Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Board Puts Hold on Sheriff’s Budget Pending Response to Jailhouse Death
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is refusing to give Sheriff Lee Baca any more money in the updated department budget until he responds to the recommendations of a report by the county supervisors’ special monitor of the agency on the jailhouse death of a mentally ill inmate, the board decided unanimously yesterday.
The supervisors froze the department budget after special Counsel Merrick Bobb told supervisors that experts consulted for his report unanimously concluded that the death of 33-year-old Kevin Lamar Evans while in sheriff’s custody was “preventable.”
“This was not murder,” Bobb said. “They did not intend to do him harm. Nevertheless harm was done.”
In March, the board agreed to pay $600,000 to settle the wrongful death suit brought by the sisters of Kevin Lamar Evans. The 5-foot-4 Evans died a day after he was arrested in Palmdale in Oct. 20, 1999 with a stolen shopping cart. Evans, who suffered from cerebral palsy and mental illness, died of a combination of asphyxiation and a weak heart at the Twin Towers jail after being restrained by as many as seven deputies when he tried to retrieve a sandwich that had been taken away by a deputy.
Sheriff Lee Baca accepted full responsibility for the actions of his deputies in Evans’ death.
“My people did not have a belief that they could say no,” Baca said. “That’s my fault.”
Bobb told supervisors that the deputies were not aware of Evans’ mental and physical conditions and might have acted differently had they been informed of the situation.
The actions of the deputies were in policy at the time, but those policies have since been changed, Baca said.
But Supervisor Gloria Molina admonished Baca for his first corrective action report, referring to it as instructions on how to correct putting a Band-Aid in the wrong place and accused the department of forcing the board to “second-guess” the agency by not being able complete an acceptable internal investigation of the Evans incident, a conclusion that was made in Bobb’s report.
Baca said the department’s Office of Internal Review would pick up the investigation of the incident where the report left off, looking at the recommendations of the report and new considerations.
“[Bobb’s] report is not the final word here,” Baca said. “We have other matters to look at.”
Molina also expressed concern over the deputies involved in the death had not and were not going to be punished for their actions.
“The most troubling part about it is when in fact policies or procedures are violated, there wasn’t going to be any discipline,” Molina said.
But Baca hotly disagreed with the supervisor, asking for the board to come up with some punishment for him, since the punishment is ultimately his.
“This is my problem,” Baca said. “Punish me.”
Baca challenged the board to suspend him if that is what they felt is necessary, but said punishment is not going to resolve the problem.
“Perhaps the board isn’t capable of punishing the sheriff and if they aren’t able to do it maybe they need to find something that can,” Baca said, adding that the voters have the ultimate decision on his tenure in office.
Baca said the board’s decision to withhold approval of the budget seems like just another way supervisors are attempting to exercise power over the department.
“It certainly sounds that way, doesn’t it?” Baca said. “I really don’t understand their reluctance to approve the budget.”
Money currently allocated to the department is already being spent, Baca said.
The motion, introduced by Molina, requires the department to respond in writing to the board to Bobb’s recommendations and include an action plan and specific timeline for implementation.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company