Advocates Plead for a Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence

Eva Flores had never spoken publicly about her son’s story. But at a recent Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting, the young mother from Maywood worked up her courage to talk about the beating her son suffered last August at the hands of sheriff’s deputies. He was pepper sprayed, handcuffed and suffered several broken bones in his back and his nose after being beaten, she said, by sheriff’s deputies. Since that day he has suffered from headaches.

“My son deserves respect and dignity; nobody deserves to be treated this way,” she said in Spanish. “I am concerned for the safety of my son and I don’t want this to happen again.”

Flores was one of more than 100 people that attended the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to push for the formation of a citizens’ commission on jail violence to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ever since the department came under intense public scrutiny for allegations of violence in the County jails, Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that the Board establish a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee the department. At the meeting Tuesday Supervisor Gloria Molina said she was “leaning” in the direction of supporting the citizens’ commission.

The group of advocates, called the Coalition to End Sheriff’s Violence in LA County Jails, is made up of nearly a dozen organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Youth Justice Coalition and the California Drug Policy Alliance. It was formed in response to the violence that has been plaguing Los Angeles County jails and the need to have civilian oversight of the treatment of inmates.

Patrisse Cullors, founder of the coalition, also became an advocate for personal reasons. Her brother was beaten so badly while in custody that he blacked out. She said he was later denied water and meals. He did not have a history of mental illness when he went into jail, but now he needs medication to handle the trauma he endured, Cullors said.

“It changed my family’s life,” she said. “The citizens’ commission is crucial to holding the sheriff’s department accountable and restoring any sort of faith in the community. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the people who are inside jail. But every single one of those people has a family that loves them. This is a community issue.”

The Rev. Peter Laarman, a member of the coalition and executive director of the organization Progressive Christians Uniting, said they will not stop until long term structural change happens.

“This will take courage and persistence to make the change we need and it will be difficult because it will shake the foundation of the sheriff’s department,” said Laarman. “We know that it is not simply the passion for change but the persistency in advocacy that will achieve an outcome that will serve the people of our county.”