Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Baca Says State Law Prohibits Naming Offending Deputy
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Sheriff Lee Baca told county supervisors yesterday that he is barred by state law from telling them the name of the deputy who conduced an illegal jail strip search of a pregnant women nearly two years ago.
Addressing the board after several weeks of delays due to what his top assistants claimed was a “continuing investigation,” Baca said he had been advised by county counsel that he could not reveal the name of the deputy who conducted the search. Even if he could, he said, the same collection of state statutes that protect officers’ personnel records—known as the Peace Officers Bill of Rights—would block any discipline against the deputy since the incident occurred more than a year ago.
“These are issues that I’m battling that are legal,” Baca said. “They are not issues of intent on may part.”
To prevent similar problems in the future, the sheriff said, he has implemented a new policy to notify a special misconduct investigation panel as soon as a claim is filed alleging wrongdoing by one of his deputies. Until now, the Office of Independent Review was only sporadically notified at the claims stage, and was routinely brought in only when a major lawsuit was filed, Baca said.
The response did not appear to mollify Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has become the Sheriff’s Department’s harshest critic due to incidents like the December 2000 strip search of Brandi Michelle Beaudoin. Beaudoin was six months pregnant when she was arrested, jailed at Twin Towers and subjected to the search for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket.
“I knew I would never get the answer,” Molina said. “I want a corrective action on this. You must give it to me. You can leave the name blank.”
It was no good to implement new policy, Molina said, if sheriff’s deputies cannot even follow state law.
She also said there has been a second strip searching claim filed against the county and suggested that deputies have not learned from Beaudoin’s claim.
The law does permit strip searching female inmates who are pregnant—but only if they are accused of a felony, or of a select few misdemeanors involving drugs or weapons.
Beaudoin’s failure-to-appear offense was a misdemeanor. She was properly transferred to Twin Towers, sheriff’s officials said, but should not have been strip searched. She posted bail at 10 p.m. the same day she was arrested but was not released until 5:30 a.m. the next day.
The board approved a payment to Beaudoin last month of $150,000 to settle her suit.
County Counsel Lloyd “Bill” Pellman said he interprets the Peace Officers Bill of Rights as prohibiting the identification of the offending deputy or any discipline. The deputy is “sort of home free,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether information about the incident would be available to future criminal defendants who want to access the deputy’s files pursuant to a Pitchess motion.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the sheriff said his office had conducted an investigation into who the deputy was, but “couldn’t pin it down.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company