By Cindy Chang

A court-appointed panel will now be asked to monitor the use of force by sheriff's deputies in Los Angeles County jails, part of a far-reaching settlement to a lawsuit alleging brutal beatings of inmates.

Approved Tuesday by county supervisors, the settlement stipulates that jailers would be directed to only strike an inmate in the head when the inmate poses a serious danger.

It also calls for the Sheriff's Department to revise its written use-of-force policy, provide additional training for jail deputies and institute a system of checks and balances for investigating incidents.

In reforming the nation's largest county jail system, new Sheriff Jim McDonnell will likely be dealing with court oversight on another front as well. Citing a dramatic increase in jail suicides, the U.S. Department of Justice is moving forward with a consent decree governing the treatment of mentally ill inmates.

The settlement in the inmate beating case echoes the recommendations made in 2012 by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence.

But while the commission's report was merely advisory, the settlement will be enforced by a federal judge, differing from a consent decree in name only.

"In the end, the Sheriff's Department is not going to be able to say, 'No, we don't want to do it,'" said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California and an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"If the panel says they have to make this change, they're going to have to make it."

Many of the Citizens' Commission's recommendations have been implemented by the Sheriff's Department. The number of major-force incidents, such as deputies kicking suspects in the head or causing bone fractures, appears to be down, with three reported in the first nine months of this year. Eliasberg said the ACLU is receiving fewer complaints from inmates about such incidents.

Still, he said, the settlement provides added insurance that jail conditions will continue to improve.

"Before the CCJV, it was a disaster," Eliasberg said of the county jails, which hold about 19,000 inmates. "It's better now but it still needs a significant amount of work."

(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times