Record number of deaths in LASD jails

A+graph+chart+of+In+custody+deaths+statistic+from+Report+and+Oversight+Efforts

Courtesy of L.A. County Sheriffs Department

A chart of In-custody deaths shows mostly increases.

Arlyn Lopez , Community News Reporter

In-custody deaths at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department saw a dramatic rise to 55 deaths in 2021 — the highest when compared to every year since 2013.

That’s according to a report by the county’s Office of Inspector General at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this month.

The deaths include nine suicides, one homicide and 45 other cases. In-custody deaths more than doubled since 2016, according to the report.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell raised several questions about Inspector General Max Hunt’s report and the circumstances of the deaths. Hunt attributed many of them to COVID-19 spreading behind bars due to overcrowding. 

Of the 11 folks who died while in custody between October and December 2021, eight died after being rushed to the hospital, according to the report.

The report documented an event where the Sheriff’s Department of Homicide Bureau representatives denied the Inspector General access to see someone’s body after they died, and they were initially also told to stay away from the area so as not to contaminate the scene. 

The IG reported that the assistant sheriff said that was an isolated event that wouldn’t happen again.

“The Sheriff’s Department has shut us out from its legal requirement to provide evidence regarding what happens in individual cases,” Hunt said.  “So, we’re not able to do the kind of deep evidentiary analysis that would be necessary to answer that question.”  

Drug overdose was also cited as a contributing factor to the increase, resulting in 10 deaths. The inspector general stated that the Sheriff’s Department avoided a large number of overdose-related deaths through the use of the drug known as Narcan, which is meant to prevent fentanyl overdoses.

Some people attending the meeting were outraged, including some who blamed law enforcement leadership.

“Sheriff Villanueva is the greatest single threat to our civil liberties here in L.A County,” said Andres Kwon from the ACLU. “From his violations of the law and obstruction of oversight, even harassing oversight officials, to the scores of deputy gang violence he has enabled, and we’re facing a dramatic increase in deputy shootings and record level deaths in the jails under Villanueva’s watch.”

A spokesperson for Villanueva referred UT Community News to the LASD website — and a page on its site with data on COVID-19 cases and deaths among those behind bars — for more information.

The spokesperson also said in response to information sent about the IG report and the ACLU representative’s comment: “You are misinformed. Sheriff Villanueva has been completely transparent with everything in the department.”

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]