Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were reassigned over the weekend after an inmate alleged that she had had sex with one of them, department officials confirmed.
The deputies are with the department's transportation detail, which moves inmates between jail and court. The inmate said she had sexual contact with one of the deputies while the other deputy was nearby.
She told her cellmate, who reported the incident to a jail lieutenant. When confronted, the inmate initially denied saying she had had sex with a deputy, but she later acknowledged it, a law enforcement source told The Times. The woman said she was the last inmate to leave the transport van, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Cmdr. James Hellmold said the probe was being handled by internal sheriff's criminal investigators. He said that any suspicion of sexual contact between the deputy and the inmate was based solely on the inmate's account.
Investigators are seeking potential witnesses and other evidence that could support the woman's allegations.
"There's zero tolerance for inappropriate activity," Hellmold said. "Obviously that would be inappropriate for that to occur."
The accused deputies will remain reassigned until the investigation is complete, Hellmold said.
Details of exactly what happened remain unclear. But the source said the inmate gave no indication that the deputy used physical force on her.
The allegations come as the Sheriff's Department faces intensifying scrutiny of alleged inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct inside the largest jail system in the country.
Federal authorities are investigating a number of cases of alleged abuse and have subpoenaed the Sheriff's Department for a wide range of custody data, including contact information for all jail employees.
The Board of Supervisors is considering commissioning an independent panel to review jail abuse allegations and suggest reforms. L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich announced who he would appoint to the commission, which was proposed by Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas. If Antonovich's announcement means he plans to vote in favor of establishing the proposed five-member panel, the measure will have enough votes to pass Tuesday.
Public concerns over the allegations gained momentum after The Times reported that the FBI sneaked a cellphone to a jail inmate who was a federal informant. The plant came as federal authorities investigate several allegations of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct, including an incident in which a jail monitor said she witnessed deputies knock an inmate unconscious and then continue to beat him for two minutes.
Sheriff Lee Baca initially criticized the FBI after the phone was discovered and defended his department's record in the jails, but he has since said that he was open to outside scrutiny, including a board-appointed independent panel.
The supervisors who proposed the commission said it would help restore public confidence in how the jails are run and provide a road map for reform.
"It's abundantly clear that the Sheriff's Department needs a fresh pair of eyes to help it ensure the rights of the inmates," Ridley-Thomas has said.
If the commission is approved, each supervisor would be able to appoint one member. Antonovich said his pick would be retired federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian. Tevrizian, a Pasadena resident, was nominated to the bench by President Reagan and served for more than two decades before retiring in 2007.
The longtime Republican presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the corruption case of former Democratic Assemblyman Bruce Young of Norwalk and the government's prosecution of Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano.