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ACLU alleges human rights violations in Los Angeles jails

By Mary Slosson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Deputies in the Los Angeles County jail system have committed acts of violence against prisoners so grave they constituted human rights abuses, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report.

Complaints detailed in the ACLU report, filed in federal court on Wednesday, accused Sheriff's deputies of beating inmates for reasons ranging from asking for medical treatment to their race.

"Deputies within the Sheriff's department are becoming increasingly brazen in the violence," ACLU spokesman Will Matthews said. "There is a sort of burgeoning coalescence of stories emerging out of what is really this gulag. I use that word very intentionally."

The ACLU, which monitors jail conditions in Los Angeles County as part of a 1983 court ruling, called for the immediate resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and a federal investigation into the jail conditions, Matthews said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said some of the allegations in the report were unsubstantiated.

"A lot of them don't match up to the evidence," she said. "The sheriff's department is never hesitant to discipline itself."

Matthews said the ACLU report was based on thousands of complaints received over the past year as well as civilian witnesses including chaplains, a civilian volunteer tutor and an ACLU employee who monitors jail conditions.

He said the ACLU, which filed the report as part of its role as court-appointed monitor of jail conditions, would also file affidavits from 70 current or former prisoners and a handful of civilian witnesses.

The Office of Independent Review, a civilian oversight group that monitors the sheriff's department, said it would look into the complaints detailed in the report, and planned to issue a response in a few weeks.

"There are times unfortunately where deputies disobey their oath and step across the line from necessary to unnecessary force," said Michael Gennaco, head of the office, noting that three or four deputies were forced to leave the department every year based on evidence of abuse.

"There is probably more than that, but those cases are not provable," he said.

ACLU SAYS ABUSE SYSTEMIC

The ACLU described the abuse as systemic, and the report said deputies slammed inmates' heads into walls and windows, shot unresisting inmates with Tasers, and pitted inmates against one another.

"In one case, inmates sexually assaulted another inmate with a broomstick; in another instance inmates raped another inmate while holding his head in a flushing toilet. All of this occurred with the apparent cooperation of LASD employees," the report said.

The report follows a Los Angeles Times report on Tuesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigations paid a sheriff's deputy roughly $1,500 to smuggle a cell phone into a Los Angeles County jail in an undercover sting operation.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

"There is a prevalent and long-term pattern of such unchecked violence, and it has become the accepted practice in jail operations, along with systemic institutional actions to cover it up," former FBI agent Thomas Parker was quoted as saying in the ACLU report after reviewing the abuse incidents reported by inmates and outside witnesses.

Parker, who oversaw a probe into the Rodney King beating that sparked 1992 riots in Los Angeles over police brutality, said Baca and other LASD officials had "essentially abdicated their responsibilities to provide a safe, secure, and corruption-free incarceration environment" in the county jail system.

A federal judge in 1983 granted the ACLU the right to monitor Los Angeles County jail conditions as part of a lawsuit brought against the county by the civil rights group.

The case grants the ACLU regular access to the jail and the right to interview inmates, deputies, and others involved in the nation's largest and most expensive jail system.

The ACLU files an annual report to the court as a part of the ruling."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)

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