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ACLU asks judge to hold sheriff, supervisors in contempt over jail conditions

The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge on Monday to charge Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Robert Luna with contempt of court for failing to address the “appalling” conditions in local lock-ups at to solve.

In a Movement of 27 pages describing the prison’s “systemic failures”, lawyers for the civil rights organization — which represents inmates in a lengthy class action lawsuit — accused the county of ignoring previous court orders by tying inmates to benches and stretchers for hours, locking people up in cells covered in garbage and feces and making them sleep on crowded floors of the intake center with only plastic bags to keep warm.

“We are being treated like animals,” Lester Evans wrote in one of nearly two dozen detainee statements the ACLU filed along with their motion. “People shouldn’t live like this.”

The civil rights organization also asked U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson to penalize the county and impose fines for future violations of court orders.

“After nearly five decades of an endless cycle of promises followed by excuses and failures, and generations of classmates endured appalling conditions, the time for talking has passed,” the ACLU attorneys wrote.

Supervisors and the sheriff’s department did not immediately comment on the new filing, and the county has not yet responded to the motion in court. But at a recent meeting of the Civilian Oversight Commission, Sheriff Robert Luna said he felt “only sadness” after hearing reports of the mistreatment and poor prison conditions.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.”

Monday’s motion is the latest legal maneuver in a class action lawsuit originally filed in 1975, claimed that conditions in the county jails violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The case went to trial and eventually a federal judge ordered a series of improvements. But in the nearly five decades since the case began, the county has never fully resolved the issues.

Last year, conditions became particularly bad in the prisoner reception centre, where men who have just been arrested are sent for booking. Most of the prisoners have not yet been convicted of a crime and the facility is not intended to hold people for long periods of time.

Detainees said in affidavits that they were denied clean water, working toilets, regular showers and adequate food. Photos taken by the ACLU showed men sleeping on floors amid dirt and trash. The The group’s lawyers told the court that inmates with serious mental illnesses often were chained to benches for days at a time instead of getting the drugs they needed.

After a hearing in September, Pregerson ordered the prison to make modest improvements, such as no longer tying mentally ill people to benches for more than four hours, no longer leaving inmates in areas without drinking water or working toilets, and no longer detaining inmates. people in prison. Reception center for prisoners for more than a day.

The ACLU alleges the county violated several key pieces of that order.

Prison logs show that over a seven-week period early this year, more than 360 people were chained to benches in detention centers for longer than the four-hour limit. In addition, regulators reported earlier this month that prison officials have begun to evade the court’s order by tying people to stretchers instead of tying them to benches, a practice that Inspector General Max Huntsman says violates its own law. policy of the department and obscures the problem. .

“The problem that the court said existed in the IRC has now been shrouded,” Huntsman told the Civilian Oversight Commission at their Feb. 16 meeting. “The only thing that can be done to change prison conditions is to reduce the population. We have a constitutional obligation to do it immediately, and we have a legal mechanism to do it.”

At the same time, prison officials are circumventing the court’s 24-hour time limit to keep people in the detention center by creating “overflow” reception areas throughout Men’s Central Jail, where ACLU lawyers claim conditions are “nearly as appalling” as they are today. the shelter, but harder for lawyers to track down.

But the most explicit parts of Monday’s documents are those that describe the province’s failure to meet basic hygiene requirements.

“It’s filthy in here,” wrote Reggie Chandler, a man incarcerated at the shelter. “There is excrement on the walls. I try to keep my cell clean, but they don’t give me gloves. The toilet was full of (s—) when I got to my cell and I have to use a bread wrapper and boxer shorts to clean it up. There was also food and maybe (s-) on the lamp.

Other detainees gave similar poignant descriptions. One man said he was only fed once every few days and had no access to water. Others said they were often hungry and had to skip meals. One detainee reported being unable to access a shower for a week, and others described cells covered in mold and detritus.

Many said they were always cold and couldn’t get blankets or pillows even when the temperature dropped below freezing. One man shared how he saw those around him “covering themselves with plastic bags for warmth.”

“I asked for blankets, but was told I couldn’t get any because there aren’t enough,” Elder Escobar wrote. “At one point I had a plastic bag that I could sit on while sitting on the floor because the floor is dirty. They also took the plastic bag with them.”

When a reporter visited the prison earlier this month, several cells were littered with rubbish and an overflowing rubbish bin stood in the middle of a hallway. Although only one person was chained to a bench in the shelter, another man there gestured to indicate that he was hungry and in need of food.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any of the inmates were able to get their medications, but the ACLU flagged that as another concern, as seriously mentally ill inmates often wait weeks or months for much-needed treatment.

Prior to his arrest, Chandler was on psychiatric medication, which he told the court to “stop the voices.” After he was in prison in September, it took him more than two months to get back on his medication. “When I got off my meds, I heard a lot of voices,” he wrote. “I also became paranoid and felt like people were following me around and taking information from my brain.”

The lawyers’ request to hold the county in contempt only relates to one of many lengthy lawsuits over poor care in LA prisons. A second case — also in Pregerson District Court — addresses issues of excessive force, and a third addresses concerns raised by the US Department of Justice about continued poor mental health care in county jails.

Earlier this month, The Times reported that four US senators wrote a fiery letter to the Justice Department about that case, calling conditions in Los Angeles prisons a “humanitarian crisis” and questioning why years of federal oversight have yielded no noticeable improvements.

At the next status conference for the case, Pregerson seemed to suggest that the Justice Department should ask to despise the county — but now it seems the ACLU is ahead of them. The civil rights organization asked the judge to grant their request at a hearing next month in federal court.