The arrests Tuesday of current and former Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies by the FBI on charges of beating inmates and jail visitors is a sad and probably frightening revelation for most county residents.
Rumors had circulated among media and law enforcement agencies for years about an ongoing probe of prisoner mistreatment in the county jail system, with most expecting for the investigation to blow wide open at any time.
“Any time,” however, took much longer than most had expected.
And while the unsealing of the 18 indictments and charges of crimes including corruption, obstruction of justice and abuse were not a surprise, many were stunned by the revelation that county jail visitors had also been victims of violence by jail personnel.
It seems that any behavior interpreted as “rude” by some deputies was viewed as a sign of disrespect and warranted a harsh response.
This is pure arrogance and a betrayal of the deputies’ oath to uphold the law and to protect and serve the public.
How they were able to allegedly go as far as changing a prisoner’s name and falsifying records in order to circumvent the investigation is beyond us. But if the charges are proven to be true, we have to believe a serious breakdown in oversight by department supervisors and Sheriff Baca himself are ultimately responsible.
The fact that FBI officials felt it was necessary to conduct the investigation without first informing and consulting with Baca is particularly telling not to mention alarming.
The federal law enforcement agency’s assertion this week that the types of practices revealed in their investigation and outlined in the indictments are “institutionalized” in the department, and that members of the Sheriff’s Department felt they were “above the law” should disturb every one of us.
This is not the first lapse of serious accountability in the County Sheriff’s Department. But it should be the last.
If Baca really cares as he says he does, he must be willing to take on the task of holding everyone’s feet to the fire and weed out all the bad apples.
The Board of Supervisors must also move forward as swiftly and strongly as possible to hold Sheriff Baca’s accountable for the problems in his department.
While supervisors have no authority to remove him from office since he is elected by the people, they can tie conditions to getting his budget approved.
They can also make sure that former Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman who was recently hired to the newly created position of inspector general has all the resources of the county at his disposal to lead a thorough top to bottom investigation of the Sheriff’s Department.