The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation into Orange County, Ca.’s troubled jail system, examining a decade’s worth of allegations that deputies mistreated inmates and used excessive force to keep control, reports the Los Angeles Times. Officials from the department’s Civil Rights Division are seeking to determine whether incidents of violence by jail personnel amount to a pattern of violating inmates’ rights.
The Orange County district attorney criticized deputies for a “code of silence” he said hampered prosecutors’ ability to investigate possible criminal activities. Among recent cases: An inmate was stomped to death by fellow prisoners after a deputy allegedly told them falsely that the man was a child molester. A county grand jury later criticized the Sheriff’s Department for trying to impede the investigation into the death and concluded that there was evidence of rampant abuse at the Theo Lacy Jail in Orange. If a pattern of misconduct is found, U.S. officials could seek a court-ordered federal consent decree similar to the one that the Los Angeles Police Department had to operate under after the Rampart corruption scandal. It took nearly a decade for the department to have federal oversight lifted.