Last Tuesday, the ACLU of Southern California, a Harvard law professor, and a University of Southern California professor filed a civil rights suit on behalf of criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Douglas. The lawsuit alleges that Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Sheriff Leroy Baca, and the sheriff’s department “enacted formal, official policies” that denied Men’s Central Jail detainees a fair trial. More to the point, the ACLU claims the defendants concealed exculpatory evidence that the 33-page complaint defines as evidence that “helps the defendant or hurts the prosecution.”
“After 30 years of this work, I am not easily shocked," said Douglas, "but the choice of our elected officials to disregard flagrantly the statutory and constitutionally required disclosure of accusations of misconduct by sheriff deputies is shocking.”
Chief counsel for the ACLU/SC, Mark Rosenbaum, stated in the organization’s press release that Cooley and Baca have perverted justice for over 10 years.
The ACLU’s lawsuit cites:
· 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, in which it was ruled that the district attorney’s office violated due process when it failed to disclose information that might favor the defendant;
· a 1992 California election that required prosecutors to disclose all favorable evidence to defendants before trial;
· a 2010 California Supreme Court ruling that stated the above-referenced provision applied to unfavorable evidence as well; and
· 1978 California legislation that required police departments to include complaints against police officers in the officer’s personnel file or a name-searchable database, so defendants could use evidence of past misconduct during trial.
With regard to the latter, the ACLU’s press release says that a Sheriff’s Department representative testified earlier this year that the department does not abide by this law. “Although it is unclear how long Sheriff Baca has elected to violate this statutory requirement,” the site continues, “it is certain that in countless prosecutions involving a deputy assigned to the jails, the Sheriff’s Department has suppressed evidence that the defendant was entitled to receive as part of the constitutional and statutory requirements for a fair trial.”
According to an Associated Press story last Saturday, the ACLU released a report last year that documented deputy-on-inmate violence. The ACLU’s press release says that “the abused inmates are regularly charged for alleged assault on any deputy involved.”
The AP story states that Capt. Michael Bormann testified on July 6 that Capt. Daniel Cruz refused to investigate subordinates accused of excessive force and joked that they should avoid hitting inmates in the face, where it will leave marks. Cruz denied these allegations, but the FBI is investigating.
The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest in the country and is home to about 15,000 inmates. More than 5,000 have been incarcerated since last fall, according to the AP.
Sheriff Lee Baca was elected in 1998 when his opponent, Sheriff Sherman Block, died days before what could have been his election to a fourth term.