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LA sheriff admits mistakes to jail abuse panel

Posted: July 28, 2012 8:00 a.m.
Updated: July 27, 2012 10:13 p.m.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Battered by allegations of abuse in his jails by deputies, Sheriff Lee Baca admitted mistakes Friday but defended his department in his first appearance before a county commission created to review reports of brutality.

Baca urged commissioners to look to the future, on the heels of months of testimony from former and current sheriff's officials who told the commission about a culture of violence in the jails, including instances of deputies beating prisoners.

"We know we screwed up in the past," Baca told the county Citizen's Commission on Jail Violence, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/OsCHYe ).

The commission was created last year after officials learned that the FBI was investigating purported misconduct within the nation's largest county jail system. The panel has heard from current and former employees, as well as jail monitors, who described inmate abuse.

Friday marked the first time Baca appeared before the panel along with his undersheriff, Paul Tanka.

In testimony that ranged from apologetic to testy, Baca told commissioners that he wouldn't let them dictate how he disciplines his department.

When a commissioner asked about a spike in use-of-force incidents, Baca interrupted: "What good does it do to talk about it now?.... We can look at a lot of charts and say, 'Gee, if you saw this, why didn't you just go right into action?'

"I'm one person, and I've got a department that's full of opportunities for mistakes," he said, according to the Times.

In May, two retired sheriff's supervisors told the commission they knew of deputies beating prisoners, ignoring bosses, forming cliques and engaging in off-duty misconduct.

Baca's department has been the subject of recent litigation and some embarrassment.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently sued the Sheriff's Department, claiming inmates charged with assaulting deputies have been unable to get evidence that could help exonerate them. The organization released a report documenting more than 70 cases of misconduct by deputies.

Baca also was criticized for failing to recall about 200 badges provided to public officials so they could easily access a command post during an emergency or disaster. His department had to go on the defensive earlier this month when a picture of a woman wearing a sheriff-issued badge and toting two handguns in a nightclub was published by media outlets. The photo was an exhibit in a federal corruption case.

Baca has acknowledged being out of touch about problems in his jails but has said he's made improvements in the wake of the inmate abuse allegations. Among them was the creation of a database to track inmate complaints.

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