A collection of graphic videos reported by the Los Angeles Times on June 24, 2023, pulled back the curtain on rampant violence and chaos inside Los Angeles County jails. The footage, saved on a discarded thumb drive, portrays a shocking lack of supervision from jailers, as well as incidents of detainee-on-detainee violence and guards using excessive force.
Stabbings, fistfights and suicide attempts from the past six years play out on the videos, as well as disturbing incidents of neglect. In one, a woman gives birth while restrained in a wheelchair, leaving jailers to collect her newborn from the floor where it fell. In other clips, detainees apparently desensitized to violence continue daily activities while brutal fights and beatings occur a few feet away.
Most of the footage came from Men’s Central Jail, date-stamped between 2017 and 2021. The clips highlight slow or no response to violence by jailers, leaving vulnerable detainees unattended. One 20-minute video captured a prolonged attack by detainees on a fellow detainee while no guards intervened.
The absence of supervision – despite the presence of functioning cameras – raised concern about a lack of oversight for Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer in criminal justice at the University of Texas at Austin, who said the clips left her “utterly stunned.”
“There was absolutely no supervision,” Deitch said. “That that could be happening with cameras on and no one comes is mind-boggling.”
Trying to explain, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) pointed to the timing of the incident, which fell between regular guard rounds. Video feeds were also not continuously monitored, thanks to a staffing shortage that still plagues the jail.
“We did not have the staff for that,” admitted Assistant Sheriff Sergio Aloma. “We now have monitors in some staff stations but still do not have the staff to monitor them full-time.”
The thumb drive containing the videos was discovered by a detainee over a year ago in the trash at Men’s Central Jail. Another detainee smuggled it out, after finding it held numerous reports, training materials, and a compilation of violent surveillance clips categorized as “training videos.”
The training value of such violent videos is dubious, but they expose a troubled and chaotic jail. While some progress has been made, federal lawsuits and other reports complain of ongoing problems with violence and terrible conditions of confinement in the jail system.
The same day the videos were reported, the county announced it was adding treatment beds to divert more mentally ill people from the jail system. Just a few weeks earlier, on May 16, 2023, a state court judge issued an injunction to stop county prosecutors from “[e]nforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people who are detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty,” calling the practice “a clear, pervasive, and serious constitutional violation.” See: Urquidi v. Los Angeles, Cal. Super. (Cty. of Los Angeles), Case No. 22STCP04044.
It remains to be seen whether these measures will meaningfully reduce violence plaguing the LASD jail system.
Additional sources: The Appeal, Los Angeles Times
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