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25 Deputies May Face Discipline Over Inmate Deaths

August 06, 2004|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

The Sheriff's Department is seeking to discipline 25 of its deputies for policy violations that contributed to a series of inmate killings in Los Angeles County jails, the chief attorney for the Office of Independent Review said Thursday.

Michael Gennaco said a preliminary report by his office found that sheriff's jailers "fell down on the job" in five jailhouse killings from October to April, citing lapses including a failure to discipline, monitor, properly classify and, ultimately, protect inmates.

"Things weren't done that needed to be done," Gennaco said. "It was the failure to challenge inmates, the failure to identify inmates who are supposed to go to court from the inmates who are not, the failure to conduct hourly safety checks, write up inmates who are in violation of discipline."

Gennaco cautioned that the investigation by his agency, created by the Board of Supervisors to oversee sheriff's operations, found no evidence of "willful misconduct" by deputies and cited an increased level of vigilance in the jails.

The hourly checks, or the lack of them, became an issue in all the killings because deputies lost track of killers and victims only to discover crimes hours after they were committed.

Gennaco said killings may have resulted, in part, from not enough jailers to watch an increasingly violent jail population. Ultimately, he said, there were no excuses for the policy lapses that led to killings.

The most egregious incident occurred April 20, when Santiago Pineda, awaiting trial for murder, wandered the Men's Central jail unchallenged for 10 hours before allegedly tracking down and strangling Raul Tinajero, 20, of Wilmington. Tinajero, who was the chief witness against Pineda, was not isolated from other prisoners, even though a judge requested that he be kept away from Pineda.

In another incident, Ki Chul Hong, 34, was placed in a day room at the Men's Central Jail, where he was chased down by rival gang members and stabbed 36 times Oct. 21.

Two inmates drunk on bootleg liquor allegedly beat 33-year-old Stephen Prendergast to death in December; guards failed to notice his screams, according to the report.

Mario Alvarado, 24, was killed Dec. 9 at the Inmate Reception Center next to the Twin Towers jail downtown, and Kristopher Faye, 21, of Los Angeles, was stabbed 26 times during a Jan. 12 fight involving as many as 200 inmates at the Men's Central Jail.

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