On December 9, 2013, the United States Attorney's Office charged 18 current or one-time Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials with civil rights and corruption violations as a part of five criminal cases. The charges were the result of an ongoing FBI investigation and allege officers beat jail inmates and visitors, made false statements, participated in unjustified detentions and hid an FBI informant from his handler.
"This scandal has been developing over the years. It's not as if these indictments came down in a vacuum," said Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC), Peter Eliasberg. "When you have 18 that are federally indicted. That's a major, major problem."
The LA County jail system is the largest jail system in the United States and is run by the Sheriff's Department. Eliasberg told Reason TV that the incident in which deputies allegedly hid an FBI informant is particularly troubling because it suggests that high ranking officials must have known about the incident.
"It seems to me that people higher up probably knew [...] I think that there is at least a possibility that what will happen will be more indictments and the indictments will be higher ranking in the department," said Eliasberg.
Esther Lim, director of the Jails Project at the ACLU-SC, has seen the abuse first hand and told Reason TV of the LA County jail, "People describe it as a dungeon, as hell on earth. It truly is."
Lim witnessed a beating inside the Twin Towers facility in 2011 and recounted it to the Los Angeles Times. The deputies involved were not among the 18 charged on Dec. 9, but the incident speaks to the violent culture that persists inside the jails.
"The two deputies, they don't know that I'm watching them," says Lim. "This is obviously an excessive use of force so I banged on the window to get their attention to actually get them to stop and they didn't do anything."
The ACLU-SC is a court ordered monitor of the LA County jails and released a report in 2011 detailing abuses in the jail based on 70 inmate declarations describing deputy-on-inmate beatings, threats to inmates, and inmate-on-inmate violence:
Deputies have attacked inmates for complaining about property missing from their cells. They have beaten inmates for asking for medical treatment, for the nature of their alleged offenses, and for the color of their skin. They have beaten inmates in wheelchairs. They have beaten an inmate, paraded him naked down a jail module, and placed him in a cell to be sexually assaulted. Many attacks are unprovoked. Nearly all go unpunished: these acts of violence are covered up by a department that refuses to acknowledge the pervasiveness of deputy violence in the jail system.
For more on the LA County Jails read reports from the ACLU-SC's Jail Project.
Approximately 4:58 minutes.
Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer and Detrick.
Visit http://reason.com/reasontv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.