L.A. jail confronted by allegations of abuse

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said this week he may close at least part of the L.A. County Men's Central Jail -- the country's largest jail -- in the face of allegations of abuse. CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy has the details. We caution you some of the images may be difficult to watch.

"I'm gasping for air telling them, 'Stop, I can't breathe,'" recalls Gabriel Carillo.

Carillo was not an inmate. He was visiting his brother at the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail. Even so, he says deputies took him into an interrogation room because he had a cell phone, a violation of visitor rules. He alleges deputies handcuffed him and beat him.

"I was in tremendous pain, blacked out to a point where I was awoken to more punches to the head, where my head was bouncing off the floor," said Carillo.

He looked so bad, even his girlfriend did not recognize him.

"They just passed right in front of me and didn't stop," said Carillo.

Carrillo's attorney, Ron Kaye, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

"There is no jail in the United States that has this pattern of misconduct, of abuse and essentially sadism that the L.A. county jail has," said Kaye.

Many of those who are accusing the deputies of assaulting them are not convicted felons. They are here waiting for a court date, unable to post bail. The FBI is investigating and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the sheriff, accusing him of ignoring inmate abuse.

The 72 sworn statements in the ACLU's lawsuit paint a grim picture: deputies "...slamming inmates' heads against the wall..."; "...dislocating an inmate's shoulder..."; and "...pressing a key into an inmate's arms, leaving puncture wounds..."

Photos gathered by the ACLU show gashes on inmates' foreheads, broken teeth and bruising.

"It's huge, it's a huge problem," said Esther Lim, jail monitor for the ACLU. "We get lots and lots of letters and phone calls from inmates themselves and also from family members."

She said she witnessed one of the beatings. While conducting a jail interview, she said she looked out the window and saw two deputies punching a non-responsive inmate.

"Later they take out their taser and they tase this guy who's again, not fighting, not moving, and he looks to me like he's not... he's unconscious," said Lim.

At a press conference this week, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca disputed allegations that he's not properly handling the alleged abuse.

"We are literally in a reformation of how we do business when it comes to the use of force," said Baca.

He said he's even considering closing at least part of the jail, but not because he's being pressured.

"We're not talking here about all of a sudden we've been put in a corner," Baca said. "We've always believed in forward thinking in the sheriff's department. As long as I'm the sheriff of this county, we're always gonna be creative and forward thinking."

Baca has been sheriff for 13 years. Allegations of abuse have been ongoing since the 1970's. The sheriff gave no timeline as to when any shut down of his lockup may happen.

  • Ben Tracy

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