selfie’s at Mandela’s funeral. But you’d be wrong. LA Sheriff’s Deputies roughed up two foreign consuls in the course of official diplomatic business. Here’s why that matters.

Consular Visitation of Citizen Prisoners

One of the primary jobs for any embassy or consulate abroad is the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, many of the first diplomatic outposts abroad were set up to protect sailors and merchants. This work typically includes visiting one’s citizens in foreign jails, a task young diplomats around the world conduct. As a State Department foreign service officer myself for 24 years, I must have done this hundreds of times. But no matter how many times I did it, it was always an unsettling feeling to walk into a jail, go through security into a cell or holding room, and then walk back out.

Getting out, and being treated properly inside, was however more than an act of faith on my part. Diplomats abroad are protected people; under both formal treaties and long-established traditions (“diplomatic immunity”), a country should not mess around with another’s diplomats. Take a look at Iran– over thirty years since the kidnapping of American diplomats in Tehran, our two countries still are a long, long way from reestablishing relations.

I once safely visited in an underground facility of an Asian country’s secret police an American Citizen who likely had been tortured. The system generally works everywhere, from first world countries to crappy police states in the developing world. However, one rough area where it does not work is in Los Angeles.

Abuse in the LA Men’s Jail by Sherriff’s Deputies

Federal officials on December 9 unsealed five criminal cases filed against eighteen current and former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation’s largest jail system. Four grand jury indictments and a criminal complaint allege unjustified beatings at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail. The latter allegations stems from sheriff’s officials moving an FBI informant in the jails to thwart the probe.

But that somehow was not bad enough. New indictments de­tail three sep­ar­ate in­cid­ents in which pro­sec­utors al­leged that a sher­iff’s ser­geant en­cour­aged depu­ties he su­per­vised at the vis­it­ing area of Men’s Cent­ral Jail to use ex­cess­ive force and un­law­ful ar­rests of vis­it­ors.

LA Unlawfully Arrests and Mistreats Foreign Diplomat

The abuse found a low point when an Austrian consul went to the jail in June 2011 with her husband, also a diplomat, to visit an arrested Austrian citizen. The Federal indictment alleges that a deputy sheriff at the jail unlawfully arrested the diplomat husband, who clearly identified himself as such, outside the jail because he had “walked near the doors going into the visiting center.” His actions did not amount to a crime, the indictment asserts. Nevertheless, as the male diplomat was handcuffed, the female diplomat asked to see a supervisor. She was also arrested and handcuffed too, the indictment alleges, “despite the fact that [she] had committed no crime and would be immune from prosecution if she had.”

A deputy then forcibly took the consul and her husband to a room outside of public view and searched them. One unconfirmed report suggests the male diplomat was thrown to the ground as he was being arrested.

In addition to the outright abuse committed by the LA Sheriff’s thugs, diplomats are by treaty with the United States immune from search except under very special circumstances (routine consular work is not one of them.) While a small town cop well outside diplomatic circles might not know about all this, the visit by the Austrian consul was definitely not LA’s first trip around the dance floor.

Another Not the First Time

The scary thing for the Austrian diplomat was the similarity of her abuse and another case at the same jail. Gabriel Carrillo went to Men’s Central Jail as a free man to discuss problems visiting his brother there. Instead, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy handcuffed him, took him to a break room with no windows or public access, and threw him against a refrigerator. His arm was fractured in the encounter and he received cuts to his nose and face. Afterward, four deputies tried to have him falsely charged with resisting an officer. Carrillo was detained for five days before he was released without charge.

The State Department had to get involved in LA with the Austrian consulate to smooth things over and make the diplomatic incident go away. The story has apparently been kept out of the public eye until now, when the bigger tale of LA law enforcement acting completely out of control finally made it to the press.

Another sign of America morphing into a police state.

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Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percentwill be available April 2014 from Luminis Books.