The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will overhaul its policies and practices on the use of force against inmates under a settlement announced Tuesday of an American Civil Liberties Union federal class- action lawsuit that alleged a pattern of violence in county jails.
Under the settlement, the sheriff’s department will adopt a detailed and far-reaching plan crafted by a three-member panel of experts to overhaul use- of-force policies. The panel will also act as an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the plan, according to the ACLU.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he supported the settlement.
“This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence,” said McDonnell, who sat on the commission. “I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes. We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas. The need for joint cooperation with the department and the board to commit the needed resources to improve custody and make these changes is critical.”
In 2011, the ACLU released a report that found deputies regularly used excessive force on detainees, including those with mental illnesses, resulting in serious injuries and even death.
The report prompted the Board of Supervisors in 2012 to convene the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which developed a series of recommendations that are reflected in the settlement, according to the ACLU. The settlement is also subject to federal court oversight and enforcement.
“For decades, the sheriff’s department has run the jails without any accountability or transparency,’ said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU SoCal. “This agreement addresses those problems by establishing clear policies and practices the department must implement, and creating an enforcement mechanism to ensure it does. Put simply, the sheriff’s department must now follow the law or risk court intervention.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas praised the agreement, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in a closed-door meeting today.
“Today’s settlement of Rosas vs. Baca, a federal class-action suit that brought to light a pattern of unbridled violence by some Los Angeles County sheriff deputies in the jails, closes a dark chapter in the history of the Los Angeles County justice system,” Ridley-Thomas said. “No one — not pretrial detainees, mentally ill inmates or those convicted of crimes — deserves to be treated inhumanely while in the custody of his or her government.”
According to the ACLU, if the agreement is ultimately approved by a federal judge, it will mandate:
— The implementation of policies to prevent abuse of detainees with mental illness. A 2008 ACLU report concluded that use of force by deputies was disproportionately directed at detainees with mental illness, and ex-Sheriff Lee Baca confirmed that the conclusion still held in 2012.
— Greatly enhanced training in use of force for all deputies, veterans as well as new hires. The jail violence commission found that training for custody by the LASD is “far below both industry best practices and training standards in other corrections systems,” according to the ACLU.
— Enhanced methods for tracking and reviewing use-of-force incidents and detainees’ complaints and grievances.
“The settlement sends a clear message to our elected officials that we cannot tolerate the abuse of detainees in our jails,” said John Durrant, a partner with the law firm of Paul Hastings, which helped litigate the agreement. “We expect this agreement to usher in a new era of oversight in the jails. It should significantly reduce the incidents of abuse and increase accountability when deputies apply excessive force.”
The settlement also requires that the county pay out $950,000 to the ACLU SoCal to cover payments to the plaintiffs in the class-action suit as well as attorneys’ fees and expenses.
Sitting on the panel monitoring compliance will be Richard Drooyan, a former assistant U.S. attorney who has monitored implementation of recommendations by the CCJV and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission; corrections expert Jeffrey Schwartz; and Robert Houston, retired director of Nebraska’s prison system.
The settlement comes nearly three years after the ACLU sued the county on behalf of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, two pretrial detainees who said they were viciously beaten by deputies. The federal suit alleged violations of the detainees’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and the rights of pretrial detainees not to be punished prior to conviction.
Seven former sheriff’s deputies have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison as a result of their attempt to derail a federal probe into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.
— City News Service