by Jo Ellen Nott
On a Friday in October 2020 at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile facility in Los Angeles County’s Malibu, a teenage detainee went looking for something to eat in the common area. “Beckham” was hungry and frustrated that he found only a carton of milk. The young man threw the milk carton, provoking an altercation with the staff.
It was a bad idea. Within minutes, “Beckham” was brought down on a bed by four guards who restrained him with a knee in his back, trapping his 120 pounds with the weight of four adults. Video from incident showed the teen’s body twitching as he was restrained. About a minute after he was subdued, Supervisor Oscar Cross grabbed the youth by the legs and bent the teen’s feet toward his head. “Beckman” screamed out for his mother as Cross inflicted pain.
Less than a year after the episode, members of the Los Angeles County Probation Department recommended firing Oscar Cross. Yet a fellow guard, Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzalez, protected him. Gonzalez “made the decision to impose progressive discipline” rather than fire Cross, according to a department statement. The decision was based on “a review of the evidence, consideration of the officer’s service record and input from SEIU local 721,” the union for the Probation Department.
The union blamed county officials for failing to provide the understaffed Probation Department with resources for conflict resolution, claiming that its members work in increasingly dangerous environments with little support from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The union also blamed the county for not “providing policies, training and tools to keep [guards] safe in the face of 100 plus youth-on-youth assaults each month.”
Criminal justice experts familiar with the case were horrified by the video footage. Michele Deitch of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the University of Texas at Austin called it “an unjustified use of force being used against a child.” Veteran juvenile detention guards are also reportedly bothered by Cross’ continued employment two and a half years later.
A state oversight board has said repeatedly that the department is unsuitable to care for young people. The Los Angeles Times reported that violence between guards and youth increased dramatically in 2022. Meanwhile the Probation Department suffers a continuing staffing crisis.
There are also unanswered questions about how the Probation Department handles reports of abuse and violence in its juvenile centers. The state Office of the Inspector General in December 2022 voiced concerns that the department was withholding details of controversial incidents from oversight bodies. Those concerns arose from a California Department of Justice settlement over prior allegations of improper use of force by guards and violence in the facilities.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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