March 21, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
Close to 150 people from different areas of Los Angeles came to the 28th Street YMCA on Mar. 14 to strategize on ways to end the epidemic of violence occurring in the Los Angeles County Jail System. The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in the L.A. County Jails (C2ESV), which organized the townhall meeting, says that only an independent and elected civilian review board that would oversee the jail and have the power to investigate complaints and discipline sheriff’s deputies will bring transparency and accountability to management of the L.A County Jails.
The group was supported in their efforts by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who told them that the jail administration can not police itself and that the Board of Supervisors is unable to do it either.
“Its just not practical,” said the 2nd District Supervisor.
Current Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka have been in the line of fire over the last several months for findings from the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence which was created in October of 2011 to “conduct a review of the nature, depth and cause of the problem of inappropriate deputy use of force in the jails, and to recommend corrective action as necessary,” according to the Los Angeles County government website. In issuing their findings in September of 2012, the Commission made 64 recommendations, 60 of which dealt specifically with the management of the jails.
The report’s executive summary notes that, “ … multiple witnesses, both inmates and non-inmates, described numerous instances in which LASD personnel used force when no threat was present, used force disproportionate to the threat posed, used force after the threat had ended, or enabled inmates to assault other inmates.”
“Black and Brown people are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the violence and racism inside the L.A. County Jails,” said Patrisse Cullors, founder of the Coalition. “We organized this townhall meeting because we want South L.A. residents to not only be heard, but to be armed with action that has a longstanding positive impact in this city.”
Cullors-Brignac’s brother was incarcerated in the L.A. County Jail approximately 13 years ago, she said. Cullors-Brignac alleges that his assault by sheriff’s deputies left him with a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that continues to this day.
“He hasn’t been the same since, she said.
26-year old Jermond Davis “testified” at the townhall that he was a victim of jail violence during a six-month stay in 2006. Davis says he was in the jail as a result of doing “something stupid when he was a kid,” two years prior.
“I was talking to an officer, asking why they were using such force on another inmate; why does it take that many officers? An officer overheard me, started cursing at me, and then another officer came and punched me in the face while I was handcuffed to the table,” said Davis. “They took me out of there and took me to C-Pod, a place that’s a blind spot in the jail, and they just started beating and kicking me. One officer said that he should he take his shoe off and stick it [up in me.]”
“I still have handcuff marks to this day from where the cuffs were on me too tight while they were beating,” Davis added.
Although he didn’t testify at the townhall, Fanya Baruti attended because he believes the issues of accountability and oversight for the sheriff’s department are important. “It has been proven that [a civilian review] is the only board that is going to substantiate a righteous judgment against complaints that come out of the jail; it cannot police itself, Baruti said. “So when you get other people involved who have no vested interest in the accusations that are being made, and will do a thorough investigation, what are you afraid of?”
Baruti says he was also a victim of sheriff’s deputy violence in the L.A. County Jail in the early 1980s. He is now an organizer with the group All of Us or None, which is made up of formerly incarcerated and convicted persons, that fights for the restoration of their civil and human rights.
On Mar. 19, Sheriff Baca made a presentation to the Board of Supervisors calling for close to $1 billion dollars to replace the Men’s Central Jail, which recently turned 50 years of age, and to refurbish other existing facilities in other parts of Los Angeles County. The Board postponed a decision on the proposal, opting to wait until they hear back from an independent consultant who will produce a study on the exact needs of the county’s incarceration system.
The Board has not yet taken up the issue of civilian oversight but as evidenced by his appearance at the townhall meeting, Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas will be the most likely cheerleader for it when it does come before the body.
“Independent civilian oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is fundamental to achieve modern, constitutional policing,” said Sup. Ridley-Thomas. “We don’t need another report to confirm the conditions within the jails. We need structural reform by independent civilian oversight. Constitutional policing must be a norm rather than an aspiration.”