L.A. Sheriff’s Department accused of obstructing investigation after video of inmate beating leaked

L.A. Sheriff’s Department accused of obstructing investigation after video of inmate beating leaked

July 15, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Warning: Videos in this story contain footage of police violence that may be triggering for viewers.

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Soto Jara was initially arrested by the Claremont Police Department and charged with four misdemeanor offenses and two felony drug and gun possession charges, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Prior to the contact with the deputies, Mr. Sotojara was involved in an argument with another inmate and had removed his shirt to fight the other inmate,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement shared on social media. “Mr. Romero claimed the contact with Mr. Sotojara was “unprovoked” and he was 100% not involved. This was inaccurate.”  

Villanueva said in his statement that the incident was “immediately recognized” as a use of force case that “solicited a response from our Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).” 

“IAB responded and assumed responsibility of the investigation,” the sheriff said. “The incident was additionally referred to the Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau (ICIB). The case was also presented to the Office of Inspector General.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman told Daily Kos in an email on Thursday that the sheriff’s department misrepresented its cooperation in that statement.

“The Sheriff’s Department described themselves in a press release as having ‘presented’ the matter to us.  We were told about it and showed video. We were not given copies of video and we are not permitted to actively monitor LASD investigations nor do we receive cooperation in our own investigations,” Huntsman said. “The Sheriff’s Department has actively obstructed our oversight function so severely that the county has sued them repeatedly over the problem.  

“I’m under criminal investigation by Sheriff Villanueva for being Inspector General. So in that context, to say the matter was ‘presented’ is misleading.”

Huntsman added:

“Just last month a use of force in the Inmate Reception Center involved broken bones and force to the head and another prisoner collapsed waiting two days for medical evaluation, later dying.  Our jails are dangerously overcrowded with serious safety consequences.”

Activists have been pushing to see the Men’s Central Jail, specifically, closed down. Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times in March that the county is not in a position to do so. She instead said she’s pushing to use state grants to build jails for diversion programming. “We don’t want to build jails, but we want to use it to serve the same population,” Mitchell said. “The point is how quickly can we and the community get ready to build out the services we need on the care end of our ‘Care First, Jails Last’ initiative.”

Sheriff Villanueva has consistently fought jail-closing efforts.

“We have homicides, we have people running amok on the streets, everyone’s got a gun, every gangster’s out there trying to shoot other gangsters and the occasional innocent victim,” he told the Times, “and those people eventually are going to make their way into jail. And there is no place to put them if you tear down Men’s Central Jail.”

Read Villanueva’s full statement on the recent incident:

Today a press conference was aired by Fox 11 alleging that six LASD deputies used excessive force on a compliant inmate who was arrested for a non-violent crime. The use of force in question occurred on July 3, 2022, at approximately 11:50 PM, at the Inmate Reception Center, not Men’s Central Jail.  Upon review, it was immediately recognized as a use of force that solicited a response from our Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).  IAB responded and assumed responsibility of the investigation. The incident was additionally referred to the Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau (ICIB). The case was also presented to the Office of Inspector General.

The attorney representing the involved inmate, presented many allegations as fact, which he alluded to was “verified” by a source in LASD, but which are categorically incorrect and misleading. He merely provided a fragment of the facts surrounding the incident, including the inmate was intentionally taken out of camera view and beaten. This is incorrect, in fact the LASD has multiple cameras covering the entire incident. The video provided by Mr. Romero was apparently recorded from the Dvtel system and released without official permission and did not encompass the entire incident. Prior to the contact with the deputies, Mr. Sotojara was involved in an argument with another inmate and had removed his shirt to fight the other inmate.  Mr. Romero claimed the contact with Mr. Sotojara was “unprovoked” and he was 100% not involved. This was inaccurate.  

Although we cannot comment on on-going investigations, we can confirm that the subject involved in the force was seen by medical professionals, as is standard procedure in all force incidents. In fact, the incident occurred in the IRC clinic which has medical staff immediately available. Then he was given additional medical attention at the TTCF Urgent Care for a higher level of medical care. And when addressing the documentation of his medical care, Mr. Romero stated, “My experience is they don’t when they are in their custody.”  This again is categorically false, all injuries and/or force incidents are fully documented, and all medical concerns are addressed and fully documented by Correctional Health Services.  

This press conference and video released out of context and without authorization clearly proves why the entire investigation needs to be completed, with appropriate oversight, to ensure all the facts are presented in a responsible manner.  Releasing a snippet of an incident with inaccurate allegations claimed to be “vetted” is irresponsible and borderline disingenuous.

LASD followed all the appropriate protocols, with the primary focus on Mr. Sotojara receiving medical attention.  

Mr. Sotojara was arrested on July 3, 2022, by Claremont Police Department for the following charges :  

• 11307.1 A HS; Possession of a Controlled Substance While Armed W/Loaded Firearm (Felony).

• 29800(a) 1 P.C.; Possession of Firearm by Convicted Felon (Felony)

• 29180 (C) P.C.; Own Handgun not Bearing Serial Number (M)

• 148 (A) (1) P.C.; Obstruct Public Officer (M)

• 11350 (A) 1 HS; Possession of Controlled Substance (M)

• 237.6 (A) P.C.; Disobey Domestic Relations Court Order (M)



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