LOS ANGELES, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Eighteen current and former Los Angeles County sheriff's officials are accused of unjustified beatings of inmates and visitors to jails, officials said Monday.
Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said at a news conference the FBI's "wide-ranging" investigation was ongoing into civil rights abuses at downtown jails, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Unfortunately, the federal investigation found that these incidents did not take place in a vacuum," Birotte said, adding some actions had become "institutionalized."
Sixteen defendants were taken into custody Monday, mostly at Sheriff's Department facilities. They are charged with alleged beatings and unlawful detainments, and then trying to interfere with the FBI's investigation into the alleged misconduct.
Birotte said the defendants considered themselves "above the law."
In one case, deputies improperly handcuffed and detained the Austrian consul general and her husband when they tried to visit an Austrian national in jail.
In another, a man who arrived to visit an inmate was thrown in a refrigerator, then detained for five days without charges being filed. That man sustained injuries that left him permanently disabled.
"It is always disappointing to see allegations of misconduct leveled against our law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom serve us honorably and bravely each and every day," Birotte said.
"I don't want to cast a broad brush; I think it would be premature to do so," Birotte said. "But we do believe that the conduct that took place in this case, among some members of the department, had become part of the culture -- that they thought they were above the law."
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis said Sheriff Lee Baca and his staff are cooperating with the investigation.