New Report Slams L.A. County Sheriff's Department

A new report outlines abuses in the nation's largest jail system. The report contains tough criticism of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees the jails. It accuses him of mismanagement and ignoring years of abuse.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The man who runs the largest jail system in the country is facing fresh criticism today. A scathing report written by former federal prosecutors and judges, slams Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca and his department. It says the sheriff turned a blind eye to years of violence and abuse in L.A. County jails. NPR's Carrie Kahn has our story.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: For years there have been complaints of inmate abuse at the sheriff's massive jail system which can hold up to 20,000 inmates. Recently those allegations have grown louder and more disturbing. There have been first-hand accounts by volunteers in the jails of deputies beating inmates, damning testimony of cover-ups from former employees, and perhaps the final straw, a federal investigation, which involved a crooked deputy smuggling a cell phone into the men's central jail.

MIRIAM ARONI KRINSKY: What we saw was disappointing and troubling.

KAHN: Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the executive director of the Jail Violence Commission.

KRINSKY: There was no doubt in our mind by the end of the investigation we conducted, that there has been a persistent pattern of excessive use of force by deputies in our jails.

KAHN: On top of the abuse, Krinsky says the commission found that Sheriff Lee Baca, who's been in office for 14 years, has been an ineffective and out of touch leader.

KRINSKY: Our sheriff failed to adequately monitor what was going on in his jails. He has said that he was unaware of problems until very recently.

KAHN: She says even more disturbing is that after being told repeatedly of problems, the lack of supervision, possible cover-ups, and senior management encouraging misconduct, the sheriff has held no one accountable.

KRINSKY: They all remain in their current positions to this day.

KAHN: Sheriff Baca disagrees. He says he has made moves to fix the problems, has disciplined dozens of deputies, and says violence in the county jails has dropped by nearly 40 percent in recent months. His spokesman, Steve Whitmore, says the sheriff will not comment until he's reviewed the report thoroughly, but he is taking it seriously.

STEVE WHITMORE: It's important for him to let the public know that his chief critics can sometimes be his chief educators.

KAHN: Baca has a history of being contrite when faced with criticism. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says despite the scathing report, he has confidence that Baca will rise to the occasion.

ZEV YAROSLAVSKY: I'm hopeful that he will get the message, and I've said many times about Lee Baca what differentiates him from most other chiefs of police that I've known is that he accepts criticism, he internalizes it and he is capable and has often acted on it.

KAHN: Baca's critics say he better take the commission's report and its recommendations to heart. Unlike the more well-known chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who is appointed by the mayor and is watched over by a civilian review panel, the county sheriff is an elected position. Baca, who is 70, and says he has no plans to retire, says he will run for a fifth term. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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