A series of questionable decisions by sheriff’s deputies in the minutes before this week’s fatal beating of an inmate in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail are now at the center of an internal affairs investigation, authorities said Friday.
The attack, in which two Latino inmates are accused of savagely beating a white inmate after they were placed together in an unsupervised holding room, appeared to have been spurred by the victim’s defiance of a jail ritual in which inmates decide what races get priority for such things as television, showers and telephone use.
On Wednesday, the deputies allowed the inmates to decide the order in which they should line up for dinner. The inmates decided that Latinos should be served first, blacks second and whites third. The victim, however, stepped in front of black and Latino inmates to grab his dinner.
All 30 inmates in the line were taken to an unsupervised room to eat their meals. After the deputies left them alone, the suspected attackers beat and kicked the victim in the head for up to 15 minutes as the others watched.
The racial tension behind Wednesday’s attack was nothing new to those familiar with the county’s jail system.
“Race is the predominate issue in everything going on in these jail modules,” said Michael Gennaco, head of the county Office of Independent Review. “Inmates who cross over and hang out with other races are internally disciplined with beatings.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Peavy, who is overseeing the criminal investigation into the beating death, said it appeared that the killing was prompted by the victim’s decision not to keep to his racial station.
“Very likely he wasn’t familiar with the pecking order, and that could have led to his death,” Peavy said. “It’s very sad.”