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Los Angeles Jail Guards Beat Prisoner in Front of ACLU Monitor

by David M. Reutter

A monitor with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) witnessed the brutal beating of a prisoner at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility by two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. Twin Towers is part of the county’s jail system.

The January 24, 2010 incident involved detainee James Parker and was seen by ACLU/SC’s Esther Lim, who was touring the jail as part of her duties to monitor conditions at the facility in connection with a federal class-action lawsuit. The attack on Parker, who was being held on a marijuana charge, was both brutal and brazen.

“Mr. Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching bag,” Lim said in a written statement submitted to the federal district court. “I thought he was knocked out, or perhaps even dead.”

Deputies Ryan Hirsch and Ochoa, whose first name was not provided, punched and kneed Parker as he lay motionless on the ground. They Tasered his leg up to four times and his torso up to three times.

“Mr. Parker was not fighting with the deputies,” Lim stated. He “was not trying to kick, hit, or otherwise fight with the deputies.” Yet the deputies ordered Parker to “stop resisting” and “stop fighting” as they assaulted him.

Lim beat on the window where she was viewing the incident in a vain attempt to get the deputies’ attention to stop the attack. Deputy Ochoa signaled for her to move away from the window after he finished beating Parker. According to the ACLU, Parker received stitches to his face, injured ribs, and a swollen cheek and eye.

“We believe Mr. Parker’s beating is not an isolated incident,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU/SC. “Rather, it highlights the rampant violence that continues to plague the county’s jails and demands court intervention to protect detainees from brutal attacks and retaliation. That the ACLU/SC monitor witnessed a brutal attack in plain sight is alarming and can only lead us to conclude detainees are subject to even greater cruelty when no one is looking.”

Los Angeles County’s jail system first became the subject of an ACLU lawsuit challenging conditions of confinement in 1975. Numerous remedial orders have been issued over the years, but systemic problems persist. In December 2010 the ACLU sought a new trial in the lawsuit based on “an escalating crisis of deputy violence, abuse and inmate suicides.” See: Rutherford v. Baca, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:75-cv-04111-DDP.

As for Parker’s beating by Hirsch and Ochoa, the deputies wrote in a log report that he was fighting and resisting. Parker was charged with felony assault; one of the deputies reportedly broke his hand during the attack. The sheriff’s department launched an internal investigation in February 2011, while criticizing the ACLU for not immediately reporting the incident.

“We have real doubts about the Sheriff’s Department’s ability to do an impartial investigation,” noted ACLU/SC legal director Peter J. Eliasberg. The FBI is also looking into the incident involving Parker.

“The reign of terror we’re uncovering in the Los Angeles County jails is unmatched by any of the hyper-violent prisons and jails across the country we have investigated,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The brutality there is so blatant and routine that the deputies carried out a vicious beating in the full view of a court-appointed monitor. The court needs to take immediate action to ensure the protection of prisoners.”

Sources: ACLU, Los Angeles Times, Mercury News

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Related legal case

Rutherford v. Baca