Jury acquits former LASD officer of cruelty, unable to decide fate of another

Jurors returned a verdict on their third day of deliberations Tuesday in the case of alleged inmate cruelty filed against two former sworn officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, acquitting one and failing to reach a decision on the other

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge against James Hawkins, 35, and acquitted 63-year-old Rex Taylor, now retired, in a case that was moved in February from the Santa Clarita Courthouse to the San Fernando Superior Court.

“Rex Taylor was acquitted today of one misdemeanor count of cruel punishment impairing health,” said Greg Risling, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

“The jury could not reach a decision on James Hawkins, who faced the same charge,” he said. “The jury was split 8-4 in favor of not guilty.”

Both men were charged with having violated section 673 of the California penal code, a misdemeanor that deals with cruelty to a prisoner, in this case, at the Pitchess Detention Center.

A third sworn officer — a sergeant — was arrested on the same charge with the two defendants. Prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, however, dismissed their case against the sergeant in March.

On Friday, jurors began deliberating in the case remaining against the other two former sworn officers.

The three men were arrested Sept. 9, 2015, by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau. Each posted bail within a couple of hours of their arrest, according to arrest documents maintained by the LASD’s Inmate Information Center.

Their arrests happened shortly after investigators began looking at the practice of tethering inmates.

The Office of Inspector General began reviewing the LASD’s policy on “tethering” – or the jail practice of restraining inmates to a fixed structure. Investigators released their report in June 2016.

Their review was initiated after Sheriff Jim McDonnell was notified of an incident that happened in July 2015 in which a prisoner had been restrained for about 32 hours without food, only one cup of water, and no opportunity to use the restroom, according to the report.

McDonnell relieved 10 jail personnel of duty, including two lieutenants, one sergeant, one senior deputy, four deputies and two custody assistants. A number of other jail staffers were reassigned.

This case, however, was not an isolated incident, the report found.

The inspector general ended up examining four jailhouse incidents, including the one at the Pitchess Detention Center’s North County Correctional Facility on Sept. 4, 2014, which ultimately led to three LASD officers being arrested on suspicion of cruelty.

The incident allegedly began when a prisoner detained at the jail was suspected of concealing contraband in his rectum, according to the report.

Section 673 of the state’s penal code reads:

“It shall be unlawful to use in the reformatories, institutions, jails, state hospitals or any other state, county, or city institution any cruel, corporal or unusual punishment or to inflict any treatment or allow any lack of care whatever which would injure or impair the health of the prisoner, inmate, or person confined; and punishment by the use of the strait jacket, gag, thumbscrew, shower bath or the tricing up of a prisoner, inmate or person confined is hereby prohibited.

“Any person who violates the provisions of this section or who aids, abets, or attempts in any way to contribute to the violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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