LA’s Sheriffs Department, DA Rig Game Against Criminal Defendants

LA Sheriffs Department Defendant AbuseImagine you’ve walked into your local library branch and you want to check out the classic “Catch 22″ by Joseph Heller. Now imagine that the librarian tells you to go search the stacks –organized not by book title or by author, but by the name of the person who last checked the book out. Happy hunting.

Welcome to the filing system of the LA County Sheriff’s Department. In this era of unprecedented  scrutiny of the sheriff’s department, it’s the L.A.S.D.’s official policy to file complaints against deputies only by the inmate who filed the complaint – not the offending deputy. That’s despite a statute that explicitly requires them to file them by deputy name.

So if Deputy Smith assaults six inmates on six different occasions at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, those six complaints against the deputy are housed in six different inmates’ files. But Deputy Smith’s personnel file remains clear. Deputy Smith remains free to testify against inmates who are charged with assaulting Deputy Smith, and the accused inmate and his lawyer cannot discover the complaints against Deputy Smith.

In the 21st century, the only explanation for a filing system this bad is that it was designed to hide the truth. It’s one part of L.A’s broken criminal justice system, which is designed to hide exculpatory evidence from criminal defendants. In addition to the sheriff’s system, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office enforces a policy that prohibits its prosecutors from turning over huge amounts of exculpatory evidence, despite California Penal Code 1054.1(e), which requires the D.A. to turn over all exculpatory information.

In effect, L.A.S.D. and the district attorney are rigging the system against criminal defendants.

This is important to people like Andrew Contreras, who was assaulted by two sheriff’s deputies in Men’s Central Jail after a visit from his girlfriend. He was hospitalized for his injuries, but the D.A. charged Contreras with battery against a peace officer, resisting an officer in the performance of his duties, plus four more counts. Contreras’ lawyer filed a motion seeking information about complaints against the deputies involved. We know now that there was at least one inmate complaint, as well as a sworn statement, describing the deputy involved — Victor Beas — assaulting another inmate in Men’s Central Jail. But because of the policies of the L.A.S.D. and the district attorney, that evidence was not turned over to Mr. Contreras and his lawyer.

We have no idea how many guilty pleas and guilty verdicts have stemmed from these illegal practices, but we have to stop this before it goes any further.

The ACLU has sued the Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles District attorney, seeking to halt the policies that suppress exculpatory evidence in criminal trials. The lawsuit asks the court to order the sheriff’s department to reform its filing system so that abusive deputies’ records can be discovered in criminal trials when relevant.

marisol orihuelaThe suit also seeks an order requiring the district attorney to turn over all exculpatory evidence in criminal trials. L.A. County must keep its system fair for all defendants.

Take action now: Tell D.A. Cooley and Sheriff Baca to obey the law and stop illegally suppressing evidence.

Marisol Orihuela
ACLU Southern California 

Published by the LA Progressive on July 13, 2012
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About Marisol Orihuela

Marisol first joined the ACLU as a Liman Fellow in 2008. During her fellowship year, Marisol worked on litigation challenging conditions of confinement at an immigration detention facility and surrounding prolonged detention.

From 2009 to 2011, she clerked for the Honorable Rosemary Barkett of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Honorable Judge Consuelo B. Marshall of the Central District of California. She returned to the ACLU/SC in November 2011 as a staff attorney, and works on Franco v. Holder, an action brought on behalf of immigration detainees with serious mental disabilities that seeks competency evaluations, appointment of counsel, and bond hearings. She also works on Rosas v. Baca, which seeks to end a pattern of deputies’ beating inmates in Men’s Central Jail, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center of the Los Angeles County jails.

Marisol graduated from Boston College and from Yale Law School.

Comments

  1. In the 40 + years I have lived in Cali , the l.a.s.o. has always been a thrid rate agency mostly filled with persons unable to get hired by or remain employed by , professional Law Enforcement Agencies .

    This article is just the tiny tip of the HUGE iceberg .

    In any case , I don’t see a link to the mentioned petition as I’ll sign it in a hearbeat .

    One basic tenet of Professional Law Enforcement is : if the Officers do not obey the Law , how the hell do they expect the Citizens to obey it ? .

    This is basic common sense and clearly shows the difference between the L.A.P.D. and the good ol’ boys @ l.a.s.o. who take pride in beating up as many your men as possible on night shift . this isn’t a jibe , it is _fact_ ~ I know some of these officers and they’re always like this .

    -Nate

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