Toughest inmates guarded by some of least-experienced jailers
Sheriff’s Deputies David Aviles and Salvador Esquivel Jr. started their careers as rookies on the “3000 floor” of Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, a place reserved for the most dangerous inmates.
Along the dimly lighted hallway of cramped cells on the floor, suspected killers and notorious gang leaders peer out from behind the bars. Many face a lifetime in prison and have learned to survive in a confined and ruthless world. They fashion makeshift knives from toothbrushes and sharp spears from ripped magazines.
During their early years guarding the 3000 floor, Aviles and Esquivel racked up some of the highest numbers of force incidents at the jail, according to confidential documents from 2009 reviewed by The Times. Aviles used force on inmates 19 times during more than 3 ½ years. Esquivel had 27 force incidents over four years, including one suspension in 2007 for excessive force, one memo states.
PHOTOS: Men’s Central Jail
The documents show that the Sheriff’s Department had some of its least experienced jailers handling its most hardened inmates, creating a volatile mix that resulted in more frequent clashes between deputies and inmates on the 3000 floor than in any other part of the largest jail system in the nation.
While deputies at Men’s Central had 31 months of experience on average, those assigned to 3000 — the jail’s third floor — had only 20 months.
The floor drew public scrutiny last year when The Times reported that a fight broke out between a group of third-floor deputies and other jailers at a department Christmas party. After the brawl, sheriff’s officials said deputies on the floor had formed an aggressive clique whose members flashed gang-like three-finger hand signs.
According to the documents, officials suspected third-floor deputies of targeting a co-worker before. In that case, a rookie accused the floor’s jailers of harassing him with insults, hang-up calls and phony instructions over his radio. After his initial complaint, the rookie asked his supervisors to drop the matter because he was worried the harassing deputies would only make things worse.
The new revelations come as the FBI is investigating allegations of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct in the jails. As criticism has mounted about his handling of the jails, Sheriff Lee Baca in recent weeks has said he’s now open to ending the practice of starting all new recruits as jail guards.
But the memos show that Sheriff’s Department brass had warned as early as September 2009 that sending new deputies onto the 3000 floor was problematic.