A report released yesterday by the ACLU National Prison Project and ACLU of Southern California shows a pattern of brutal abuse in the Los Angeles County Jail system, which at times crossed the line into torture. The abuse has been carried out by the sheriff’s deputies in charge of prisoners in the county’s jails, who according to eyewitnesses have punched, kicked, and beaten prisoners to the point that they required surgery or hospitalization; humiliated them with sexual and racial epithets and thrown them in solitary confinement; and knowingly subjected them to assault and rape by other prisoners. The report, titled Cruel and Unusual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails, opens with the following paragraphs:

To be an inmate in the Los Angeles County jails is to fear deputy attacks. In the past year, deputies have assaulted scores of non-resisting inmates, according to reports from jail chaplains, civilians, and inmates. Deputies have attacked inmates for complaining about property missing from their cells. They have beaten inmates for asking for medical treatment, for the nature of their alleged offenses,and for the color of their skin. They have beaten inmates in wheelchairs. They have beaten an inmate, paraded him naked down a jail module, and placed him in a cell to be sexually assaulted. Many attacks are unprovoked. Nearly all go unpunished: these acts of violence are covered up by a department that refuses to acknowledge the pervasiveness of deputy violence in the jail system.

Deputies act with such impunity that in the past year even civilians have begun coming forward with eyewitness accounts of deputies beating non-resisting inmates in the jails. These civilian accounts support the seventy inmate declarations describing deputy-on-inmate beatings and deputy-instigated inmate-on-inmate violence and deputy threats of assaults against inmates that the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU/SC) has collected in the past year, as well as the myriad inmate declarations the ACLU/SC has collected over the years.

The ACLU’s Blog of Rights describes in detail some of the worst incidents of abuse:

Juan Pablo Reyes was punched by Los Angeles County  sheriff’s deputies over and over again in the ribs, mouth and eyes, breaking  his eye socket and leaving his body badly bruised. After falling to the ground,  the deputies continued to kick Reyes, an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail,  with their steel-toed boots, ignoring his cries.

And the deputies didn’t stop there.

They ordered Reyes to strip and forced him to walk naked up  and down the hallway of a housing module, in full view of other inmates. One  deputy yelled, “Gay boy walking.” Reyes began to cry, but the  deputies just looked on and laughed. They then put him in a cell where he was  beaten and sexually assaulted by other inmates. He desperately pled for help  and to be removed from the cell, but to no avail.

In another incident, an inmate who discovered after deputies  had searched all the cells in his row that some of his property was missing was  savagely beaten after asking to speak to a sergeant. Deputies beat this inmate  so violently he suffered a fractured jaw and required eye surgery and stitches  in his ear. A deputy shoved him hard against a wall, slapped his ear, punched  his face several times and then threw him to the ground. While on the ground,  the inmate was kicked by the deputy roughly 10 times in his face, jaw and back  of his head, causing a large pool of his blood to form on the floor. The inmate  described the beating as being more painful than being hit by a car.

The ACLU has been the court-appointed monitor of conditions in the LA county jails since 1985, and has produced critical reports in the past. However, the new report “is the first in which a chaplain and other civilian eyewitnesses come  forward with first-hand accounts.” It is also the first to show the lengths to which Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has gone to ignore, downplay, or cover up the abuse. In a news conference yesterday, Baca defended his deputies and dismissed the report.

The ACLU filed the report, along with seventy sworn eyewitness statements, in federal district court yesterday as part of an ongoing lawsuit, Rutherford v. Baca. The group is also calling for the U.S. Justice Department to launch a full criminal and civil rights investigation into the allegations contained in the report.

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