MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In Los Angeles today, federal prosecutors announced charges of corruption and civil rights abuses inside the nation's largest jail system. The indictments came against 18 current and former deputies of the LA Sheriff's Department. NPR's Kirk Siegler has details from outside the federal building in downtown Los Angeles.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Today's indictments are the result of an ongoing FBI criminal probe into widespread allegations of inmate abuse at LA County's main downtown jails. U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said deputies at the jails engaged in a pattern of civil rights abuses, including excessive force, beating and choking prisoners, and unlawful arrests of jail visitors, then he said they took steps to cover it up.
ANDRE BIROTTE: The charges alleging disturbing conduct that includes assaults of inmates and visitors, fictitious reports and false arrests designed to cover up civil rights abuses, and ultimately a conspiracy to obstruct justice when the Sheriff's Department learned that the federal government was investigating misconduct in the jails.
SIEGLER: Authorities today arrested 16 of the 18 defendants. The other two are expected to be brought into custody soon. U.S. Attorney Birotte said the indictments show that the acts of the deputies did not take place in a vacuum. In fact, he said, there's a systemic culture of institutionalized violence and corruption in the nation's largest municipal jail system, and the federal government's inquiry continues.
BIROTTE: It is a wide-ranging investigation and the investigation is ongoing. We are still pursuing leads, gathering evidence and gathering our - putting our investigation together.
SIEGLER: It's not yet clear whether more arrests are coming or whether higher-ups, including the LA County sheriff, Lee Baca, himself could be charged. Baca, who's been sheriff since 1998, is facing a significant challenge for re-election. He's maintained that any violence or abuse is the result of a few rogue deputies, not a systemic problem.
Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.