“I have never experienced any facility exhibiting the volume and repetitive patterns of violence, misfeasance, and malfeasance impacting the Los Angeles County jail system.” –retired FBI special agent Thomas Parker, who supervised the governmental inquiry into the Rodney King beating.
Allegations of prisoner abuse and deputy impropriety have seeped out from the Los Angeles County jail system for years. Within the past year, however, these claims have reached a state of critical mass, as a litany of sworn statements unique in the commonality of their contentions have emerged, several dozen of which have been compiled into a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Sept. 28.
Among the most troubling aspects of this report, titled “Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls L.A. County Jails, are accounts by “civilian” eyewitnesses in the facilities-who are serving as educational volunteers, chaplains as well as visitors–of unjustified mistreatment by deputies apparently oblivious to the presence of outsiders who don’t belong to either the prison population or staff.
Since his first election in 1998, Leroy David “Lee” Baca has fostered a reputation of being a progressive humanitarian in contrast to hard-line peers such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County. Initially, Baca refuted these allegations of brutality, but within the last month has conceded impropriety has existed without his knowledge.
Allegations of gang-like subcultures have been part of the sheriff department mythos for decades, as groups with colorful monikers such as “the Little Devils,” “the Grim Reapers,” and “the Regulators,” periodically sprang up within the individual stations in unincorporated areas of the county. They adopted hand signs and tattoos in the same vein as the antisocial subcultures they were charged to control. The most notable of these, “the Vikings” out of the Lynwood station, were the focus of a class action lawsuit that wound up costing the county $9 million in 1996 (see “The Secret Society among Lawmen,” from Column One of the L.A. Times, March 24, 1999).
As the title of the ACLU report indicates, a cadre of deputies within the Men’s Central Jail began calling themselves the “3,000 Boys,” since they all worked on the third floor, or “3,000” block of that facility. Among the hijinks they are alleged to be responsible for are sodomizing an inmate with a broomstick (eerily reminiscent of on an act performed on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by New York City policemen in 1997), sodomizing another inmate with a flashlight, and enabling prisoners to anally rape another inmate while his head was shoved into a toilet.
The 3000 Boys took their antics out into the civilian arena with a well-publicized incident at Fullerton’s “Sidebar Café” in 2011 (well outside the sheriff’s jurisdiction), resulting in local police arresting one of the clique’s members for assaulting a bouncer working at that establishment. Last Christmas, the 3,000 Boys brought their mischief closer to home, when seven of their crew assaulted three other deputies (one a female) at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall in Montebello.
Michael Gennaco of the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review said that the seven officers involved in the Quiet Cannon skirmish have been terminated.
As chief attorney of the Office of Independent Review, Gennaco has been involved in the oversight of some 2,000 (deputy involved) abuse cases within the last 10 years. As part of this responsibility, his office released their own report in the wake of the ACLU’s findings in early October.
“We’ve found evidence of proven cases of excessive force, and much of this evidence comes from fellow officers who report misconduct,” he acknowledged. “We recommend the installation of cameras so that allegations of misconduct can be proven or disproven.”
Among the entities looking into deputy misconduct are the previously mentioned ACLU and the Office of Independent Review (which is acting in an attorney-client relationship with the sheriffs), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which notoriously smuggled a cell phone into a county lock-up recently as part of its investigation), and the United States Attorney’s office.
Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer for California’s Central District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, issued the following statement: “Federal authorities are conducting an investigation into allegations of misconduct at the Los Angeles County jails. Because it is an ongoing investigation, I am not able to comment of the specifics of the matter.”
These allegations and reports of delinquency could not have come at a worse time, since an influx of inmates have begun to filter into the county as the result of a court-ordered mandate to reduce the California state prison system by 30,000 prisoners.
This current scrutiny of county peace officers comes on the heels of similar investigations of the Los Angeles Police Department (resulting in the application of the well-known consent decree), and the Los Angeles County Probation Department.