In one video, a jailer kneels on an inmate’s neck. In another, two deputies slam a man’s head into a wall. In yet another, two jailers punch a handcuffed inmate repeatedly even after he’s fallen to the ground. A new trove of surveillance videos from inside the Los Angeles County jails offers a rare view of the culture of violence that has persisted behind bars despite a decades-long federal lawsuit and years of jail oversight. The release of the six videos comes months after The Los Angeles Times and independent news site Witness LA asked a federal judge to make them public. Lawyers for the county fought to keep the footage confidential, but after a hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ordered the material to be released, the Times reports. Such visual documentation of use-of-force against inmates typically remains unseen by the public, as most jail videos are protected from disclosure. Before turning over the videos, the county blurred the footage to conceal the identities of staff and inmates. All but one of the clips are silent. Most are short, and it is impossible to know what came before or after the incidents. The shortest is 14 seconds. The longest is just over 15 minutes.
What is visible are several incidents in which deputies overpower men who are restrained. In only one instance does an inmate — in handcuffs — appear to kick at two deputies who are behind him. They punch him in the head, wrestle him to the ground and continue punching. Though federal court filings show that county jailers kick and punch inmates less frequently than they used to, the videos indicate the department has not reined in the use of force that spurred a lawsuit more than a decade ago. In a lengthy statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it was aware of Pregerson’s decision to unseal the videos and called their disclosure “an opportunity to build further trust within the community it serves.” The incidents in the videos “are not representative of interactions between deputies and inmates in the Los Angeles County Jail system,” the largest in the U.S., the statement said. “The videos that have been unsealed represent six of the millions of interactions that occurred over a more than two and one-half year period."