innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Urgent Appeal for Jail Safety

This article is republished from the L.A. Times, written by Megan Garvey and Jack Leonard:

A black inmate who died Sunday after a fight with Latino cellmates at Men's Central Jail had been placed in a group cell with inmates considered serious security threats, despite repeated warnings to sheriff's officials that mixing nonviolent and violent inmates can be deadly.

The death brought new criticism of the Sheriff's Department, which has struggled to calm racially charged violence in the jail system. It has faced scrutiny in the past for killings inside the jails when high-risk and lower-risk inmates are placed together.


Sean Anthony Thompson, 38, had been arrested last week on suspicion of drug possession after he ran a stop sign in Long Beach. Jailers designated Thompson, the father of three, a "moderate security risk" because he had previous convictions for nonviolent felonies.

Authorities said he was attacked after coming to the aid of a 63-year-old black cellmate, also charged with drug possession, who was threatened by three younger Latino inmates trying to take over a bunk bed that had the best light for reading. A fourth Latino in the cell did not take part in the attack.

Deputies had classified the three Latinos as so-called "level 8s" — the second-highest threat level in the county's inmate classification system and a designation given to inmates with a history of assaults or escapes.

The men — ages 18, 21 and 25 — were in jail on such charges as robbery, felony assault with a gun and a parole violation on a previous attempted-murder conviction, Sheriff's Department sources said.

The Sheriff's Department continues to combine inmates of notably different threat levels even though the practice was deemed "not permissible" under any circumstances in a confidential report to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors more than a year ago that raised numerous safety concerns about the jail's use of security classifications.

That report by Merrick Bobb, who oversees the Sheriff's Department for the supervisors, was commissioned after the killing of five inmates over seven months in late 2003 and early 2004 — with three of the deaths blamed on victims being housed with more violent offenders.

Thompson's death marks the second time in three months that a jail inmate has died after being placed with more dangerous inmates. In November, a mentally ill man was stomped to death by violent gang members in a room with no supervision at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Sheriff's officials acknowledged the practice is dangerous.

"We won't be doing that in the future. We're going to stop that," said Marc Klugman, head of the Correctional Services Division.

For the whole story, click here.

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