After an incarcerated person died by suicide while deputies were allegedly watching videos, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) restricted internet access throughout the Twin Towers jail. Now, jail officials are considering a system wide restriction on internet access, even as deputies continue to skirt restrictions by bringing in thumb drives to watch movies on jail computers.
In a phone interview with LA Public Press, Assistant Sheriff Sergio Aloma confirmed tips from jail staff that deputies are evading internet restrictions by bringing in their own fire sticks or thumb drives loaded with TV shows and movies.
“It’s unacceptable,” Aloma said. “If you are found doing that, you will be held accountable.”
Deputies in the jails are required to do safety checks to ensure incarcerated people are ok every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the housing area. Aloma said that a hard look at internet use began as a result of the death — but he stopped short of officially confirming that the deputies watching videos contributed to the young man’s death, citing the ongoing investigation and personnel matters.
Aloma said internet access was removed from deputy work stations at Twin Towers in October, though LASD supervisors still have access to it. He said that they are considering removing the internet throughout other jails as well, but that further investigation is needed.
“I don’t know where they find the time to sit and watch a movie,” he said of his deputies who work as guards in the LA County jail system, adding that he did not believe that “you can focus and give your undivided attention to the inmate population if you’re distracted by a movie, or whatever they’re watching.”
On Thursday the Sybil Brand Commission, an oversight body that conducts regular jail inspections, held a regular meeting. Aloma told commissioners that he was not previously aware of an issue with deputies watching videos while on the clock, and had believed that an incident described in a July report from the Sybil Brand Commission itself, detailing an encounter with deputies watching movies while on the clock, to have been a “one-off” event.
He said his opinion changed when he walked the jail floors himself in October.
However, during the meeting, American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Melissa Camacho called in and pointed out that the LASD had been alerted by commissioners to the problem of deputies watching videos at least twice before that year.
“Why does it take someone dying for LASD to take concerns raised by [the Sybil Brand Commission] seriously?” Camacho told LA Public Press via text, following the meeting.
Aloma said that his command staff had not brought the issue to him, which was problematic.
“I have sergeants on every shift, on every floor, who I expect to deal with this,” he said. “It shouldn’t get up to the chief, but it has.”
He also said that at this time no one has been formally disciplined for the issue.
Aloma also confirmed that the department’s routine death investigation, underway for the man who died by suicide in Twin Towers in September, currently involves looking at whether deputies were properly conducting safety checks.
The department has also not officially named a cause of death, pending the medical examiner’s report.
Last week, the Editorial Board of The Los Angeles Times wrote about LA Public Press’ coverage of the September jail death, as well as an article from Los Angeles Times reporter Keri Blakinger on a man who was beaten to death in June in Men’s Central Jail, citing “a cultural problem that more staff and dollars will not solve,”
They also chastised the LASD for not heeding alarming reports from jail oversight bodies.
“The deaths and the inspectors’ reports suggest that the department is failing not because there are too few deputies to do the work, but because there is little understanding of the work that must be done,” the Editorial Board wrote.
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.