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Sheriff's Department used jail duty to punish deputies

Deputies accused of wrongdoing were transferred to the L.A. County jail system to keep them away from the public, records show. Some had successfully fought efforts to have them fired.

November 12, 2011|By Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy looks out from a security door at Men's Centrail Jail in downtown L.A.
A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy looks out from a security door… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

Enrique Munoz's record included allegations of fraud, loan sharking and threatening to kill somebody when he was sent to Los Angeles County Jail for three years.

But he wasn't there as an inmate. He was assigned to work there as a jail deputy, part of his Sheriff's Department-sanctioned punishment for assorted misconduct.

For years, the department transferred problem deputies to the system's lockups as a way of keeping them from the public. Other deputies were allowed to remain working in the jails after being convicted of crimes or found guilty of serious misconduct, according to confidential documents obtained by The Times.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

Among them was a deputy who beat a firefighter bloody and unconscious during an off-duty incident, and another who authorities said threatened to stab a bar bouncer.

The backgrounds and conduct of deputies working in the jails have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid revelations that some employees have beaten inmates, smuggled in contraband and falsified reports.

Although The Times found no evidence that the punished deputies took part in such misconduct, the cases offer a window into how the Sheriff's Department has managed its jails. They also offer more ammunition to critics who have called on Sheriff Lee Baca to use more experienced, better qualified deputies in the jails.

"This is shocking and a total aberration for the profession," said David Bennett, a criminal justice consultant who has been hired by jails around the country. "What we have aspired to do is make corrections a profession in and of itself — not a dumping ground.... It's an insult to the profession."

After The Times recently began inquiring about the transfers, the Sheriff's Department drafted a policy to ban moving deputies into the jails as a form of punishment.

The department's watchdog, Michael Gennaco, first raised the issue two years ago, criticizing "disciplinary transfers" in a report that said it allowed problem deputies to influence younger deputies, who start their careers in the jails. Gennaco said he believes that the department heeded his advice but did not begin to adopt a formal policy against the practice until now.

In an interview, Baca acknowledged that the department moved disciplined deputies to the jail to keep them from the public and assign them less challenging jobs than patrol. He said he ordered an end to the transfers, telling captains to take responsibility for their own problem employees.

Baca blamed the county's Civil Service Commission in some cases for reinstating deputies the department tried to fire. Other employees were given second chances, he said, particularly for off-duty misconduct.

"Some of these people have rather good records of on-duty behavior," Baca said.

It is unclear how many deputies are working in the jails after having committed serious misconduct or crimes. Disciplinary records for law enforcement officers are confidential under state law. The Times learned the details of several cases in criminal court files and confidential internal documents.

Richard A. Shinee, general counsel for the deputies' union, said such transfers were rare but sometimes appropriate because deputies receive more intense supervision in jail than on patrol. "A single incident ought not to define an employee's career," he said. He declined to comment on individual deputies' cases.

Brian Richards and Joshua Titel were custody deputies in June 2007 when they beat another man while off-duty, according to confidential disciplinary records.

The men had been drinking at the homes of two sheriff's supervisors one Saturday when they headed to the San Dimas residence of Titel's girlfriend, records show. When the deputies arrived, they discovered another man, Stephen Paige, who had dated Titel's girlfriend and was the father of her daughter.

Paige told a sheriff's investigator that the deputies ran at him and slammed his head so hard against his truck that it made a dent in the vehicle. He was repeatedly struck and kicked while lying motionless until he lost consciousness, the disciplinary report said.

An emergency room doctor told the grand jury that heard the case that Paige was covered in blood with injuries to his face, knees and chest. The attack forced Paige, a La Verne firefighter, to miss about six weeks of work, the report stated.

The deputies initially alleged that Paige threw the first punch, but Titel later admitted that he lied about acting in self-defense, the report stated.

The grand jury indicted Richards and Titel, both 34, on a felony charge of assault. In April 2009, the two men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges — Richards to battery and Titel to assault. They were placed on three years' probation.

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