Jailers at the Los Angeles Police Department’s busiest detention facility frequently failed to properly conduct welfare checks of cells to ensure inmates were safe, according to a report released Friday by the LAPD’s watchdog.
The review, conducted by Inspector General Alex Bustamante, found that 82% of 198 checks conducted at downtown L.A.’s Metropolitan Detention Center were “out of compliance” with standards established by state regulations, LAPD policy or expectations from the department on how those checks are conducted.
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In 26 of the 163 flawed checks, Bustamante found, jailers entered the two-level cell blocks where inmates are housed but failed to inspect the entire area of each floor. In the remainder of the cases, he wrote, jailers did not enter the cell blocks at all and often miscounted the number of inmates inside.
The LAPD requires jailers to check each inmate and cell -- whether empty or not -- every half hour, when they are supposed to “look and listen for obvious signs of distress or trauma,” according to Bustamante’s report.
Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said he found the failure rate to be deeply troublesome. The report’s finding that jails logs were inaccurate “raises another set of concerns entirely,” he said. He noted that the checks are meant to ensure the safety not just of inmates but police and jailers too, saying the regulations were “crystal clear about what is required.”
“The 82% compliance-failure rate suggests systemic failure,” he said.
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The president of the Police Commission called the findings “very troubling” but noted there were no indications that the failed checks cited in Bustamante’s report led to any inmate injuries or deaths.
“Although the inspector general identified concerns with the quality of welfare checks … there were no issues identified with the treatment or care of inmates within LAPD’s custody,” Matt Johnson, the panel’s president, said in a statement. “Most importantly, once these issues were identified, the department immediately worked with the inspector general to fix them.”
Bustamante’s report outlined a series of recommendations, including revising LAPD policy to specifically require jailers to enter cell blocks and conducting routine audits to ensure the checks are properly being made.
The LAPD also distributed a notice reminding jail staff of the “profound importance and significance” of making safety checks in a “timely and thorough manner,” and was revising training to include more emphasis on state and department regulations.
Bustamante’s findings were based on an analysis of 264 hours of footage from jail security cameras, which his office cross-checked with paper logs used to note the date and time of the half-hour checks along with the name of the officer conducting the check and the number of inmates in each cell block.
“The logs were found to contain inaccurate information with regard to the time of the checks and the number of inmates present,” Bustamante wrote.
As a result, the report said, the LAPD was working to replace the paper logs with an electronic system.
The LAPD did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
The LAPD’s jails temporarily house people who have been arrested, usually before they have been charged or convicted of any crimes. The department’s facilities are separate from Los Angeles County jails, which are run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jails are under federal court oversight after complaints that mentally ill inmates were mistreated and other inmates physically abused.
Bustamante’s report comes two weeks after the Police Commission reviewed a June 2015 death at the LAPD’s Pacific Jail, where concerns over cell checks prompted an internal investigation into detention officers.
According to a report Chief Charlie Beck send to the commission, video footage from Bernard Maurer’s cell showed the 52-year-old’s body slide between a wall and a bunk bed as he went into convulsions. Coroner’s officials determined Maurer suffocated -- listing epilepsy as a second cause of death -- and Beck and the Police Commission determined the officers’ actions didn’t contribute to his death.
Beck’s report, however, revealed that although jail logs said Maurer’s cell was checked at 12:30 p.m. and again at 12:55 p.m., the video showed only one check occurred during that time -- at 12:47 p.m., when a detention officer saw Maurer wedged between the bunk and wall. Officers last saw Maurer about 45 minutes earlier, the report said, when one served him lunch at 12:01 p.m.
The video showed Maurer began convulsing at 12:15 p.m., according to Beck’s report.
The investigation into Maurer’s death revealed detention officers had signed jail logs indicating cell checks had been made when they had in fact they had been missed or hadn’t happened yet. A personnel complaint was initiated against the officers, launching an internal affairs investigation.
The LAPD has recently drawn criticism over the death of a woman who authorities say hanged herself inside the Metropolitan Detention Center. Wakiesha Wilson, 36, died at a nearby hospital after she was found unconscious in her cell on the morning of March 27.
Wilson’s family learned about her death only after she didn’t appear in court days later.
Department critics have packed the weekly Police Commission meetings, chanting Wilson’s name as they demanded more information about the events leading up to her death. The LAPD has provided few details outside of an initial statement about the case, citing the ongoing investigation that is standard protocol for all deaths that occur in police custody.
An LAPD statement said jailers found Wilson “unconscious and not breathing” while conducting a safety check. The statement did not detail how much time had elapsed since jailers previously checked her cell.
Coroner’s officials have classified Wilson’s death as a suicide. Her autopsy report has not yet been released; a coroner’s spokesman said Friday that officials were waiting on toxicology tests.
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6:31 p.m.: This story was updated with a comment from another police commissioner and additional background about suicides in the city jails.
This story was first published at 2:04 p.m.