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (“LASD”) deputies have used head strikes with alarming regularity in the Los Angeles County jails. In many of those incidents the head strikes have caused significant injuries. The manner and frequency of such head strikes strongly suggests an inappropriate use of force by deputies …
There's a long and well-detailed history of alleged inmate abuse in the jails, including our own piece by Chris Vogel documenting that even visitors were sometimes targeted for violence.
Baca this year finally acknowledged the problem, but said that his underlings had kept the issue from him (guess he doesn't read news or watch local television). The Citizens' Commission report finally places the buck at its proper stop, stating:
The problem of excessive and unnecessary force in the Los Angeles County jails was the result of many factors, beginning most fundamentally with a failure of leadership in the department/ Simply stated, the sheriff did not pay enough attention to the jails until external events forced him to do so.
Further, his senior leaders failed to monitor conditions in the jails and elevate use-of-force issues so that they received the necessary attention by the sheriff, and the undersheriff engaged in conduct that undermined supervision of aggressive deputies and promoted an environment of lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct.
The summary of the findings blames a macho culture of competition over who's in charge behind bars, the gang-like deputies or the gangs themselves.
Over the years, some deputies have viewed force as a way to signal their authority over inmates and to establish “who is running the jails,” rather than as a last resort in response to problematic inmate behavior. These deputies have adopted a confrontational approach in their interactions with inmates, thereby heightening disrespect among deputies and inmates and increasing tensions in the jails. Management, in turn, has sent the wrong message by failing to address excessive force and a deputy culture resistant to supervision.
The commission notes that new deputies, almost all of whom have to spend time working the jails before hitting the streets, get two hours of training for such duty.
Among the commission's biggest recommendations: Baca needs to get more involved in oversight of the jails. A clear policy on use-of-force behind bars must be established and enforced. Inmate complaints against deputies should be well documented. There should be an Assistant Sheriff in charge of the jails. Sheriff's oversight authorities should be consolidated into a single office of Inspector General.
L.A. County Supervisor (the powerful, elected, five-member Board of Supervisors runs the county) Mark Ridley-Thomas moved quickly today to announce that he'll …
… ask the board to make profound structural changes with regard to oversight of the department and create a system for permanent and independent citizen oversight of our jails.
He proposes a a Citizens Law Enforcement Commission for the sheriff's department and an Inspector General:
Plainly said, we must make sure that people in custody are not victimized by those charged with their supervision. That's why we must steer the Sheriff's Department in a new direction.
True that. But only the voters can really take this thing in a whole new direction.