Eighteen current and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies were indicted as part of an FBI investigation into alleged civil rights abuses and corruption, federal prosecutors said Monday.
The 16 who have already been taken into custody are set to make initial appearances in federal court in Los Angeles Monday afternoon.
The two-year FBI probe focused on allegations that sheriff’s officials had fostered a culture in which deputies were permitted to beat and humiliate inmates and cover up misconduct at the nation’s largest county jail.
“Our investigation also found that these incidents did not take place in a vacuum — in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized,” U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said. “The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law.”
The four indictments and a criminal complaint allege “a wide scope of illegal conduct,” Birotte said. “This investigation started by focusing on misconduct in county jails, and we uncovered examples of civil rights violations that included excessive force and unlawful arrests.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca scheduled a news conference for later Monday to discuss the arrests.
Last year, a blue-ribbon commission criticized Sheriff Baca for tolerating a pattern of excessive force by his deputies in the county jails.
The Citizens Commission on Jail Violence — composed of several retired judges, a police chief, a religious leader and a civil rights leader, all appointed by the county Board of Supervisors — issued 77 findings and 60 recommended reforms on the management, oversight and use of force in county jails.
According to the 194-page report, Baca neglected to listen to repeated warnings from the department’s civilian watchdogs and inmates-rights advocates about conditions in the jail.
Among the recommendations, the panel recommended harsher penalties for excessive force and dishonesty, and the formation of a new civilian watchdog. The report also criticized the sheriff for not disciplining senior managers who failed to address the jail problems.
The commission based its report on interviews with current and former sheriff’s officials, jailhouse witnesses, testimony from experts and internal department records.
The commission called for the creation of an Office of Inspector General that would report to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and provide independent oversight of the sheriff’s department — conducting its own investigations, monitoring jail conditions and reviewing the department’s audits and inspections.
In a statement last year, Baca said he supported the recommendations.