Monday, June 24, 2024

Body cameras explored for LA County jail deputies to combat inmate abuse

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Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials are exploring the use of body cameras in the jails in response to complaints of excessive force on inmates.

Attorney Robert Dugdale, representing the Sheriff’s Department, told U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson on Monday, June 26, that the cameras could help the department comply with a 2014 settlement of a federal lawsuit, but it might take six months to get deputies outfitted with them.

Pregerson called the body cameras an “excellent tool,” but said the time frame should be moved up.

Additionally, Dugdale added that the department plans to establish an eight-sergeant committee to review use-of-force incidents, taking the matter out of the hands of direct supervisors whose relationship with their deputies might cloud their objectivity.

“These are all game-changing ways in which the department is going to change accountability in the department,” Dugdale told the court. “Things have improved dramatically in the jail.”

Dugdale said Sheriff Robert Luna fully supports the proposed changes. “He is interested in doing things the right way and following the law,” he said.

However, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Eliasberg continued to press the judge for a court order banning deputies from striking inmates in the head except for in rare instances when deadly force is needed. The current policy allows head strikes when inmates appear “assaultive”  and threaten deputies with “serious” bodily injury. Pregerson noted that the words “assaultive” and “serious” were too subjective.

Declarations from medical professionals presented by Eliasberg showed that striking an inmate in the head could cause brain hemorrhaging, eye injuries and facial fractures.

Eliasberg also asked that the Sheriff’s Department adopt a  “zero-tolerance” policy for deputies who lie about using excessive force on inmates or fail to report it and supervisors who turn a blind eye to the abuses.

Lastly, Eliasberg sought controls over the deputies’ use of a restraining device called the WRAP, which encircles the inmates’ legs and connects to a chest harness. Doctors say the device can put the inmate in a physical position that restricts breathing and lead to positional asphyxiation.

Eliasberg argued that after negotiating with sheriff after sheriff, the court order is needed to bring the department into compliance.

“That’s how you get a culture change, not by saying things will get better because Sheriff Luna is in charge,” he told the court.

But Pregerson ordered the two sides back to the negotiating table, with a scheduled return in 60 days.

Pregerson’s order seemed to be buoyed by a recent settlement between the ACLU and the Sheriff’s Department in another lawsuit over inhumane and unclean conditions at the intake center in the Twin Towers facility in downtown Los Angeles. Pregerson said Monday the agreement in that case, involving the same attorneys, gave him hope.

The head-strike issue is a remaining point of contention in the lawsuit brought by Alex Rosas, which sought to end what the ACLU called a pattern of inmate beatings by deputies at the Men’s Central Jail, Twin Towers Correctional Facility and the Inmate Reception Center, all operated by the Sheriff’s Department, comprising the largest jail system in the world.

Eliasberg, in an interview after the hearing, said the sheriff’s department for nine years has failed to entirely abide by the settlement. The department concedes that it is about 80 percent in compliance.

“There’s been a lot of issues over the years and it’s time for the department to grapple with that, it’s time to get this stuff right, people’s lives are at stake,” Eliasberg said.

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