Systemic Violence in Los Angeles Jail
No Suprise to Rape Survivors
Recent reports of rampant violence and abuse committed by deputies in the Los Angeles County Jail may have come as a surprise to some, but they were no surprise to Frank Mendoza.
Frank has first-hand experience with the brutality of Los Angeles jail officials. In 2006, Frank lost his job at a law firm and was arrested for public drunkenness. While behind bars, he was sexually assaulted by a guard. When another officer found Frank, naked and bloodied in his cell, the officer told him to get dressed -- and did nothing.
Last month, the ACLU of Southern California released a report detailing brutal and systemic abuse perpetrated against Los Angeles jail inmates by the very people whose job it is to protect them. The report confirms what we hear from Frank and other survivors of sexual abuse behind bars: corrections officials target vulnerable inmates for sexual abuse, act with impunity, and protect each other by observing an impenetrable code of silence.
"When I got to the LA County Jail, I was scared of the other inmates. I disclosed to the officers that I was gay and that I had never been to jail before. My vulnerability stuck out like a sore thumb. Rather than protecting me, the officers taunted me."
Echoing some of the cases documented in the ACLU's report, Frank remembers that the deputies harassed him and other inmates for being gay. Once, when a deputy berated Frank and others by saying that they "walked like girls," Frank decided to stand up for himself. Under his breath, he muttered, "There's another man who is insecure about his masculinity." One of the deputies rushed over to Frank, shoved him against a wall, and promised he would "get him."
That's when Frank really got scared. He told a lieutenant about the officer's threat. The lieutenant replied, "Mr. Mendoza, you are in the Los Angeles County Jail. This is the safest place you can be. Nothing will happen to you."
"A day or two after the officer threatened me," Frank recalls, "his fellow officers in the watchtower overseeing my unit left and it got eerily quiet. Then, the abusive officer entered my cell, beat me, and raped me.
"I was denied a forensic exam so it was impossible to collect evidence. No one provided me with any treatment for my injuries even though I was badly beaten. I never spoke with a counselor or mental health staff member and was left to suffer alone in my cell. Without a forensic exam or any kind of evidence from the assault, building a criminal case against the officer was impossible. As far as I know, he still works at the jail."
Despite feeling devastated by the assault, Frank is committed to speaking out about his experience so that others don't have to go through what he did. He serves on JDI's Survivor Council and, in June 2011, testified at a Congressional briefing to mark the one-year anniversary of Attorney General Eric Holder's failure to adopt national standards addressing prisoner rape. You can read Frank's full testimony -- as well as the testimony of other survivors of sexual abuse behind bars -- on JDI's website.