Baca Must Go

Lee BacaThe voices have been there for years, if you were listening – horrific stories of abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County jails; not by other inmates, but by the deputies guarding them. The brutal conditions could only have persisted due to the willful ignorance or even tacit support of Sheriff Lee Baca – and that’s why we’re now calling on him to step down.

The ACLU of Southern California has been monitoring conditions at the jails since the 1980s, and we’ve been drawing attention to deputy-on-inmate abuse for years. But this year, for the first time, our annual Jails Report – released today — quotes civilians who came forward to corroborate what inmates have told us. Two jail chaplains, a volunteer tutor, and an ACLU/SC employee all report witnessing deputies attack non-resisting inmates. Their accounts demonstrate not only the pervasive culture of violence in the jails, but also that deputies are unafraid to assault inmates even in plain view of civilians.

Esther Lim, the ACLU/SC Jails Project coordinator, witnessed the savage beating of an immobile, seemingly unconscious inmate in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility on January 24, 2011. At the time, Lim was meeting with another inmate in the facility‘s attorney room. She heard what sounded like a fight in the nearby staging area, and looked through the windows dividing the two zones. She saw two deputies punching and kneeing an inmate who lay face-down on the floor. The inmate wasn’t moving — so still that he looked like a mannequin being used as a punching bag. But the deputies persisted in their attack, one of them shocking the inmate multiple times with a Taser gun. Although the inmate never moved from his spot on the ground, the deputies repeatedly yelled, “Stop fighting!” and “Stop resisting!” A Sheriff’s Department spokesman later tried to call Lim’s integrity into question.

The brutality that Lim witnessed is echoed in the accounts of two jail chaplains. Chaplains occupy a unique, independent role in the jails: their sole job is to minister to inmates. They have no stake in exaggerating or misreporting the details of violent encounters. These beatings – and the LASD‘s lack of concern about them – left both chaplains traumatized.

Chaplain Paulino Juarez was visiting inmates in 2009 as part of his ministry, when he saw three deputies beating a handcuffed inmate lying in a puddle of blood in a hallway. One of them finally looked up, stunned to see Juarez, and the beating stopped. “To this day, recalling the beating brings tears to my eyes, and I cannot finish talking about it without taking a few moments to compose myself,” Juarez told us. Deputies later called him “rat” and obscenities when they passed him in jail corridors.

The second chaplain who spoke with us was so concerned about deputy retaliation that he asked us not to use his name, but he witnessed a disturbingly similar incident in February 2011. Walking towards the chaplain’s office on the third floor of Men’s Central Jail, he saw four or five deputies repeatedly kicking an inmate. The inmate was lying motionless, face-down on the ground. His hands appeared to be tucked behind his back; they remained there throughout the attack. The inmate pleaded with the deputies to stop, yelling, “Help me.”

Chaplain Juarez was later accused of exaggerating by Sheriff Baca himself. The second chaplain was never even questioned about what he saw. With the hundreds of inmate accounts we’ve documented now backed up by civilian witnesses, it’s time for someone to pay attention. It’s time for Baca to resign.

Peter Eliasberg
Managing Attorney
ACLU of Southern California


  1. Ray Bishop says

    Sheriff Baca is incredibly intelligent and has developed many programs to improve the training for deputies.
    I believe that he would take immediate action in the event he was aware of problems with abusive deputies. Many who are in the jails are there for a good reason and I’m not sure how honest they might be in comparison to Sheriff Baca who I know to be very honest.
    We have monitors in the jails and cameras. In the event deputies have been abusive one should first find out if that abusive is documented before making claims. Once it is documented the guilty should be punished severely and not suspended with pay. The problem will not be solved by getting rid of a great sheriff as I sincerely believe that with evidence he will take action to resolve the problem.

  2. George says

    My only contact with Baca’s dept besides mountain rescue people was when I was misled by the deliberately misnamed “one way ticket” on the LA Metro. Both the Metro and Baca’s dept are creatures of the dysfunctional county govt run by incompetent reactionary hacks with lifetime sinecures. In addition, the state has no authority to regulate them, so consumer fraud and egregious pain are normal practice.

    Anyway, an armed sheriff’s good comes on board and tells me I have the wrong ticket.. Turns out it wasn’t a “one way” ticket but only a “one ride” ticket, as I could have known if i had put on my glasses and read the fine print on the back side. So he forced me off, handcuffed me painfully tight (and laughed about it), threatened worse, hit me a time or two, and even screamed insults at me when I was waiting for a train back home. The response to the complaint I later filed was that his actions were all normal procedure.
    Fortunately I’m Caucasian and too old to offer enough resistance to give the goons any fun.

  3. prayforjustice says

    This kind of conduct happens all the time not only in the jails but in the prisons and no one is held accountable for any of it. Guards in the prisons beat, torture and abuse inmates all the time and then turn around and lie for each other to cover up the abuse! Who do these inmates have to turn to no one they are always accused of some bogus charge to make it seem like they were at fault while justifing the guards actions, then the inmate is taken to one of their kangaroo courts where they are given more time for being a victim of torture and abuse by the guards who are above the law, and no one cares or believes them just the families who suffer mentally about their loved ones. Belive me I’m a Mother who knows about the torture and abuse they dole out with defensless inmates!!!!!!!!!!!!

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