Photo from ACLU of Southern California's report

Correctional officers in Los Angeles County jails strike inmates in the head at an “alarming regularity,” according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California.

Deputies in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) stomp on inmates’ heads, even when inmates are shackled. They bash inmates’ faces into walls, causing fractures to their noses, jaws, cheekbones and eye sockets. Eleven inmates, the ACLU reports, have had “facial bones broken by LASD deputies in the past three years.” One of these inmates has had to undergo surgery.

“Sixty-four people made sworn statements describing incidents in which deputies targeted inmates’ heads for attack between 2009 and 2012,” the report states. The ACLU “corroborated 12 of these allegations of head injuries with secondary evidence, such as medical records, photographic documentation, or civilian reports. In several other instances, inmate witnesses have corroborated reports of deputy-on-inmate head strikes.”

Some examples of this brutality by correctional officers from the report titled, “Sheriff Baca’s Strike Force: Deputy Violence and Head Injuries of Inmates in LA County Jails“:

—On July 14, 2010, deputies hit “Mr. K” in the head and neck. “Mr. K” did not “initiate the altercation.” However, deputies allege he did. Additional deputies joined the attack and broke the inmate’s nose. An artery in his brain also swelled and a ligament was torn in his ankle.

—On April 12, 2011, inmate “Mr. BB” was “repeatedly punched, hit and kicked” by deputies in the head and body. The deputies ignored “complaints about blurry vision and a swollen head. When he was finally permitted to receive medical attention, a doctor “diagnosed a detached retina and performed surgery.”

—On April 12, 2011, “Mr. R” cursed at a deputy after he was denied dinner and put on lockdown. The deputy decided to punch him in the eye “with a closed fist and repeatedly kneed the inmate in the face.” Additional deputies joined in the beating. One of the deputies stepped on the inmate’s face.

—On March 13, 2012, “Mr. ZZ” was repeatedly punched by deputies in the head and ear. He “suffered a fracture near the bottom of his right eye.” Stitches were needed for his forehead, and his ear “bled more than a day” after the attack.

—On April 6, 2012, multiple deputies used force on Gabriel Carrillo when he visited Men’s Central Jail. A sergeant “directed deputies to strike Mr. Carrillo in the head with ‘personal weapons.’” He was surrounded by five deputies. They attacked him. The attack resulted in a “broken nose, a swollen eye with ecchymosis and other facial trauma, including a gash over his right eyebrow that required stitches.”

This is not a new problem.  The ACLU published a report in 2011 and after the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a Citizens Commission on Jails Violence. It is expected to release a report on its findings on “deputy-on-inmate violence” on September 28.

The head injuries caused by LASD personnel lead the ACLU to conclude brutality is being used to “establish authority.” The personnel is not beating people as a “last-resort response to assaultive behavior.

The conduct also suggests training is “far below both industry best practices and training standards” and “the miniscule number of unreasonable force findings” are a result of the investigatory process covering up violence committed by officers.

According to the ACLU of Southern California’s website, “In March, the ACLU filed Rosas v. Baca against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, demanding that it reform county jails. In July, the ACLU/SC sued the sheriff’s department and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley for deliberately hiding evidence in potentially thousands of criminal cases, including cases involving abuse of jail inmates.”

The ACLU of Southern California operates under no illusions. From the report:

If history is any guide, LASD will respond to this evidence by attacking the ACLU2 and blaming inmates. They will argue that inmates’ accounts of deputies using unjustified force are false, and they will allege that inmates were the aggressors. But even assuming that the LASD is correct that the inmates were aggressive towards deputies, the attempt to blame inmates does not absolve the LASD from its use of excessive and illegal force. For even where inmates are the aggressors, the fundamental widely recognized rule regarding use of force by a custodial officer is that head strikes are almost never permissible. Accordingly, head injuries should be an exceedingly rare consequence of a use of force incident, even when inmates are aggressive. [emphasis added]

Yet, there is no accountability for officers, who engage in barbarism. They are not removed from their job after they kick or beat on an inmate’s head.

The City of Los Angeles permits deputies to conduct themselves like brutes. They also appear to actively shield these brutes from punishment for their actions.

In effect, the city sanctions vicious behavior and allows abuse, which no person—no matter what they are in jail for doing—should ever experience in jail.