Abuse in Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail has grown so rampant that Sheriff Lee Baca has talked of closing its doors, or at least shutting down parts of the facility. The latest case involved not an inmate, but a visitor who was caught with a mobile phone.
Cell phones are contraband in the jailhouse, so deputies escorted Gabriel Carillo, there to see his brother, into an interrogation room after they spotted him carrying one. He claimed that they handcuffed him and beat him until he was unconscious. The brutality did not stop there — Carillo said he woke up with his head bouncing up and down off the floor from being punched. His girlfriend said that she did not recognize him afterwards, he had been beaten so badly.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff after collecting 72 sworn testimonies of abuse. In some cases, the victims had not yet been convicted of any crimes, and were simply awaiting their court dates.
Horror stories include deputies bashing heads into walls, dislocating an inmate’s shoulder, puncturing an inmate with keys, and causing wounds like gashes, bruises and broken teeth.
Reports of abuse are not new to the facility, which has been fielding complaints since the 1970s. Baca has been in office for 13 years. He claimed that if he does decide to shut down the jail, it will not be due to media pressure, but because he sees the necessity to reform the situation.
Recently, the County Board of Supervisors formed a commission to investigate allegations of abuse at the jail. Clergy members and civilians who worked there testified to the commission about widespread inmate abuse, as well as threats against witnesses to hold their tongues. During one hearing, a chaplain claimed that deputies had called him a rat for reporting a beating.
ACLU jail monitor Mary Tiedeman testified, claiming that she quit her assignment after her complaints of violence fell on deaf ears at the department. Sister Patty Bartlett also gave testimony, claiming that deputies would grant rival gangs access to one another to encourage violence among the inmates.
Father George Horan, who also worked at the jail, testified that the problem grew so out of control that violent deputies were pitted against those who sought to protect the inmates’ safety. He witnessed a Christmas party brawl between aggressive deputies and more respectful ones in 2010, citing cliquishness in the deputy community.