LA
10/10/2011 05:47 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2011

Sheriff Lee Baca Announces Two New Task Forces In Light Of Abuse Allegations

On Sunday, Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca sent out a statement directly addressing the Los Angeles Sheriff's Departments battered reputation and the steps he was taking to head off allegations of violence and brutality at the hands of his prison deputies.

The letter announces the formation of a 35-member task force of full-time investigators whose sole intent is to inquire into the 78 reports of abuse, both criminal and administrative, at Los Angeles jails.

It also reaffirms Baca's commitment to fostering an environment that values education and rehabilitation in Los Angeles jails with the announcement of a second task force, called the "Commander Management Task Force for Custody Operations Division." Some of its more noteworthy goals include helping both inmates and guards "realize their human potential," prioritizing the professional development of jail staff and hosting community town hall meeting where inmates can air their grievances.

Baca's embattled department has seen public reports of excessive force since mid-September, when the FBI announced that they had carried out a successful sting operation that implicated a deputy in the illegal smuggling of a cellphone into the jail. The Los Angeles Times reports that the officer accepted $1,500 to bring a cellphone to a prisoner who turned out to be an FBI informant.

The next day, the American Civil Liberties Union released a groundbreaking expose on Los Angeles jails' environment of intimidation and brutality. Entitled "Cruel And Unusual Punishment: How A Savage Gang Of Deputies Controls LA County Jails," the report contains testimony from two chaplains and a Hollywood producer, all three of whom had witnessed officer brutality while volunteering.

The Associated Press details one incident mentioned in the ACLU report:

In one case, an inmate at the downtown Men's Central Jail said deputies accused him of stealing mail then punched him, breaking an eye socket, and put him in a cell with two gang members.

Deputies repeatedly ignored the man's cries for help as the gang members raped him while another inmate flushed his head down a toilet to muffle his screams, the man, who had been jailed for making criminal threats, said in a sworn declaration.

Since the ACLU report and news of the FBI sting broke, the Los Angeles Times has also uncovered a story about a sheriff's rookie who quit his jail post in protest after he was forced to beat a non-violent inmate with mental disabilities.

These allegations of excessive force hang like a spectre over a county jail system that is newly responsible for bringing state prisoners into the fold. The statewide mandate to reduce prison populations, which began on September 30, puts extra strain on county jails like Los Angeles -- although none look nearly as unprepared to handle the deluge of inmates as Sheriff Lee Baca's department.

See testimony from one former inmate who alleges that jail officers used excessive force to subdue him. From the ACLU of Southern California: