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LA County Jail Abuse: Sheriff Lee Baca Blames Himself

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LA COUNTY JAIL ABUSE
AP Photo/Nick Ut

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he is to blame for deputy misconduct and brutality against inmates in the nation's largest jail network.

"The truth is, I should've known," Baca said. "So now I do know."

Baca, who is in his third term, said that his subordinates often insulated him from "bad news."

The sheriff's department and its top official have come under intense criticism since the American Civil Liberties Union released a report last month alleging abuse and other misconduct by deputies. The FBI has demanded internal department documents detailing the use of force on inmates over several years, as well as other records.

The probe includes allegations that deputies carved racist initials into one inmate's head and broke the jaw of another inmate.

Federal officials declined to discuss details of the investigation.

Baca said he only recently noticed that 69 video cameras purchased more than a year ago to monitor deputies and inmates at Men's Central Jail had not been installed.

"There's no excuse for such a major project as this going undone," he said, promising to install the cameras by the end of the year.

Baca also expressed regret that he hadn't implement routine floor assignment rotations at the Central Jail earlier, a reform that watchdogs say would reduce the possibility of deputies forming gang-like groups in the jail.

County Supervisor Gloria Molina criticized the department's failure to carry out numerous reforms suggested by watchdogs over the years.

"I think he needs to be much more aggressive," Molina said about Baca, describing the sheriff as a "sweetheart."

Molina told the Times that Baca needed to make a series of sweeping reforms, including putting new limits on when deputies can use head strikes against inmates, intensifying supervision by having sergeants regularly patrol the jail floors and requiring nurses and other medical staff to report suspicious inmate injuries.

The sheriff's department operates the largest jail system in the United States, and provides police patrols for communities across Los Angeles County and security for the city's mass transit system.

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