After an internal audit revealed Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies (LASD) were inhumanely shackling inmates to a wall for up to 11 hours at a time, prosecutors filed criminal charges against three officers responsible for following the policy before it was recently rescinded. Although at least 24 cases were referred to the district attorney’s office, D.A. Jackie Lacey only charged a deputy and two sergeants with cruel and unusual punishment.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times investigation, dozens of inmates at North County Correctional Facility (NCCF) were chained to the wall with their hands behind their backs, half-naked or even fully naked, sometimes with their feet shackled to the floor, as jail officials waited for them to expel suspected contraband from their bodies. Cuffed to the wall with his arms extended behind his back, one inmate’s wrists began to bleed after being shackled between eight and nine hours. Another inmate wearing only boxer shorts and socks was left chained to the wall for up to 11 hours.
“If they were in that kind of restraint for any length of time, it is absolutely abominable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California.
Suspected of concealing a note in his rectum, inmate Omar Estrada was left handcuffed to the wall for “an extended period of time” on September 5, 2014. Although deputies did not physically strike Estrada, he ended up suffering injuries to his wrists and midsection after chained to the wall for several hours. Although Estrada eventually excreted a few pieces of paper that could have been a note, no officers bothered to collect the evidence or record its existence on video.
“These incidents were discovered during a routine internal audit by command staff, and we determined that they could have been handled better,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a written statement to The Times. “We immediately implemented new measures and policies to ensure it would not happen again.”
After Sheriff McDonnell rescinded the written policy to leave inmates shackled to a wall during contraband watch, District Attorney Jackie Lacey decided to only file criminal charges against the officers guarding Estrada even though 24 cases had been referred to her office. In September, Sgt. David Moser, Sgt. Rex Taylor, and Deputy James Hawkins were charged with cruel and unusual punishment. Hawkins was also charged with misdemeanor assault. While Taylor had already retired, Hawkins and Moser were later relieved of duty without pay.
Instead of shackling inmates to a wall with their legs chained and their arms behind their backs, sheriff’s department officials replaced the written policy ordering deputies to now cuff inmates hands to their waists during contraband watch. Fourteen NCCF employees, including the head of the facility, Capt. Anselmo Gonzalez, have been reassigned to positions where they no longer have any contact with inmates.
Marred with a history of abuse and corruption, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has been responsible for a myriad of recent scandals. In November, three former deputies were sentenced to prison for beating an inmate’s handcuffed brother and writing a false report to cover up their abuse. During that same month, another deputy was accused of sexually violating female inmates.
After threatening an FBI agent and falsifying database information, eight deputies were convicted of obstructing a federal investigation into jail abuse and corruption. Ten employees were relieved of duty in July after an inmate was left handcuffed without food for 32 hours at the jail system’s Inmate Reception Center. In May, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Captain William “Tom” Carey were arrested and charged with conspiring and corruptly endeavoring to influence, instruct, and impede a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and abuse by sheriff’s deputies working within Los Angeles County Jails.