LOS ANGELES — Jail commanders condoning the beating of inmates. Evidence withheld from inmates accused of attacking guards. A photo of a woman wearing an official-looking badge while brandishing handguns at a nightclub. Allegations and litigation continue to dog Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who has acknowledged being out of touch about problems in his jails and failing to reform his massive department that oversees the largest county jail system in the nation.
Bad news in the last week has come from his own brass, his chief critics and a photo that surfaced in an unrelated federal investigation — all serving to sully the reputation of the popular four-term sheriff.
“If he stays on, he’s got to fix these problems,” said Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU Southern California legal director, who called for Baca to step down late last year. “There are some glimmers of hope, but it’s far from what we’d like to see.”
The ACLU, a constant critic of the sheriff and a court-appointed monitor of jail conditions, sued Tuesday alleging that inmates charged with assaulting deputies have been unable to get evidence that could help exonerate them.
At the core of the problems facing the department is how its deputies treat some of the estimated 15,000 inmates in county jails. The ACLU has filed another lawsuit accusing Baca and other officials of condoning violence against inmates.
Last year, the ACLU released a report that documented more than 70 cases of alleged abuse and other misconduct by deputies, many of which occurred at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI has launched a probe and asked for internal department records dealing with inmate abuse.
Baca, 70, has said he’s to blame for deputy misconduct against inmates. Baca has considered closing Men’s Central Jail and has defended his leadership and whether he’s been able to address problems within such a large organization. Critics have said his approach has allowed deputies to create ganglike groups that intimidate and beat up inmates.