L.A. County Sheriff says will implement jail reforms, won't quit

LOS ANGELES Thu Oct 4, 2012 10:19am EDT

1 of 6. An inmate plays with a makeshift chess set in his cell at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles, California October 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Redmond

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, blamed by an investigative commission for failing to stop excessive force in the nation's largest county jail system, said on Wednesday he would implement many of its suggested reforms but has no plans to step down.

The changes advocated by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence last week included revamping how use-of-force cases are investigated and disciplined, better oversight and tracking of inmate complaints and the use of video cameras worn by deputies.

"I couldn't have written them better myself," Baca said of the commission's recommendations during a press conference at the Men's Central Jail, held before inmates and members of his command staff.

But the 70-year-old sheriff, sticking to a stance he has taken in the face of repeated criticism over his supervision of Los Angeles County jails, said he had no intention to step down from the elected post he has held since 1998.

"You know, I'm not a person that thinks about quitting on anything," Baca said. "The voters had the grace to give me the job and the voters will have the grace to take it away."

The sheriff also said he did not intend to take immediate action against his second-in-command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was sharply criticized in the commission's report for exacerbating problems at the jails and encouraging deputies to "push the legal boundaries" of law enforcement activities.

"We'll either have the facts or we won't have the facts," he said. "We do believe evidence and facts drives disciplinary decisions, not allegations."

In its report, the seven-member commission cited a "persistent pattern of unreasonable force" in county jails dating back years and said Baca had not paid enough attention to the problem until "external events" forced his hand.

"If a chief executive officer in private business had remained in the dark or ignored problems plaguing one of the company's primary services for years, that company's board of directors likely would not have hesitated to replace the CEO," the commissioners wrote.

The body called the Men's Central Jail an "antiquated, dungeon-like facility" and said excessive force was due in no small part to failures of senior leadership.

The commission's findings are the latest in a string of critical reports on the county's jail system, including one last year from the American Civil Liberties Union that said some deputies had formed gangs that encouraged assaults.

The report came as Baca faces pressure to reform the jail system, which holds over 18,000 inmates and has faced overcrowding problems. According to county numbers, the jails have seen incidents of significant use of force fall to 418 in 2011 from 588 in 2006.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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