Judge approves settlement to prevent excessive force at L.A. jails

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 20, 2015 9:12 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A court-appointed panel will oversee a plan to prevent excessive use of force by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies at two large downtown jails, under a settlement of a federal lawsuit given final approval on Monday.

The agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson resolved a lawsuit brought in 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California against the Sheriff's Department.

The suit accused former county Sheriff Lee Baca of having been aware of a pattern of beatings at the Men's Central Jail and the nearby Twin Towers jail and failing to take steps to stop the violence.

The agreement requires the Sheriff's Department to revise its use of force policy and give further training to jail deputies to prevent excessive force, with a three-person panel of experts appointed to monitor that inmate rights are respected at the two jails.

A 2012 ACLU report found deputies routinely engaged in violence against inmates, and that they used other inmates to carry out attacks on their behalf.

The settlement agreement forbids deputies from using force for corporal punishment and prohibits deputies from inciting inmate-on-inmate violence.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department runs the country's largest jail system. The agreement does not cover the department's entire network of jails, but ACLU attorneys expect the policy changes adopted as part of the settlement will reduce excessive force throughout the system.

"When a problem is very big as this one is, I remain very vigilant,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of ACLU of Southern California. "But there has been an attitude of looking to do things differently in the Sheriff's Department."

The final approval of the settlement came over a year after Baca retired after leading the department for 15 years. In November, Long Beach police chief Jim McDonnell, who had served on a Citizens Commission on Jail Violence to monitor the department, was elected sheriff.

"Today's decision enables us to continue to move forward, in partnership with stakeholders and county leaders, with ongoing efforts to improve training, accountability mechanisms, inmate grievance systems and needed staffing in our jails," McConnell said in a statement.

The Sheriff's Department is edging closer to a federal consent decree for court oversight of its jail system, after the U.S. Department of Justice found the treatment of mentally ill inmates violated their constitutional rights.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)