Dec. 10 (UPI) -- Eighteen sheriff's deputies and Los Angeles County Sheriff's employees were arrested and charged with abuse of jail inmates and visitors after a major investigation into corruption in the largest jail system in the country.
Prosecutors found a "wide scope of illegal conduct" of mistreatment and obstructing an FBI investigation by the current and former deputies and their superiors.
"These incidents did not take place in a vacuum -- in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr., in a statement Monday. "Some members of the Sheriff's Department considered themselves to be above the law."
The investigation turned up two assaults on inmates at LA County Jail and three assaults on visitors, as well as reports falsified to justify use of force, and, in one case, the handcuffing of an Austrian consulate official who had come to visit an Austrian national. The indictment said the official had committed no crime and was diplomatically immune from prosecution.
One Men's Central Jail sergeant was accused of punishing employees "for not using force on visitors ... if the visitors had supposedly 'disrespected'" deputies, the indictment alleged.
LA County Sheriff is defending "99.9 percent of" employees, who "are on the right track."
"There is no institutional problem within the Sheriff's Department when it comes to correcting itself," he said. "Please know that I respect the criminal justice system and no one is above the law."
Monday's arrests make this the largest scandal of the LA County Sheriff's Department in more than two decades, and netted 13 deputies, three sergeants and two lieutenants.
Of the 16 in court Monday, some pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements and civil rights violations. Others will enter pleas on later dates, and all were released on bond. The other two are expected to surrender soon.