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Black Inmates Sue Deputies

May 12, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Sheriff’s deputies intentionally allowed Hispanic inmates to attack black prisoners during a recent series of racial brawls in a county jail, a civil rights lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of 273 black inmates, alleges that deputies took away black prisoners’ shoes so they couldn’t stomp other inmates.

Attorney Leon Jenkins says deputies also did not retrieve razor blades from Hispanic inmates that later were used as weapons.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Jenkins, seeks class-action status, unspecified monetary damages for those injured and an injunction to force the department to take steps to prevent future riots.

Sheriff’s officials would not respond to specific allegations in the lawsuit, but issued a statement that said, ``acts of violence have never _ and will never _ be condoned.″

``The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has always held foremost in its responsibilities in maintaining the county jail system the welfare and safety of all inmates, regardless of race,″ the statement released Thursday said.

Rioting that began April 24 and lasted three days, left one black prisoner in a coma after his head was bashed into the concrete floor. More than 80 others were injured. Six Hispanic inmates pleaded innocent to attempted murder and mayhem charges in the attack on Ahmad Burwell, 21.

In their lawsuit, the black inmates contend the Sheriff’s Department placed them in life-threatening situations by isolating them in dormitories dominated by rival Hispanic groups.

Jenkins said deputies knew the brawl was being planned and did not prevent it. Sheriff’s officials say they learned of plans for the fighting only minutes before it erupted.

A forced segregation of inmates at Pitchess has been lifted, said Sheriff’s Chief John Anderson. Eighty percent of the black and Hispanic inmate population has been voluntarily re-integrated. The county has a total inmate population of 19,000.

``Looking at this in totality, I think we do a very, very good job at protecting our inmate population,″ he said.

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