Tag Archives: violations

Proposed interstate expansion prompts federal civil rights investigation

The U.S. Department of Transportation will initiate an investigation of alleged civil rights violations related to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand I-70.

The state DOT wants to expand the interstate through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in North Denver.

The federal decision is a response to a complaint filed Nov. 15 by Earthjustice on behalf of the Colorado Latino Forum, Cross Community Coalition and Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association. The complaint alleges the plan to triple I-70’s width would result in “disparate and severe environmental and economic impacts” on the predominantly Latino communities.

CDOT committed to moving forward with the expansion plan in May, but has yet to issue its formal record of its decision.

The agency, which receives federal funding for the I-70 and other projects, is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from taking actions that have even an unintentional discriminatory impact on citizens on the basis of their race, color, or national origin.

“We are looking forward to making the case that CDOT’s proposal magnifies the already discriminatory impact that I-70 has had on these neighborhoods for decades, leading to reduced life expectancies and the highest rates of pollution-related illnesses in the city,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents the neighborhood advocates.

Interstate 70 was built through the area in the 1960s over the objections of neighborhood organizations and business owners.

Fifty years later, the neighborhood is the most polluted in Colorado.

Residents have significantly higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits than the rest of Denver, according to EarthJustice.

The expansion of I-70, adding toll lanes and eliminating access to the highway from the neighborhood, would worsen environmental and health consequences for this community, the EarthJustice complaint states.

It would result in:

• Increased exposure to freeway-related air pollution and expose residents to airborne dust from existing Superfund sites that are contaminated by lead and arsenic.

• Disruption to the social fabric of the neighborhood and its economic vitality by destroying at least 56 homes, 13 commercial buildings and the Swansea Elementary School playground. About 200 people would be displaced by the expansion.

Wildlife group: Wisconsin environmental fines down sharply

Wisconsin collected dramatically less in fines for environmental violations last year, according to data released this month.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation obtained figures tracking forfeitures the state Justice Department has collected for infractions involving air and water pollution, farm animal waste from both small farms and factory operations and hazardous waste between 2006 and 2015.

The data shows the agency collected $306,834 last year, down 86 percent from the 10-year annual average of $2.2 million and down 78 percent from a year earlier, when the state collected almost $1.4 million.

The data shows that in 2015 the department collected no forfeitures for animal waste violations at factory farms, for hazardous waste violations or for public water violations. Air pollution penalties were down 79 percent from the 10-year average.

The DNR refers environmental cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. The group’s data didn’t show how many referrals DNR made to DOJ or how many cases DOJ may have settled without forfeitures. Federation executive director George Meyer wouldn’t give specifics on the source of the group’s data.

“The federation does not know whether the dramatic decrease in environmental penalty violations is the result of lack of inspections of regulated facilities by the Department of Natural Resources or follow-through on discovered violations by that agency or lack of vigor in prosecution … by the Department of Justice, but the general public deserves answers,” said Meyer, a former DNR secretary.

DNR spokesman Andrew Savagian said in an email that the DNR tries to resolve infractions first by educating violators. He noted the agency made 35 referrals to DOJ in 2013, 35 in 2014 and 39 in 2015.

Savagian added that the agency’s environmental enforcement positions are currently fully staffed and it has plans to hire another enforcement specialist and seven investigators to handle complex cases.

DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in an email that the total amount of penalties don’t tell “the full story” about how the department ensures environmental violations are resolved, noting that some cases end with violators agreeing to undertake environmentally beneficial projects. Asked how many cases end short of financial penalties, Koremenos said the agency doesn’t keep a running tally.

The federation is a group of hunters, anglers, trappers and others who work to sustain hunting, fishing and shooting sports for the future.

Frac sand mine seeks to expand on Iowa-Wisconsin border

A controversial frac sand mining company that recently opened a site in Wisconsin is facing opposition to plans for a sevenfold expansion of its underground mine in Clayton County, Iowa.

Pattison Sand Co. has requested rezoning of 746 acres of land from agricultural to heavy industrial for eventual expansion of its underground mine from its current size of about 100 acres. The site, which includes surface mining on some of its 1,600 acres, lies along the Mississippi River directly across from Bagley, Wisconsin. Many of its roughly 150 employees live in southwestern Wisconsin.

Since Pattison Sand’s Clayton County site began operations in 2005, it has racked up more workplace violations than any other industrial sand mine in the United States, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) analyzed by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Among the violations is a 2008 accident in which a front-end loader with a defective rear-view mirror backed over a worker, killing her.

Patrick O’Shaughnessy, a professor of occupational and environmental health in the University of Iowa engineering college, told members of a county committee studying expansion on April 28 in Elkader, Iowa, that it would be wise to review the mine’s record and reputation when considering the proposal.

“There are good apples and there are bad apples in every industry, from swine rearing to sand mining,” O’Shaughnessy told the committee before a crowd of more than 60 people. “Is this someone who has flagrant violations constantly, or is this someone who’s typically got a good sense of safety for their workers, environmental consciousness, and they want to be a good neighbor?”

Nevertheless, O’Shaughnessy told members of the Mine Reserve Expansion Study Committee that residents living around the proposed expansion face a low risk of inhaling airborne silica particles from the mine. Inhaling silica can cause silicosis, an irreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease that can lead to cancer and tuberculosis.

The mine produces sand for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting water, fine-grained sand and chemicals at high pressure to break apart underground rock and release trapped oil and natural gas.

History of violations

According to the Center’s analysis, between April 2005 and January of this year, Pattison Sand’s site in Clayton County had 934 MSHA violations for which the company paid $279,000 in fines. Wedron Silica Co. in Illinois — the industrial sand mine with the second most violations in that time period — received 501 violations.

According to the data, little has changed since a 2013 Wall Street Journal analysis found that mining safety officials had cited Pattison Sand more than any other sand or gravel mine in the country. Among the violations identified by the Center, 235 were racked up since January 2013.

In addition, the Center found that 55 Pattison Sand employees have filed workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained at the Iowa location between 2005 and January of this year. Claims include fractures, dislocations, sprains, hernias and heat prostration. Two of the claims were filed for respiratory problems.

In an interview, Christopher Hensler, district manager for MSHA’s north central district, said the regulatory agency’s inspectors have spent a lot of time at Pattison Sand’s Iowa site, but the sheer number of violations does not necessarily indicate a larger problem.

“The bulk of their violations are very simple electrical violations and defects of equipment that affect safety,” he said.

One 2008 violation involving defects of equipment, however, resulted in a fatality. In that incident, a front-end loader backed up, striking and killing a worker. MSHA’s investigation report found the accident was caused in part by the equipment’s defective rear-view mirror and the lack of visible reflective material on the employee. Pattison Sand was fined $70,000 for that violation.

A 2014 fire and multiple roof collapses in 2011 also generated violations that resulted in temporary shutdowns. The collapses and an ensuing legal battle shuttered the underground portion of the mine for several months in 2011 and 2012.

Other infractions at Pattison Sand’s Iowa site include exposing workers to harmful airborne contaminants, failing to have protective equipment and clothing, and neglecting to provide at least two escapeways to the surface in the mine.

Andy Garcia-Rivera, a former industrial hygiene compliance officer for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said although mines do tend to have many violations, the number of infractions Pattison Sand’s Iowa location has amassed is “unusual.”

“It tells me that there’s something wrong,” said Garcia-Rivera, who also directed environmental, health and safety compliance for the University Wisconsin-Madison campus. “Sometimes employers do take shortcuts.”

Official defends company record

Tim Adkins, who joined Pattison Sand 14 months ago as its health and safety director, said after the April 28 meeting that claiming Pattison Sand’s record is the worst in the industry is a “terrible, terrible, misconception” and an “out-of-context statement to make.” He attributed some of the past violations to lack of experience by the Pattison family, who used to store and ship grain from the underground caverns that are now mined.

“When they (Pattison Sand) went into the mining industry, they didn’t know about the mining industry. They’d never dealt with MSHA. They didn’t know MSHA regulations,” said Adkins, who has over 40 years of experience as a health and safety professional, including over 35 years in mining.

Adkins added that underground mines such as Pattison Sand’s generate more violations because they are inspected twice as often as surface mines, four times a year versus two.

“Pattison Sand is a good player, good operator,” Adkins said. “They care about their employees, they take extra steps to go above and beyond MSHA requirements, MSHA standards.”

But even when compared to other similar underground mines, Pattison’s track record is not stellar. In 2010, 2011 and 2014, the company’s Iowa mine had above-average rates among underground metal and nonmetal mines of violations deemed “significant and substantial” by MSHA. Data prior to 2010 were not available.

Adkins said Pattison Sand works very closely with MSHA to ensure compliance. That was not always the case.

In 2011, Pattison Sand sued the agency after it shut down the majority of the underground mine following multiple roof collapses, including one in which at least 30 tons of rock fell onto an excavator; the miner operating it was unhurt. The lawsuit and appeals kept the underground part of the mine closed for several months.

Besides Pattison’s Iowa mine, MSHA lists only two other underground industrial sand mines in the country. Both are located in Pierce County, Wisconsin, and operated by the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co. Since 2005, one of the mines has received 279 violations — a fraction of the number racked up by Pattison. The other, operating only since 2008, has received 127 violations.

Opponents continue to fight

At the April 28 meeting in Elkader, 37 people submitted comments raising questions about Pattison Sand’s record of MSHA violations, burning at the company’s Iowa site, workers’ respiratory problems, conflicting results of air quality studies and dust.

Kathy Kachel, who attended the meeting, blames Pattison Sand’s Iowa mine for the white sand she dusts inside her house. She lives in Bagley and can see the facility from her porch. Kachel would like to see it shut down.

“There is a proliferation of silica (sand) at this point for fracking,” Kachel said. “It’s not healthy for anybody — the environment, the wildlife, my grandchildren.”

In Wisconsin, Pattison Sand operates a surface mine in Bridgeport, about a 30-minute drive northeast of its Iowa site. Four Bridgeport residents and the Crawford Stewardship Project, an environmental group that promotes sustainability and local control of natural resources, tried unsuccessfully to block that mine. Its status is currently listed as “intermittent” based on the number of hours worked at the site.

Since it began operating in August 2013, the Bridgeport mine has received seven violations for which the company paid $824 in fines. Those violations include failing to notify MSHA before starting operations, neglecting to prepare a material safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical the mine uses or produces, failing to provide first aid materials, and failing to provide safe means of access to travelways.

Garcia-Rivera said violations at mines that are not yet fully operational, such as Pattison Sand’s Bridgeport site, are to be expected. MSHA is only required to inspect such intermittent surface mines once a year. The mine expansion committee plans to meet again on Wednesday.

Digital and multimedia director Coburn Dukehart contributed to this report. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Vermont to target ‘willful violations’ of GMO law

Vermont’s attorney general says his office will enforce the state GMO labeling law by targeting “willful violations” by manufacturers.

“What we’re really going to go after is folks who are willfully noncompliant, who are just not putting labels on their products at all or otherwise trying to skirt the labeling law,” said Todd Daloz, an assistant attorney general.

Because some shelf-stable food will be produced and distributed before July 1, the state is allowing for a six-month period for those products to move through the system. The attorney general’s office says it won’t take enforcement action for those products during that time, unless there’s evidence that a manufacturer distributed a mislabeled product after July 1.

“Those long shelf stable products are not our concern. Our concern is going to be manufacturers who are choosing not to label or are not labeling for whatever reason,” Daloz said.

The law requires manufacturers to label packaged foods produced with genetic engineering and stores must post a label on or near unpackaged genetically engineered foods such as produce and bulk food.

The Food and Drug Administration says genetically modified organisms, which can include food made from seeds that were engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, are safe, but labeling advocates say not enough research has been done and people have a right to know what’s in their food. Advocates also say the use of GMOs has led to big increases in herbicide use.

Maine and Connecticut also have passed laws that require such labeling if other nearby states put one into effect.

Some foods are exempt from Vermont’s labeling law like meat, honey, plain milk or eggs _ foods entirely derived from an animal that don’t have added ingredients and regardless of whether the animal has been fed or injected with food or drugs produced with genetic engineering. Also exempt are foods that require USDA approval of their labels such as those containing meat or poultry like a frozen dinner or can of SpaghettiOs. Alcohol is also exempt.

Violators face civil fines of up to $1,000 per day, per product, and not based on the number of individual packages of the product. Retailers who are out of compliance would get a 30-day warning to correct the problem before facing fines.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, which has called for a national solution rather than what it says is a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling laws, says Vermont’s law is arbitrary and confusing. It says it’s concerned about lawsuits from private citizens and organizations against food companies and says a recent memo from Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell does not make clear how he will know a “willful” violation without bringing an action.

In recent weeks, food companies Kellogg, Mars, ConAgra, and General Mills have joined Campbell Soup Co. in saying they will print new national labels in preparation for Vermont’s law but oppose state-by-state labeling requirements.

The Vermont attorney general’s office has received a lot of inquiries from manufacturers about compliance issues, said Daloz.

“And it’s heartening to see major manufacturers … choosing to put what from our view is a very simple factual disclosure on the label and with what appears to be not a tremendous amount of burden on them to put those four words on the label,” he said.

New infractions emerge for Mobile Zoo called 1 of the worst

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited the Mobile Zoo again for a series of new infractions.

The latest inspections at the Alabama zoo by the USDA found numerous infractions including food spoilage that led to maggot infestation, nails jutting out of structures and lack of employees.

The facility hosts more than 70 animals and only has two employees. There are additional volunteers, sometimes.

The USDA said the root of the infractions stem from the zoo being inadequately staffed to keep up with maintenance demands.

Officials also found that chicken was stored in an ice-chest with a temperature of 63 degrees.

The USDA inspector reported that the zoo owner, John Hightower, said that any meat leftover from feeding animals would be thrown out at the end of the day. By 3 p.m. the day after, the chicken was not disposed of.

The food concerns didn’t stop at refrigeration.

The inspector found the remnants of two-day-old meat in a leopard’s habitat that they described as “dry, dark and dirty.”

PETA has filed suit against the Mobile Zoo on behalf of Joe, the chimp who starred in the 1997 movie called “Buddy.” PETA alleges that keeping Joe in a solitary enclosure with no other chimps violates the Animal Welfare Act.

PETA has offered to relocate Joe to a much larger refuge where he can be social, free-of-charge. But Mobile Zoo has declined that offer.

Joe lives in an enclosed habitat that doesn’t have any grass, just dirt, an old tire and fencing around it. There’s an area where he can go inside and watch TV, something he loves.

Zoo manager Angela Enders has previously launched a fundraising campaign to help Joe, but had little success.

The zoo requires $6,000 a month to stay open, including food and utilities, and barely breaks even. Hightower posted a plea for $14,000 back in March. Now, the website advertises that if a patron brings in 10 lbs of meat from Food For Less, he or she can feed the big cats.

Human rights leaders denounce Putin’s signing of ‘undesirables’ expulsion bill

President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law this month giving prosecutors the power to declare foreign and international organizations “undesirable” in Russia and shut them down.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the measure as part of an “ongoing draconian crackdown which is squeezing the life out of civil society.”

The law is part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle dissent that intensified after Putin began his third term in 2012. His return to the presidency had been accompanied by mass street protests that Putin accused the United States of fomenting. Russian suspicions of Western intentions have been further heightened because of tensions over Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine.

The new Russian law allows prosecutors to declare an organization undesirable if it presents a threat to Russia’s constitutional order, its defenses or its security.

Laws passed in recent years already have led to increased pressure on Russian non-governmental organizations, particularly those that receive foreign funding. Rights activists fear the new law could be used to extend the crackdown to Russian branches of international groups and the Russian activists who work with them.

In a statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the new law, calling it “a further example of the Russian government’s growing crackdown on independent voices and intentional steps to isolate the Russian people from the world.”

UPDATED: Right-wing group denied emergency stay to block gay marriage in Oregon

The right-wing National Organization for Marriage on May 19 filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay any gay marriage proceedings in Oregon. And not long after the filing, the motion was denied.

A federal judge has just ruled for marriage equality, and NOM had wanted to get in line for a stay.

NOM wanted to argue that it should be allowed to intervene in the federal case. NOM also wanted the appeals court to strike down any ruling in favor of marriage equality in Oregon.

In a news release, NOM president Brian S. Brown, said the case was an “ugly example” of cooperation between Oregon’s attorney general and “the gay marriage lobby, both of whom want to redefine marriage in contravention of the overwhelming decision of the people to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The people of Oregon are entitled to a defense of their decision on marriage rather than being abandoned in court.”

In a series of rulings this past year, judges in the federal and state courts have overturned state measures prohibiting same-sex marriage and last summer the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on same-sex marriage in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

NOM alleged in its motion with the appeals court that government clerks and business people will “will face injury if marriage is redefined.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices staff issued a report concluding that NOM intentionally violated state law by failing to register or report its activities despite playing a central role in co-managing and funding a $3 million marriage referendum campaign in 2009.

The report said, “The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law. Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.” 

The report recommends civil penalties against NOM totaling $50,250 and that NOM be directed to register as a ballot question committee and file campaign finance reports reflecting its contributions and expenditures in support of the 2009 Maine referendum.

The commission will vote on the staff recommendation at its meeting on May 28.

“This detailed investigative report once and for all exposes NOM’s fundamental mission to secretly and illegally funnel contributions from a few large unnamed donors to its extreme political causes,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “NOM was formed to be an illegal pass-through for a few secret donors to fund discrimination against LGBT Americans. Maine’s regulators have caught on and said enough is enough.”

Over the past four years, following a complaint by Fred Karger, the Maine commission conducted the most detailed investigation of NOM’s activities to date.

The investigation included deposing Brown and subpoenaing documents. The investigation was significantly delayed by a series of lawsuits initiated by NOM intended to stonewall the investigation.

NOM appealed unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in its effort to evade Maine’s public disclosure law.    

Among other findings, the 37-page investigative report found:

• NOM played the critical leadership role in the 2009 referendum campaign. Political consultants close to NOM had significant leadership positions within the campaign and NOM was by far the largest donor. The commission determined that NOM failed to tell the truth when it stated that it made no expenditures to promote the referendum other than by monetary contributions.

• NOM promised its donors anonymity if they gave directly to NOM. According to the report, “NOM intentionally set up its fundraising strategy to avoid donor disclosure laws.”

• NOM sent out a series of emails specifically soliciting contributions from Maine and received contributions sufficient to require it to register as a ballot question committee.

NOM also qualified as a ballot question committee through contributions from major donors. The report noted that in 2009, NOM raised 75 percent of its revenue from 14 major donors. Contrary to NOM’s representations, the report found that “the basic elements of NOM’s communications are known, and they indicate that NOM told major donors in 2009 about NOM’s activities in support of the Maine referendum and NOM’s specific commitment to financially support the Maine referendum.”

NOM failed to disclose these donors in accordance with state law.

Wal-Mart charged with labor violations

Federal officials filed a formal complaint this week charging that Wal-Mart violated the rights of workers who took part in protests and strikes against the company.

The National Labor Relations Board says Wal-Mart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions at the nation’s largest retailer.

The labor board’s general counsel first laid out similar charges in November, but held off on filing a complaint while trying to work out a settlement with Wal-Mart. Those discussions were not successful, government officials said in a statement.

The company has insisted its actions were legal and justified.

“We now we have the opportunity to present the facts of these cases in front of a judge,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan. “No reasonable person thinks it’s ok for people to come and go from their scheduled shift without being held accountable.”

The protests in 2012 were organized by the union-backed group OUR Walmart, which has spent years pressing Wal-Mart to increase wages and benefits and make it easier for workers to organize a union. The group claims the majority of Wal-Mart associates are paid less than $25,000 a year.

Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint. The case will then go before an administrative law judge. If Wal-Mart is found liable, it could be required to award workers back pay, reinstatement and reverse any disciplinary action. But the company could still try to work out a settlement as the case goes forward.

“We’ve never seen a complaint against Walmart of this size or scope, and we’re glad the NLRB is taking action,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, one of the groups critical of Wal-Mart. “Walmart’s attacks on its own employees and cannot go unchecked.”

The complaint alleges that In November 2012, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar went on CBS News and said there would be “consequences” for workers who engaged in strikes and protests ahead of Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. Similar comments were made to employees at Wal-Mart stores in California and Texas, the complaint said.

Thousands of people – including dozens of Wal-Mart workers – went forward with protests at Wal-Mart stores around the country. The company ultimately fired 19 workers who took part, despite the fact that their actions were protected by the National Labor Relations Act, the complaint said.

The NLRB complaint further alleges that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened, disciplined or terminated workers for engaging in protected strikes and protests in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

Wal-Mart also illegally threatened, disciplined or fired employees at stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas in response to other worker activity that is protected by labor laws, the complaint alleged.

18 LA sheriff’s officials charged in civil rights probe

Roughly three years ago, a man referred to in a federal indictment as “Visitor LF” went to Men’s Central Jail to discuss his inability to visit his brother there. Instead, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy allegedly handcuffed him, took him to a break room with no windows or public access, and threw him against a refrigerator.

His arm was fractured in the encounter and he received cuts to his nose and face, according to indictments unsealed earlier this week. Afterward, four deputies tried to have him falsely charged with resisting an executive officer. The man was detained for about five days and ultimately released without being charged.

It was one among many allegations announced by federal officials as they charged 18 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials with beating inmates and jail visitors, falsifying reports, and trying to obstruct an FBI probe of the nation’s largest jail system.

The investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses led to the arrests on Dec. 9 of 16 of the 18 defendants. The 13 who were arraigned entered not guilty pleas. At least two no longer work for the department.

“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.

Flanked by some of his top command staff, Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters that he was troubled by the charges and called it a sad day for his department. He said the department would continue to cooperate with the FBI and that deputies who have been charged would be relieved of duty and have their pay suspended.

The Sheriff’s Department oversees a jail system with more than 18,700 inmates and has a history of abuse allegations dating back to the 1970s.

Among allegations in a criminal complaint and four grand jury indictments:

• Deputies unlawfully detained and used force on visitors to Men’s Central Jail, including detaining and handcuffing the Austrian consul general in one instance, and in another, grabbing a man by the neck, forcing his head into a refrigerator, throwing him to the floor and pepper-spraying his eyes.

• Deputies falsified reports to make arrests seem lawful or in one case, struck, kicked and pepper-sprayed an inmate and made false reports to have the inmate charged with and prosecuted for assaulting deputies.

• Deputies tried to thwart the investigation by unsuccessfully seeking a court order to get the FBI to provide documents and attempted to intimidate a lead FBI agent by falsely saying they were going to seek a warrant for her arrest.

Those charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice include two lieutenants, one of whom oversaw the department’s safe jails program and another who investigated allegations of crimes committed by sheriff’s personnel.

They’re accused along with two sergeants and three deputies with trying to prevent the FBI from contacting an informant by falsifying records to appear that he had been released when he had been moved to different cells under false names.

Birotte wouldn’t say whether the lieutenant and two sergeants involved in the obstruction of justice probe were directed by their superiors or whether the alleged abuse was fostered by the top department brass.

Baca, who has been sheriff since 1998, is facing his toughest race yet for re-election in 2014. Baca has acknowledged mistakes but also defended his department and distanced himself personally from allegations.

The sheriff said he has made improvements such as creating a database to track inmate complaints. He has also hired a new head of custody and rearranged his command staff.

On Dec. 9, Baca said he would accept the outcome of the FBI investigation, but strongly denied criticisms that abuse was rampant.

“You haven’t seen me retire from the job,” he said. “You haven’t seen me blame somebody else besides me for whatever the challenges are.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Sheriff’s Department in 2012, claiming the sheriff and his top commanders had condoned violence against inmates. The organization released a report documenting more than 70 cases of misconduct by deputies.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, in its 2012 report, said deputies used force against inmates even “when there was no threat at all,” and referred to “a culture of aggression among some deputies in the jails.”

A federal jury in October found Baca personally liable for $100,000 for failing to stop inmate abuse by deputies in Men’s Central Jail in a case brought by a man who said he was severely beaten while awaiting trial.

In June, a two-year Justice Department investigation found deputies discriminated against blacks and Latinos by making unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and using excessive force in the Antelope Valley.

Baca disputed the findings but said he had instituted reforms.

Producer of play about being gay jailed in Uganda

The British producer of a play about being gay in Uganda is in jail pending his trial on charges that he had the work performed without official authorization.

David Cecil appeared in court Thursday charged with “disobeying lawful orders” from the Uganda Media Council, which says he staged “The River and the Mountain” in Uganda’s capital last month despite orders to the contrary.

Cecil’s lawyer, Francis Onyango, said his client was not released on bail because his passport, wanted by the magistrate, had been confiscated by the police.

Cecil told The Associated Press that the play, whose main character is a gay businessman who gets killed by his own employees, was performed eight times at little-known theaters in Kampala last month. The play, a first for Uganda, was praised by gay rights activists who said it was “revolutionary” in the way it provoked an examination of common thinking about gays. But the play failed to make it to Uganda’s national theater, where producers rejected the script.

Gays are highly stigmatized in Uganda, where in 2010 a lawmaker with the ruling party introduced a bill proposing the death penalty for what he called “aggravated homosexuality.” The bill, which is now in committee, has been condemned by some world leaders. The bill’s author says he still believes it will be passed one day.

Cecil, who faces two years in jail if convicted, said he was singled out for legal action because he had become the play’s “public face,” the man who printed posters and sent out invitations. The play was written by a British student of poetry named Beau Hopkins, who has not been targeted by the police.

The play took a tragicomic view of the condition of gays in Uganda, and its playwright and producers said that was the best way to look at things. The play’s main character is a young businessman who loses friends and then gets murdered after revealing he’s gay, the victim of machete-wielding colleagues stunned that “a good man” can be gay. The gay character’s mother stages an epic but losing battle to “cure” him of his homosexuality, taking him to everyone from a Christian pastor to a private dancer.

Cecil said at the play’s premiere in Kampala that he did not believe the drama was “a magic pill” against raging homophobia in the East African country.