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L.A. County jail violence sheriff's fault, panel says

Commission cites a 'failure of leadership' by Sheriff Lee Baca, proposes long list of fixes to halt abuse in L.A. County lockups.

September 28, 2012|By Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

The report criticized the sheriff for not disciplining senior managers who failed to address the jail problems, which commissioners wrote sent "a troubling message to a department in need of a clear directive that accountability is expected and will be enforced at all levels."

The commission acknowledged that Baca has taken some steps to deal with the problems but said far more needed to be done.

The panel called on Baca to become "personally engaged in oversight of the jails" and to "hold his high level managers accountable for failing to address use of force problems." Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca's top assistant, should have no responsibility for the department's custody operations, the commission said. The commission accused Tanaka of exacerbating the jail's problems by encouraging deputies to push the legal boundaries and discouraging supervisors from disciplining deputies involved in misconduct.

The commission called for the creation of an Office of Inspector General that would report to the Board of Supervisors and provide independent oversight of the sheriff's department, conducting its own investigations, monitoring jail conditions and reviewing the department's audits and inspections.

Such a move would represent an historic transformation of the department's civilian monitoring and would echo reforms made by the city two decades ago in the wake of the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney G. King. But any similar office at the county would have at least one significant difference. The city's inspector general reports to an independent civilian police commission that has the authority to fire the police chief, who is not elected.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he would ask county executives to investigate what the Board of Supervisors would need to do to create a civilian commission and an inspector general to oversee the sheriff's department.

"We can be sure of one thing," he said in a statement, referring to the commission's findings, "the Sheriff's Department cannot police itself."

Among the commission's other recommendations were:

*Appointing a new head of custody with experience managing a large correctional facility who would answer directly to the sheriff.

*Revamping investigations and discipline of deputy misconduct and ending the practice of allowing sergeants to probe force incidents involving deputies they directly supervise.

*Establishing a firm zero-tolerance policy for acts of dishonesty.

*Creating a separate custody division with a professional workforce who would spend their careers in the jails.

*Adding more supervisors to monitor deputies in the jails.

*Creating a new internal audit and inspections division.

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