Video shows deputy slamming handcuffed inmate into concrete wall at Calif. jail

LA County's assistant sheriff, who oversees the county's jails, said the two deputies involved have been relieved of duty with pay

By Keri Blakinger
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was caught on a jail surveillance camera slamming a handcuffed inmate’s head into a concrete wall at the Men’s Central Jail with no apparent provocation.

The newly released 15-second video was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. Photos taken after the incident show the unidentified man covered in blood with a deep, gaping head wound roughly 3 inches long and nearly half an inch wide.

“I just lack the words to articulate how shocking this is,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which sues troubled jails and prisons. “To call that video barbaric is an insult to barbarians. It’s a wonder that that man isn’t dead.”

Together, the photos and video offer a rare glimpse of the violence meted out by deputies that has been documented for decades inside the Los Angeles jails. Although that sort of violence behind bars is the crux of a decade-old class action lawsuit against the county, it usually remains unseen by the public as most jail videos are protected from disclosure.

After reviewing the footage of the July 2022 beating and photos of its aftermath, the public defenders’ union said it was troubling and indicative of the brutality people face in Los Angeles jails.

“We continue to be horrified by the violence being perpetrated against our clients and community members by LASD deputies in the jails,” said Meredith Gallen, a member of the union’s board of directors.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, confirmed that the case is currently under investigation by the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which will present its findings to local prosecutors. Once the district attorney’s office has decided whether to prosecute, the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Bureau will determine whether one or both deputies involved in the incident should be subject to discipline or termination.

In the meantime, Assistant Sheriff Sergio Aloma — who oversees the county’s jails — told the Los Angeles Times in a text message Saturday that the two deputies involved have been relieved of duty with pay.

“This case is currently under investigation,” he said.

The beginning of the video — dated July 4, 2022 — shows two deputies casually talking in a hallway inside Men’s Central Jail. There’s no sound, so it’s unclear what they’re saying, but it appears they’re waiting for a man to come out of his cell. About seven seconds in, a cell door on the right side of the hallway slides open and a man walks out calmly, his hands already restrained behind his back.

One of the deputies grabs him, and the man seems to pull away slightly as he tries to continue walking.

Suddenly, a deputy slams the man’s head into the concrete wall, and both men tackle him. A third deputy comes running just as the video cuts off, so it’s unclear how long the violence continued.

ACLU lawyers said the inmate survived, but that they did not know his name or the name of either deputy involved. The lawyers did not reveal the source of the video, which they said is jail surveillance video that did not come from the Sheriff’s Department directly.

Late Friday, the civil rights group posted the video online, days after releasing a photo of the wounded man as part of a flurry of court filings entered this week in a longstanding lawsuit over allegations of persistent overuse of force against inmates in the Los Angeles County jails.

That case, known as Rosas v. Luna, began in 2012 when inmates filed a lawsuit alleging that “degrading, cruel and sadistic deputy attacks on inmates” had become a common occurrence — one that they said top Sheriff’s Department officials had known about and failed to address. Many of the beatings meted out by deputies, the suit alleged, were “far more severe than the infamous 1991 beating of Rodney King.”

After three years of legal wrangling, in 2015 the inmates — represented by the ACLU — and the county came to an agreement about specific changes the Sheriff’s Department would make to reduce the number of beatings behind bars.

But now, eight years later, outside experts and ACLU lawyers say the department has still not fulfilled all the requirements of the 2015 agreement.

A report written earlier this year by court-appointed monitors tasked with making sure the jails meet their end of the agreement offered stark findings, saying that the monitors had stopped seeing any progress.

“It is time for the jail culture to stop supporting behaviors that are forbidden by policy,” the monitors wrote.

That’s why last week the inmates’ lawyers asked the county to make some changes to its plan for improvement — such as creating mandatory minimum punishments for deputies who violate certain use-of-force policies and banning deputies from punching inmates in the head unless it’s a situation that could require deadly force.

In its own filings, the county objected to both of those suggestions.

Creating a stricter policy against hitting inmates in the head was an “extreme” and “unwarranted” suggestion, lawyers for the county wrote. On top of that, the department already tightened its policy last year — and now the number of incidents involving deputies punching inmates in the head is down to one a month at each of the three downtown jails, as compared to two a month at each facility two years ago.

“Notwithstanding each of these issues, the department fully recognizes that head strikes are potentially dangerous,” lawyers for the county wrote. “It has agreed to take those steps necessary to mitigate the health effects of head strikes when they do occur.”

Creating mandatory minimum punishments, they said, would be “unfair” and couldn’t be imposed without violating collective bargaining rights.

Plus, the lawyers wrote, since taking office in December, Sheriff Robert Luna has already taken steps to increase accountability and has been working “to ensure that deputies who engage in wrongdoing at the jails are held accountable for their actions.”

The Rosas case is one of three major lawsuits involving the Los Angeles jails, the oldest of which has been ongoing since the mid-1970s. That case — which is also being handled by the ACLU — is currently focused on abysmal living conditions in the Inmate Reception Center, where last year lawyers discovered that severely mentally ill inmates were routinely being left chained to benches and chairs for days at a time.

A judge ordered the jail to limit that practice, and make several other changes — though this year the county admitted that jailers had instead begun tethering people to gurneys. That case is now scheduled for a contempt hearing later this month.


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