A man incarcerated at the Twin Towers jail died in an apparent suicide late last month, while deputy guards allegedly watched internet videos, rather than preform the required welfare checks. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), which runs the local jails, has subsequently placed restrictions on internet access for some deputies working the jail.
The 22-year-old man was being held in the jail’s recently established dorm for veterans, according to sources who work as healthcare clinicians inside the jail. They say that on September 29, deputies working in that dorm — which contains individual cells as well as a common space — missed as many as three mandatory welfare checks around the time the man hanged himself because they were watching videos on county computers.
As part of a jail welfare check in the veteran’s dorm, deputies are required to walk the cell block at least every half hour.
Other people incarcerated on that floor said to sources that the man may have previously attempted to kill himself at least once before.
The sources disclosing this information are jail healthcare providers and social workers, who requested anonymity, for fear of reprisals, as they have not been authorized to speak to the media.
As a result of the death, sources say that the LASD administration at Twin Towers quickly restricted some internet access on that floor, by blocking websites that play movies and some social media. However, sources say other floors in the jail seem to have internet access. It is unclear how widely the restrictions are felt.
Assistant Sheriff Sergio Aloma, who oversees the department’s jail operations, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On Monday, LASD communications manager Nicole Nishida called this reporter and asked her not to call Aloma at home. Nishida provided no other information.
In response to questioning, LASD responded by having their media relations division email a statement, confirming that a 22-year-old Latino man housed at Twin Towers died in-custody on September 29, and saying that the county medical examiner would determine the cause of death.
They did not respond to any other allegations regarding the missed welfare checks or internet restrictions.
“As with all In-Custody Deaths, the Department is conducting a series of thorough executive administrative reviews to identify and remedy any systematic issues or areas of concern related to this incident,” the statement read.
On the department’s public in-custody death tracker, they also list the death of a man that day in the intensive care unit of the Los Angeles County Medical Center. Thirty-seven people have died this year so far in LA County jails, about one a week.
The jails are plagued by many issues — overcrowding, medical staffing shortages, insufficient mental health resources — and they continue to be out of compliance with the orders of a federal court. In 2015, the county and Sheriff’s Department entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S Department of Justice over the atrocious conditions in the jails.
Sources working in the jail, as well as one of the jail oversight bodies, have complained about deputies who work in the jails streaming movies, YouTube videos, and playing computer games while on the clock.
A July report by the Sybil Brand Commission, an oversight body that conducts regular jail inspections, notes that during one jail visit commissioners found “[a] group of at least 7 LASD personnel of various ranks,” watching movies on county equipment while, “in the next room, people with serious mental illness languished in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day and complained about not being permitted to take a shower
“LASD personnel engaged in repartee with Commissioners about the movie before realizing they were doing anything wrong.”
Commissioners also cited concerns with the conduct of deputies during welfare checks.
“Mandatory safety checks in high observation housing consist of deputies walking by and scanning the bar codes of cells rather than confirming signs of life,” the report reads.
“With deaths in the LA County jails approaching one per week, it is appalling that a deputy whose job it is to make sure people are alive was watching videos in their watch,” said Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.
“People who are at risk of death by suicide are in danger in the LA County jails.”
In June, the ACLU and LA County reached a settlement in a lawsuit over what the ACLU called “barbaric” conditions in the jails. The county agreed to create nearly 2,000 more community beds as an alternative to incarceration, and increase mental health staff in the jails, among other terms.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988. Additionally: Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.