The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;

ACLU Calls On Los Angeles County Sheriff's Officials to Abandon Plans to Use Military Heat Ray Device Against Jail Inmates

Use of “Assault Intervention Device” Tantamount to Torture


American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Southern California
today sent a letter to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca demanding
that he not employ a high-tech ray gun built for the military against
prisoners at the Los Angeles County Jail.

Sheriff's Department officials announced last
week they intend to begin using an "Assault Intervention Device"
developed by the Raytheon Co. that fires an invisible heat beam capable
of causing unbearable pain on inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center's
North County Correctional Facility.

"The idea that a military weapon designed to
cause intolerable pain should be used against county jail inmates is
staggeringly wrongheaded," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of
the ACLU National Prison Project. "Unnecessarily inflicting severe pain
and taking such unnecessary risks with people's lives is a clear
violation of the Eighth Amendment and due process clause of the U.S.

The ACLU's letter dismisses claims made by Baca
last week that the "Assault Intervention Device" is uniquely suited to
address some of the more difficult inmate violence issues and will allow
Sheriff's Department officials to intervene in disturbances involving
inmates without risking injury to jail staff or inmates. The ACLU letter
highlights the fact that the military incarnation of the device was
briefly fielded in Afghanistan in June and then withdrawn in July
without ever being used. While the device was being tested by the Air
Force, a miscalibration of the device's power settings caused five
airmen in its path to suffer lasting burns, including one whose injuries
were so severe that he was airlifted to an off-base burn treatment

The ACLU's letter also cites a 2008 report by
physicist and less-lethal weapons expert Dr. Juergen Altmann that says
the device has the ability to cause second and third degree burns over
up to 50 percent of the body's surface and that without reliable
protections against the re-triggering of the device against the same
target subject, it has the potential to produce permanent injury or even

"I'm extremely disappointed in the willingness of
Sheriff Lee Baca to employ this weapon-like device without consulting
with the ACLU, which has court-appointment responsibility to monitor the
Los Angeles County jails," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of
the ACLU of Southern California. "Historically, we have found Sheriff
Baca to understand that not everybody in county jail has been convicted
of a crime. We have had advance discussions with Sheriff Baca about
several different procedures, but we have not been consulted about this
inhumane device."

A copy of the ACLU's letter is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU of Southern California is available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

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