The ACLU filed a major civil rights lawsuit today in the Los Angeles county Supreme Court against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept over what appears to be a secret program designed to hide evidence of deputies assaulting detainees at the Men’s Central Jail. There also appears to be related evidence that the Los Angeles District Attorneys office acted to prohibit disclosure of evidence favorable to the defendants in these cases, even though such evidence is deemed necessary for disclosure by the United States and California Supreme Courts.
The suit may affect the verdicts and pleas in thousands of cases stretching back over the last decade. The suit was filed by local defense attorney who is calling for an immediate end to these assaults due to the undermining of the very notion of fair trials in Los Angeles County.
Due to the enormous scope of this potential scandal the ACLU also filed complaints with the California State Bar against District Attorney Steve Cooley and moved to setup an independent counsel that would be responsible for looking over all those cases that resulted in a guilty verdict or plea since these assaults first began taking place. The ACLU has also asked for a civil grand jury investigation to look into these illegal activities.
Several reports by advocacy groups, the media and independent monitors have documented the deputy-on-inmate violence. To rub salt in the wounds of these victims, many of those beaten by the deputies were then charged with assaulting an officer in order to add additional potential jail time thereby placing even more pressure on the detainee to accept a plea. These pleas, obtained under duress, were designed to protect the county and individual deputies from disciplinary or criminal proceedings for their abuse of power.
District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sheriff Baca made sure that any evidence pointing to alleged abuse in such cases was concealed . The ACLU has cited several such incidents in which the defendant luckily spotted the omissions, resulting in a mistrial or dismissal.
Guilty pleas must be made voluntarily. Now that this news has been released many people who pled guilty to these charges may have grounds to ask the court to allow them to withdraw their guilty pleas and proceed to trial or obtain dismissals in these cases. There are time limits to an individuals ability to make such a request from the court. However, under these circumstances, exceptions might be made.
We as defense attorneys here stories from our clients all the time about police misconduct. There is often very little that we can do. It is a relief to see that the ACLU is taking action in this case. This type of flagrant abuse of power must be stopped.