That's how the ACLU describes the abuse in LA County Jails. The ACLU has been documenting the brutality for many months, and now it's suing LA Country Sheriff Lee Baca because he's allowed it to continue.
“Despite Sheriff Baca’s actual knowledge of this pattern of violence and cover-up, he has failed over a period of many years to take reasonable measures to halt the abuses."
The abuse at Abu Ghraib sparked an outcry, and rightly so, but the mistreatment of people in LA is no less horrific; indeed, in some cases, it's quite similar, a mixture of physical abuse and sexual humiliation. Torture, that is.
Juan Pablo Reyes was punched by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies over and over again in the ribs, mouth and eyes, breaking his eye socket and leaving his body badly bruised. After falling to the ground, the deputies continued to kick Reyes, an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail, with their steel-toed boots, ignoring his cries.
And the deputies didn't stop there.
They ordered Reyes to strip and forced him to walk naked up and down the hallway of a housing module, in full view of other inmates. One deputy yelled, "Gay boy walking." Reyes began to cry, but the deputies just looked on and laughed. They then put him in a cell where he was beaten and sexually assaulted by other inmates. He desperately pled for help and to be removed from the cell, but to no avail.
Reyes is not alone, far from it. It's wrong to treat any person, or animal, this way, of course, but it's relevant to point out, as the ACLU does, that most of the people in these jails are awaiting trial, presumed innocent." The ACLU report -- Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA Country Jails-- documents numerous cases of abuse. It includes 70 sworn statements from eyewitnesses to abuse, most of it at the Men's Central and Twin Towers jails in downtown LA in 2010 and 2011.
To be an inmate in the Los Angeles County jails is to fear deputy attacks. In the past year, deputies have assaulted scores of non-resisting inmates, according to reports from jail chaplains, civilians, and inmates. Deputies have attacked inmates for complaining about property missing from their cells.
They have beaten inmates for asking for medical treatment, for the nature of their alleged offenses, and for the color of their skin.
They have beaten inmates in wheelchairs. They have beaten an inmate, paraded him naked down a jail module, and placed him in a cell to be sexually assaulted.
It's wrong to treat any person, or animal, this way, of course, but it's relevant to point out, as the ACLU does, that most of the people in these jails are awaiting trial, presumed innocent. Frank Mendoza, a gay man, was arrested for public drunkenness, and while he was awaiting a hearing, a guard raped him. Watch this and weep.
...[F}rom of the corner of my eye i see the gentleman, the officer that threatened me earlier, coming towards my cage -- coming towards me. and I just frantically started, I started screaming and yelling, to no avail -- nobody came to my rescue. and he just came in there and manhandled me and stripped me butt naked and sexually assaulted me.
He left me naked, bloodied, and terrified. I remember just being left in the corner, shivering. And when there was a guard change the guard came and he noticed there was something wrong with me. And he even knew my name and he was like "Mendoza, what happened to you?" The moment I told him, he suddenly changed his demeanor and said, "Well, it doesn't look like anything happened to you. You look okay."
There was no forensic evidence taken, no -- it was not treated as a crime at all.
When the ACLU released its report in September, it called on Baca to resign -- an effort you can support here. In response, Baca has said the ACLU is painting an inaccurate picture of the jail system and cited as an excuse the violence of prisoners.
"The whole picture is that we do have violent inmates," he said. "We've had inmates kill other inmates, we've had inmates kill deputies. We just can't let that violence go unchecked.
"When they do get violent with my staff or they do get violent with each other, who's responsible for ending the violence? At some point, you have to take physical action," he added. "Occasionally, deputies will go a little further than they should or a lot further than they should."
As Baca holds onto his job, the ACLU is seeking reform through this lawsuit, which it filed on behalf of two people, Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, who were beaten as pretrial detainees. And please note: Rosas and Goodwin don't want money; they just want the abuse to stop so that other people don't endure what they endured.
[T]he plaintiffs want a federal court order to end the alleged "long-standing and widespread pattern of violence" at county jails, according to Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project.
"(The plaintiffs) are not asking to be recompensed for what happened in the past," she said. "They're just asking that the judge enter an injunction requiring the sheriff to stop violence like this from happening so that they and all other inmates in the jail, currently and in the future, are protected."
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Torture in American prisons and jails is common. It's one of our country's greatest disgraces (along with the prison regime itself) and it goes almost entirely unremarked in public discourse.
Each year, numerous prisoners are maimed, crippled, and even killed by guards. Photographs could be taken on any day in the American prison system that would match the photographs from Abu Ghraib that shocked the public. Indeed, actual pictures from prisons in America have shown worse atrocities than those pictures from the American prisons in Iraq. For example, no photos of American abuse of Iraqi prisoners have yet equaled the pictures of dozens of prisoners savagely and mercilessly tortured by guards and state troopers in the aftermath of the 1971 Attica rebellion.(3) Even more appalling images are available in the documentary film Maximum Security University about California's state Corcoran Prison. For years at Corcoran, guards set up fights among prisoners, bet on the outcome, and then often shot the men for fighting, seriously wounding at least 43 and killing eight just in the period 1989-1994. The film features official footage of five separate incidents in which guards, with no legal justification, shoot down and kill unarmed prisoners.
But even in a system of incarceration where abuse is common, the jails in LA country stand out. Says Winter of the ACLU's National Prison Project:
"I've investigated jails and prison systems around the country. Really, there is nothing to equal the horror of what I've seen in the Los Angeles County jails."