Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Photo by John Schreiber.

The mother of a jail inmate who died last year alleges that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies beat her son nearly to death in his cell and then hung him from a bed sheet in an attempt to make it appear to be a suicide, the woman’s lawyer said Wednesday.

A $25 million federal civil rights complaint was filed against the sheriff’s department, ex-Sheriff Lee Baca and unnamed deputies last week on behalf of Avean Edwards of South Los Angeles.

Her son, 24-year-old Earl Lee Johnson, died Oct. 18 in a hospital where he lingered for three weeks after the alleged beating and hanging at the Men’s Central Jail, according to attorney James Orland.

“The cause of death was not what was portrayed by the sheriff’s department,” he alleged.

On the day of the alleged attack, deputies “for no justified reason, and for no lawful justification, physically assaulted and struck decedent in the head multiple times to the point where decedent was unconscious … then in an effort to cover up the unprovoked and malicious attack, hung decedent in his cell with a bed sheet,” the lawsuit alleges.

A sheriff’s spokesman declined comment, saying he had not seen the complaint.

Edwards initially filed a claim for damages, which the county denied in January, Orland said.

The suit alleges the defendants “intentionally conspired to conceal, and did conceal” the facts surrounding Johnson’s death.

Orland said his client’s son, who had been arrested in connection with a family dispute, was not convicted of any charges and had been expected to be released from jail within a few months.

The attorney said the family commissioned a private autopsy, which found the cause of death to be “blunt force trauma to the head, not strangulation.”

Orland said he is open to starting discussions with the sheriff’s department, which is expected to file a response to the lawsuit in the coming months.

City News Service

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