O.C. jail outrage
October 25, 2006
IT WAS EXCEPTIONALLY bad jail keeping that allowed an inmate to be beaten to death recently in an Orange County jail. It would be even worse public policy if the same department that enabled the killing was allowed to investigate it.
The Times has reported that a deputy inaccurately told inmates at Theo Lacy Branch Jail, a low-security facility, that John Chamberlain was accused of child molestation (the actual charges were two misdemeanors related to the possession of child pornography). Even if the deputy had been correct, releasing such information to inmates is at best irresponsible and at worst (as it was here) fatal. Telling prisoners that a fellow inmate is a child molester is tantamount to issuing an open invitation to attack the man.
As inmates began harassing Chamberlain, his attorney called the jail hours before the attack to ask for protective custody — but the shift wasn't made. Chamberlain was kicked in the shower, dragged to his cell and beaten some more; deputies say the episode lasted 15 to 30 minutes. His assailants were left with enough time to wash their clothes. Even then, deputies didn't learn about the beating until an inmate told them.
The first response from the sheriff's office was that there are "blind spots" that the camera at the guard station does not show. That may well be true — but it is a reason for more vigilant guarding, not an excuse for lack of it.
This long chain of inadequate guarding practices, whether intentional or inadvertent, points to systemic "blind spots" not only in the jail but within the sheriff's jail operation. Sheriff Michael S. Carona and his department almost certainly bear the major share of responsibility for the death. With so much at stake, Carona should not be the one in charge of the investigation. If he will not hand over the reins to the district attorney's office, then the grand jury — which has stepped in on other conflict-ridden cases in the past — should begin a separate probe.
Jail incident ruled homicide
Five deputies put on paid leave after death of man in custody
Posted: Tuesday August 23rd, 2005, 11:35 PM
Five Kern County Sheriff's Department detention deputies were put on paid administrative leave Tuesday after the death of a man in custody was ruled a homicide by the coroner's office.
James Woodrow Moore, 30, died at Mercy Hospital on Sunday after
spending about a week in the intensive care unit, where he was taken directly
after an altercation with sheriff's personnel, according to the department.
Jim Malouf, chief deputy coroner, said he did not believe the coroner's office would be requesting toxicology tests on Moore.
"Toxicology will not indicate anything other than what he received in the hospital," Malouf said.
Sheriff Mack Wimbish said people should not read anything into the fact that several detention deputies have been put on leave.
"That doesn't mean they're guilty or anything," he said. "Things are changing as we speak."
Wimbish stopped short of calling an ongoing investigation into the homicide a criminal one.
Instead, he said detectives were trying to figure out if something criminal had occurred to cause the death.
"A lot of legwork" was needed to interview all the people who knew anything about last week's fight between Moore and jail staffers, Wimbish said.
The fight occurred in the garage area outside of the downtown jail's booking room, and Wimbish said there's no videotaping system in that area.
It was unclear Tuesday exactly what prompted the fight.
"We do know that there was resistance of some type," Wimbish said. "That may help us determine what actions we have to take."
Moore had been arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats on Aug. 15, and jail records indicated he was booked on that, along with suspicion of drug use.
But Moore's family said Friday that they called the Sheriff's Department because Moore was acting strangely and he needed help.
John Tripp, the grandfather of Moore's common-law wife, said Friday that when he saw deputies escort Moore away, he didn't resist at all.
Tripp also said the family was not told that Moore was in the hospital until two days after he was admitted.
On Tuesday, Tripp said the family had been instructed by their attorney not to make any further comments to the media.
Although Tripp previously accused the Sheriff's Department of covering up the jail incident, Wimbish said six detectives investigated it all weekend. In fact, Wimbish said detectives have been looking into the fight since the night it occurred.
"It will be ongoing even this evening," Wimbish said of the investigation Tuesday. "We will know the answers to all these questions."
Wimbish added that an internal investigation of the incident will be conducted separately from the current one.
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