D.A. in the dark on jail probes
Even as a sergeant shouted, “Stop hitting him! Stop hitting him!,” Deputy Marcos Stout continued punching an inmate in the head. Then, with the inmate on the concrete floor, Stout landed his knee on the man’s skull.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department described the deputy’s actions as “callous and brutal behavior toward a helpless and unresisting person.”
Though Stout’s excessive force was egregious enough to get him fired, prosecutors did not charge him with a crime — but not because they concluded that the violence wasn’t criminal, according to interviews. They never knew about it.
PHOTOS: Men’s Central Jail
In several cases in recent years, deputies who were disciplined or even fired for abusing inmates escaped criminal scrutiny because Sheriff’s Department officials chose not to give the evidence to the district attorney’s office, opting to handle the cases internally.
Law enforcement experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said the department should routinely conduct criminal investigations of brutality claims and forward the results to prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.
“Just because you’re part of the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t mean you can commit battery with impunity,” said Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and current professor studying police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
The Sheriff’s Department’s watchdog recommended in October that excessive force complaints from the jails be investigated for criminal wrongdoing and presented to the district attorney. Michael Gennaco, who heads the county’s Office of Independent Review, told The Times that the department should send to prosecutors all investigations of excessive force in which an inmate suffered significant injuries or the force was prolonged.