Unsealed surveillance videos show violence against inmates in LA County jails

(Dania Maxwell/Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Unsealed surveillance videos show violence against inmates in LA County jails

California politics, homepage news

Keri Blakinger
Maria L. LaGanga

November 10, 2023

In one video, a prison guard kneels on an inmate’s neck. In another, two officers slam a man’s head into a wall. In yet another, two prison guards repeatedly punch a handcuffed prisoner even after he falls to the ground.

A new trove of surveillance videos from inside Los Angeles County jails

a rare one

look at the culture of violence that persists behind bars despite a decades-long federal lawsuit and years of prison oversight.

The release of the six videos comes months after The Times and independent news site Witness LA asked a federal judge to make them public. Attorneys for the county fought to keep the footage confidential, but after a hearing in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ordered the material released.

Such visual documentation of use of force

against prisoners typically remains invisible to the public because most prison videos are protected from disclosure.

Before turning over the videos, the county blurred the footage to conceal the identities of the staff and inmates. All but one of the clips are silent. Most are short and it is impossible to know what happened before or after the incidents shown. The shortest is 14 seconds. The longest is just over 15 minutes.

What is visible are several incidents of deputies overpowering men who are being restrained. In only one instance does it appear that an inmate in handcuffs is kicking at two deputies behind him. They hit him on the head, wrestle him to the ground and continue punching him.

Although federal court records show

that prison guards are kicking and hitting inmates less often than in the past, the videos indicate that the department has not fully curbed the use of force that led to a lawsuit more than a decade ago.

In a lengthy statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it was aware of Pregerson’s decision to make the videos public and called making them public “an opportunity to further build trust within the community it serves.”

The incidents in the videos “are not representative of the interactions between deputies and inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system,” the largest jail system in the U.S., the statement said. “The unsealed videos represent six of the millions of interactions that occurred over a period of more than two and a half years between October 24, 2019

(the date of the first use of force incident shown)

and July 4, 2022.”

Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the videos show “gratuitous violence in various guises.” The “most brutal,” he said


was a 14-second clip in which “two officers take a detainee out of his cell and then throw him headlong into a concrete wall or plexiglass wall.”

He said the video previously obtained by The Times shows an “absolutely unnecessary” use of force for which “there is clearly no justification.” The prisoner “does nothing to them. And honestly, even if he had, it’s almost impossible to justify that kind of violence.”

It dates back to July 2022 and is the most recent video released. According to the Sheriff’s Department statement, in that video, “at the request of the Department, the deputies’ actions are currently under investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges.”

Another video that raised red flags for ACLU attorneys shows a deputy kneeling on an inmate’s neck. The deputy later wrote in a report that he acted “unintentionally,” a description Eliasberg disputed, saying an unintended action lasted less than a minute.

A prison worker kneels on an inmate’s neck in a video revealed amid legal action

“This gentleman did receive disciplinary action for putting his knee on his neck,” Eliasberg said. “He was not disciplined for dishonest reporting. Dishonest reporting is detrimental to the operation of a law enforcement agency.”

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department said “appropriate administrative action was taken” following the incident, but would not provide further details.

In four of the six videos, Eliasberg said he did not believe the officers involved were disciplined. Sheriff’s Department officials provided no clarification, and the department’s statement did not address that.

The statement did note that deputies in the county’s jails work under difficult conditions and often deal with people charged with violent crimes.

“There has been a complete cultural shift since the days when such abuses were tolerated,” the statement said


“Sheriff Luna plans to build on this progress comprehensively, and at a faster pace than his predecessors.”

The videos came to light as part of a lengthy lawsuit

use of force against inmates in Los Angeles County jails. The suit,

now known as Rosas vs. Luna, began in 2012 when inmates accused deputies of being demeaning, cruel and sadistic

to attack. A lot of the



The alleged lawsuit was far more serious than the infamous Rodney King beating in 1991.

After three years of legal wrangling, the inmates, represented by the ACLU, and the county agreed on specific changes the department would make to reduce the number of assaults.

behind bars. Although the data shows there


there has been some progress toward that goal

including a 20% reduction in use of force between 2021 and 2022. Outside experts and ACLU attorneys say the department must still meet the requirements of the 2015 settlement.

Officers still hit inmates in the face just less than once a week, according to court records.


Prison guards have used a controversial full-body restraint known as the WRAP, which envelops prisoners from their ankles to their shoulders in a blanket-like device.

Last year, an investigation by news company Capital & Main found that the device had led to several lawsuits and that safety claims about its use were based on anecdotes.

Given these and other ongoing concerns, attorneys for the inmates asked the county earlier this year

to make some changes to its plan to reduce the use of violence behind bars. These include the introduction of a revised WRAP policy, mandatory minimum sentences for deputies who violate certain use of force policies and a ban on

Officers hit prisoners in the head except in situations where lethal force is necessary.

To show why they believed those changes were necessary, ACLU attorneys filed several

videos of prison violence, along with internal department reports.

Aside from footage of the punching and kneeling incidents, one of the videos shows a person bleeding on the ground and groaning, and officers using the WRAP device to subdue him. ACLU attorneys expressed concern that officers covered the man’s face with a spit mask while he was bleeding profusely. Medical examinations later revealed that he had suffered an orbital bone fracture.

Because most of the videos except one previously reported by The Times were given to the ACLU under a protective order as part of the lawsuit, the civil rights group was barred from sharing them publicly.

When the organization’s lawyers decided to add it to their file as evidence, they did so under seal.

The Times and Witness LA filed a motion to make the videos public, arguing during a hearing in federal court in September that they deserved different consideration than other material.


from herriff


department blames the ACLU for being filed as evidence of disturbing allegations of ongoing violence behind bars.

The province said releasing the videos could raise security concerns, such as revealing where cameras are located in the jails. But then the judge questioned whether the cameras were hidden, attorneys for the county said

admitted that they were clearly visible.

The lawyers further said that releasing the videos could jeopardize the privacy of officers who work in the prisons. They also raised concerns about whether the videos would be taken out of context. Ultimately, the judge decided to blur the videos and give the parties the opportunity to provide written context to the released images.

Since the ACLU filed the videos in court several months ago, attorneys for the inmates have continued to negotiate with the county to change some


from herriff


departmental policy within prisons.

At a hearing in October, the two sides said they had agreed on a new WRAP policy to restrict use of the device.

But Eliasberg told the court he was still concerned that the continued pattern of use of force, including punches to the head, was considered justified and within ministry policy, even as court-appointed monitors who reviewed the incidents found didn’t.


The county and the ACLU still haven’t come to an agreement on an updated policy limiting how often officers can hit inmates in the face. The ACLU has pushed for a ban on such head strikes

except when lethal force is necessary. Lawyers for the province have argued


or enacting a policy that allows head strikes when a deputy is faced with the threat of serious injury.

During a hearing in September, the province’s lawyers emphasized that these are just blows

constitute approximately 2% of all violent incidents in prisons.

“The videos and continued reporting from the monitors make it clear that there is a need for a more restrictive head strike policy to ensure that head strikes are only used in the most exceptional circumstances and to ensure that personnel are appropriately disciplined,” says Eliasberg. “There is still a big problem.”


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