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L.A. County sheriff's deputies thwarted bar code system to avoid doing jail rounds

Officials investigating the suicide of an inmate uncovered a scam in which deputies made copies of security codes and scanned them at their desks rather than checking cells, report shows.

July 22, 2010|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Sheriff's officials are calling it "scannergate," a scandal at the L.A. County Jail brought to light by an inmate's suicide.

A group of L.A. County sheriff's deputies used fake scanner codes to avoid making their appointed rounds at the Men's Central Jail to check on inmate welfare and security, according to an investigation made public Wednesday.

To insure that regular checks occur, the department installed electronic checkpoints with bar codes around the jail that deputies must scan with a reader on their rounds.?? But the county Office of Independent Review reported that investigators found some deputies had copies of the codes on sheets of paper. Instead of doing the rounds, the deputies scanned the codes at their desks.

The scanner scam was uncovered after an inmate committed suicide in his cell in March 2009. The follow-up investigation of the suicide revealed that the inmate had been dead for hours before his body was found. But records showed that a deputy went by his cell during the time the inmate was dead. Investigators grew suspicious when they discovered that computer records showed the deputy scanned several parts of the jail in 35 seconds — a physical impossibility.

Upon further investigation, they found a "cheat sheet" of copied bar codes at his desk.

The Office of Independent Review announced Wednesday that two deputies had been fired in the scam and that eight other sworn officers had been disciplined.

"The scanner cheating cases demonstrate a disappointing lapse in integrity on the part of involved deputies. Their actions were overt and premeditated," wrote Michael Gennaco, who heads the review office. He cited the deputies' "wholesale abdication of their responsibilities" and added that the suicide "demonstrates the real consequences" of the misconduct.

Sheriff's internal affairs investigators eventually confronted another deputy who was the mastermind behind the scheme. He admitted bringing a "widely available bar code replication software" into the jail and creating the "perfect replicas," according to the report

As they investigated further, officials found that the deputy who was on duty during the suicide also went to the staff gym and made a "chow run" to a nearby restaurant on the day of the suicide when he should have been making his rounds, the report says.

Responding to the report, Steve Whitmore, a sheriff's spokesman, said the department took action against a group of deputies who spent considerable time devising a scheme to beat the system.

"The Sheriff's Department took definitive and swift action," Whitmore said. "Two people were terminated. One was demoted, and others received significant discipline with one receiving the county maximum of a 30-day suspension."

richard.winton@latimes.com

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