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LAWYERS TO REVIEW INMATE DEATHS.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

In light of 100 prisoners' deaths in Los Angeles County jails in less than three years, Office of Independent Review Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco said Thursday his team of lawyers will begin reviewing jail-death investigations by the Sheriff's Department.

``Just recently, we adopted a new policy with Sheriff Lee Baca's approval that if there is a death of an inmate in custody that we will conduct a review of that investigation,'' Gennaco said at a news conference to unveil the first report of the civilian oversight panel.

Elaborating later, Gennaco said the county jails have a jail-death review team, but the reviews almost never include the sheriff's internal affairs investigators.

Gennaco said he and his team of five civil rights attorneys will oversee the investigations, bring the internal affairs investigators in to help and make recommendations on discipline and policy changes to prevent more deaths.

Since 2000, 100 inmates have died in county jails, the largest jail system in the nation with 19,000 inmates. The deaths included two murders, 13 suicides, 78 due to natural causes, six with unknown causes that are pending and one classified as ``other,'' according to the Sheriff's Department.

A total of 35 inmates died in 2000, 37 in 2001 and 28 so far this year.

Numerous lawsuits and civil claims have been filed in recent years alleging that inadequate medical care and excessive force by sheriff's employees contributed to the deaths.

``People die in our jails just as they die anywhere else in the county,'' Baca said. ``For people in the community, the tendency is to think that the jail was responsible for the deaths.

``But the sheriff has the responsibility to find all the facts, including what caused the death and what did the Sheriff's Department fail to do that led up to the death and to find if there is anything the Sheriff's Department could do to prevent the death.''

The new report found that the Sheriff's Department failed to investigate more than 800 civil claims of employee misconduct from 1993 to 2001, missing the chance to solve problems and cut costs.

In the past three years, the department's litigation costs have soared from $11.9 million in 1999-2000 to $26.7 million in 2001-02.

In the report, Gennaco made specific recommendations to change the sheriff's restraint policy in response to the jail death of Kevin Evans, a homeless schizophrenic man living in Palmdale.

He was arrested in 1999 and transferred to a downtown jail, where doctors directed staff members to tie his arms and legs down, known as a four-point restraint, to control him. When a group of deputies laid him down, Evans struggled, the deputies piled on top of him and Evans died.

Sheriff's investigators found no wrongdoing by deputies, although a nurse resigned. The Board of Supervisors agreed to settle the case with Evans' family for $600,000.

The OIR's investigation into the death found the sheriff's policies and procedures for use of restraints were ``vague, incomplete and unenforced.'' Gennaco recommended a new policy, which went into effect in June, that makes sheriff's personnel more accountable for the use of force and allows only trained personnel to use restraints under the supervision of a properly trained sergeant during the entire restraint.

Gennaco said he is continuing to work with the County Counsel's Office to gain access to closed court documents that would be helpful in making recommendations to change policies that lead to lawsuits.

In a lengthy opinion released Thursday, County Counsel Lloyd Pellman wrote that the OIR may be granted access to files in closed cases where only the county is named as a defendant, but his office cannot provide access to such files in cases where individual sheriff's deputies are named as defendants without obtaining consent from the deputies.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to ask Baca on Tuesday to explain why claims were not investigated and what his plans are to ensure that future claims are investigated.
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Title Annotation:Review; News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 18, 2002
Words:667
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