Innocence

LA County Pays $10.1 Million Because an LA Deputy Allegedly Influenced Witness Causing a 16-Year-Old to Go to Prison for 20 Years


On Tuesday, July 20, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to award a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million
to Francisco Carrillo for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. That’s $500,000 for every year of his life he spent behind bars.

It is the largest per anum settlement for wrongful imprisonment in California history.

Franky Carrillo was a sixteen-year-old high school student when he was arrested for the 1991 drive-by murder of Donald Sarpy. In 1992, after two trials, the first with a hung jury, Carrillo was convicted of the murder, along with multiple counts of attempted murder, for which he was given a life sentence, plus a second sentence of 30-to-life. The two sentences were to run consecutively, reducing the chance of Carrillo ever getting paroled to zero.

Throughout two criminal trials (the first produced a hung jury) and his 20 years in custody, Mr. Carrillo insisted on his innocence and wrote everyone he could think of try to get someone to help with his case. When at first that failed, he filed his own habeas petition. He also refused any plea bargain that involved an “explicit or implicit admission of guilt.”

But fifteen years into his sentence, an attorney responded to his letters and decided to look into Carrillo’s case.

On July 26, 2011, after a weeklong evidentiary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo granted Carrillo’s habeas corpus request and vacated Carrillo’s sentence. The LA District attorney’s office neither appealed the ruling, nor attempted to re-file charges.

And so it was that Franky Carrillo was released from custody on March 16, 2011, after having been locked up continuously since January 24, 1991, over 20 years.

How the jury came to convict the teenager with no previous criminal record is complicated, but according to Carrillo’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Ron Kaye, much of it reportedly hinged on the actions of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff named Craig Ditsch, now retired, an admitted member of the Lynwood “Vikings,” and a close supporter—according to Ditsch —of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who described his mentor’s controversial use of the term “gray area” as proactive policing.

“This settlement should send a loud and clear message to law enforcement throughout LA County that such manipulation of the evidence will not ever be tolerated,” said Kaye. “Franky Carrillo will never regain those years of his life – the birthdays, the weddings, the graduations and the funerals of loved ones that he missed, things we all take for granted – but at least this settlement holds those responsible accountable.”


THE SHOOTING

At approximately 7 p.m. on Friday, January 18, 1991, six African American teenagers, ages 15 to 18, were clustered near to the curb at the front of a house in the 4000 block of Lugo Avenue in Lynwood, California, when one of the boys’ dads, Donald Sarpy, walked toward the kids from his nearby house, intending to talk to his sone and the others. As Mr. Sarpy walked, a car approached and drove slowly past the group. Then, when the car had travelled a few houses away, the front seat passenger leaned out of the car’s right front window, his arm outstretched as he turned back toward the group, a in his hand. He fired several times. One of the bullets hit Donald Sarpy, who died several hours later at the hospital.

At the time when Frank Sarpy was murdered, Franky Carrillo was a tenth grader attending Schurr high school in Montebello, and living with his father and siblings in Maywood, California.

Before the move to Maywood a year before, Carrillo’s family lived in Lynwood, which had become increasingly gang-ridden. By the time Franky Carrillo hit middle school, he was at fringes of one of Lynwood’s main gangs called the Young Crowd. Carrillo wasn’t a member. He was never jumped into the gang. He had no tattoos—gang related and otherwise, and he had never been convicted of even the most minor criminal conduct. But he was friends with some of the actual gang members whom he’d known since elementary school. Due to those friendships, and where he lived, he was viewed as affiliated with the Young Crowd, by some. At one point, he was assaulted and stabbed by so-called enemy gang members. Another time, according to Carrillo, when he and a friend were riding their bikes, a sheriff’s deputy asked to photograph each of the boys. Carrillo’s image would later be put in a book containing photos of possible Young Crowd gang members.

These and other incidents led Carrillo’s dad to decide that he needed to get his kids away from Lynwood and its gang dangers, so moved to nearby Maywood. After the move, Franky went to school without fear of being jumped. “It was a brand new life, life,” he said.

But, then, back in Lynwood, Donald Sarpy was killed.


WITNESSES

When the first LA County sheriff’s deputies showed up at the scene minutes after the shooting, all but two of the six victim witnesses were gone. The two remaining witnesses, one of them Sarpy’s son, were interviewed at the site of the shooting. The other four were identified and interviewed by phone shortly afterwards. 


According to the initial police report, when the teenage witnesses first spoke to police, none of the six could give a useful description of the shooter past the fact that the person was a young Hispanic male. But four of the witnesses reported hearing one of the kids in the drive-by car yell something as shots were fired, like “Fuck N-Hood,” and possibly also, “Young Crowd Locos.” The purported shouted messages made sense because, at the time, there was a lethal rivalry between the two gangs. Yet, although the kids were “upset” and appeared to be trying hard to be helpful, according to the subsequent police report, other than those few details, the boys could produce little else. It had been dead dark at the time of the shooting, and the shooter was several houses away.

Hours later still, after 1 a.m., five of the adolescent witnesses were taken to the LA County Sheriff’s Lynwood sub-station where they were interviewed for a second time. (The sixth witness was, for some reason, was not re-interviewed until months later.) When the first four ended their interviews, they had produced no better picture of the suspect than they had earlier in the evening with the patrol deputies.

The last of the five, however, a 16-year-old named Scott Turner, was interviewed around 2:15 a.m. by LA sheriff’s deputy Craig Ditsch, who was a member of Lynwood’s Operation Safe Streets unit, or OSS— the gang enforcement unit. Ditsch reportedly knew Turner from previous gang-related cases and various street contacts in the Lynwood area.

Turner’s interview was also different from that of the other eyewitnesses in that he was the only person shown photographs at the Lynwood sheriff’s station that night.

At first Ditch showed Turner a “gang book” filled with photos of teenagers and young men who police believed were members of Young Crowd, or might have some affiliation. Turner would tell Carrillo’s defense attorneys years later that, at Ditsch’s urging, he picked several photos of people who might look like the shooter—even though, along with the others, he’d said earlier that he couldn’t really see the shooter. According to Turner, after he picked each of the photos, Deputy Ditsch told him he was incorrect, that this or that selection could not be the gunman. Finally, Turner put his finger on Francisco Carrillo’s photo. This time, according to Turner, Ditsch’s reaction was different. The OSS deputy told Turnerthat his choice was the right one.

“After guiding Mr. Turner to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph,” attorney Kaye wrote a civil court document, 
 “…Ditsch presented a six-pack to Mr. Turner with Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in position number one. Having already been led by Defendant Ditsch to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph from the hundreds of photographs in the gang book, Mr. Turner picked up the cue, and selected Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in the number one position as 
the perpetrator of the Sarpy murder.” 


According to Carrillo’s civil complaint, the six-pack that featured his photo was pre-existing in that it had been assembled for an an earlier case in which a witness testified at preliminary hearing that another Lynwood OSS deputy named Loy Luna urged her to pick Carrillo as the perpetrator, that he was a member of the Young Crowd. On the stand, the witness told the judge that she could not, in fact, ID Carrillo.

In his subsequent police report, Deputy Ditsch stated that Turner had independently chosen the photo of Carillo.

As for Turner himself, when he saw his friends again, he told them about Ditsch and that he’d picked out the right photo and the shooter was Carrillo. The remaining five witnesses were not shown the six-pack until months later, shortly before the trial. By then, they too were convinced they’d seen the shooter and that he was Franky Carrillo..


CONVICTION

Franky Carrillo was tried for the crime twice. The first trial ended with a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury. Before trial number two began, Scott Turner told prosecutors that his identification of Carrillo had been “a mistake” and that he could no longer testify against him.

According to Turner, when Ditsch heard that Turner was recanting, he cornered the teenager outside the courtroom, and threatened him, telling Turner there would be “negative consequences….once Mr. Turner was on the street,” if he took back his identification of Carrillo.

When Turner got on the stand, he ignored Ditsch and told the jury that he couldn’t ID the shooter. Two decades later, he told attorneys helping Carrillo that he was fearful of retaliation from Deputy Ditsch and other members of the Lynwood Sheriff’s sub-station, so did not tell the jury that Ditsch had told him that Mr. Carrillo was the shooter.

Although Turner recanted in the second trial, the other five witness stuck with their story that Franky Carrillo shot Donald Sarpy. The jury found Carrillo guilty of murder and six counts of attempted murder.


RELEASE

While in Folsom Prison, Carrillo did what he could to make his time inside count for something. He was part of The Blind Project- an organization which transcribed regular print into Braille for people without sight, worked in the Optical Department where he would refurbish used eye glasses that were then provided to those need, worked in the prison’s Youth Diversion Program.

And he wrote many, many letters—to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, to the California Office of the Inspector General, Innocence Projects in both California and New York, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Southern California, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a list of private attorneys. After fifteen years, the writing paid off. An assistant state public defender named Ellen Eggers agreed to look at his case. For the next five years, on evenings, weekends, and days off Eggers, and attorneys she recruited to help, pulled apart the case and tracked down the various eyewitnesses, who were now in their 30s.

At the subsequent Habeas hearing, five out of the six—including Donald Sarpy’s son—recanted their original testimony in front of Judge Bacigalupo. The sixth invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Scott Turner apologized to Carrillo from the stand, according to Scott Wood, a Loyola Law School professor with a specialty in restorative justice, who was one of the lawyers who signed on to help Eggers with Carrillo’s case and wrote about how the experience affected him. “I never got a chance to apologize to Frank or apologize to his family..… It’s not right.,” Turner said. “So I’m standing up … [to] I say I was wrong. And, you know, I’m sorry, Frank. I apologize.”

Carrillo replied right away. “I forgive you. I forgive you, Scott.”


POST SCRIPT

After his release from prison Franky Carrillo enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and graduated this June his Bachelor of Arts degree. “I needed to take hold of my future and follow my heart,” he wrote in an essay for LMU Magazine last summer when he was headed into his senior year. At Loyola, Carrillo fell in love with a woman, and last year the couple had a baby. Since graduation, the once-incarcerated man has been active criminal justice reform work. Most recently, he has been among those leading the charge to abolish the death penalty in the state of California through the passage of Prop 62.

As for Craig Ditsch, while Carillo was serving time at Folsom, he remained with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department until his retirement at the rank of lieutenant. He and other deputies maintain that Ditsch did not in any way improperly influence Scott Turner.

Ditsch—-and Loy Luna, who was also named in Carrillo’s civil lawsuit—were named multiple times in the huge and influential class action lawsuit of 1990, Thomas, et al v. the County of Los Angeles, about which both a U.S. District Court Judge, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals wrote as a finding of fact:

“The actions of many deputies working in the Lynwood sub-station are motivated by racial hostility; these deputies regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect. Many of the incidents which brought about this motion involved a group of Lynwood area deputies who are members of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang—the Vikings—which exists with the knowledge of departmental policy makers.

Last Tuesday, in the letter to the LA County Board of directors recommending a settlement of the Carrillo case, Jonathan McCaverty of County Counsel wrote, “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs, therefore a full and final settlement in the amount of $10,100,000 is recommended.

In a “Corrective Action Plan” attached to the settlement, the county asked for remedial changes in department policy, essentially to attempt to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

Thus on March 21, 2016 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Field Operation Support Services disseminated [a] newly written department policy related to suspect identifications, photographic arrays, and “admonishment procedures.”

The report also states that, “…due to the fact that both involved deputy sheriffs are no longer employees of the Department (for unrelated reasons), the incident was not investigated by representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs DepartrnenPs Internal Affairs Bureau.”

Carrillo’s attorney, Ron Kaye sums up the matter of retired LASD lieutenant Craig Ditsch very differently: “This deputy stole my client’s youth by coercing a 15-year-old witness to pick Franky out a line-up, even though he admitted he could never identify the shooter of the drive-by on the night of the crime.”

18 Comments

  • Per online records, Retired Lt. Ditsch currently receives an annual pension plus benefits of in the amount of $137,827.20 .

    When will authorities investigate his previous cases? Why is Ditsch not under indictment?

  • @ 1. They still exist…….from ALADS board of directors to LASD command staff, they’re still around. Other than a strip search or lie detector, the lies and denial will continue as long as there is public scrutiny. If only the public knew and saw how the Sheriff’s Department operated, outsiders would never believe it. Last I heard, Ditsch was kicking back and enjoying retirementin the I.E.

  • Without passing judgement here, it WOULD be nice if the County filed suit to get back some of the taxpayers money. Let a jury decide the liability.

  • @ 2. Anyone who has followed the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, even through this blog, can see the pattern of deception,corruption and scandal after scandal that has plagued the department for quite some time. If more taxpayers queried the amount of money paid out because of LASD, they would demand more and concise oversight by the Federal Government. Taxpayers are asleep on this.

  • If these allegations are true, someone has a lot to be concerned about. According to a friend who is a Fed, the Statue of Limitations do not start from twenty years ago, but rather the last day of Mr. Carrillo’s incarceration. If evidence, direct evidence I may add, was fabricated and the jury convicted based on that fabrication and the fabricated evidence is deemed to be “material and direct,” in nature, then there is a huge problem and liability on who ever knowingly and with malice a forethought, hummed this defendant. Add to that the statute of revocatimg one’s retirement back to the day the crime occurred, as in twenty years ago, I’d say there is cause for concern. The fact that the County and LASD “settled” for $10.5 million bucks is somewhat of an indicator LASD and County Council reviewed all the evidence and said, “this ain’t good, settle and settle quick.” The fact that the DA did NOT refile is potentially a huge red flag. If those involved are as pure as glacier water, fear not. But if that water looks like it came from the water wells of Gardena, start wringing those hands. Do NOT be surprised if the FBI are already on this. Remember, it took them over five years to indict Tanaka. If these allegations are true, they are disgusting and scandalous. If they are false, Carrillo pulled a scam bigger than Enron. I don’t know what to think. Let the chips fall.

  • 7: Good points. However, the other wits still insist that Carrillo was the shooter. Unless all the wits were tainted? By, now more wits would have come forward and said they were coerced. However, it only takes one wit to be have been tainted and this appears as the case. If Carrillo didn’t commit the crime then where was he?

    Once again isn’t tampering with a criminal case a crime? Or at least a violation of Dept policy? So, these Vikings no longer on the job doesn’t matter!

    We are still scrapping the floor and the sheriff won’t act!

  • @Question, there are three active duty captains that are inked-up Vikings. How many of them have or have ever had the infamous “OGCF” (Original Gangster Chongo (N-word) Fighter) on the calf of their leg. You would think the sheriff would have each of them in his office and say, “Let’s put this to rest, roll up your pant leg and let’s have a real close look at that ink.” Nope, McD just promotes them and acts like everything is fine, kinda like Baca did. I wonder how the Black deputies feel about these captains? Real role models, eh Sheriff? You promoted them or retained them, what does that say about you, your values, and “your team?”

  • @10. Maybe so, however something/someone is NOT adding up. The same was said about Carrillo and his character,being a honorable high school student.
    I believe the 9th Circuit Court of appeals in finding the facts about the Vikings (deputies) and Lynwood station, only because I worked assignments (as a deputy) there is the early 80’s. The naysayers have to take the 5th on this.

  • @ no. 9, two of the three are doing fairly well with the troops. Infact the Century Deps gave one of them the highest rating ever. That does not just happen. The 3rd and newest of the Viking promotees does not seem to be doing so well. Many rumors floating around that he has already picked up a case or two. Howerver that is on him, and his ability to be a leader, or not. Had the Sheriff done his homework, well we know that wouldn’t matter because he is to busy listening to all of his Tanaka supporting Execs. This is where the Sheriff has failed us. His continued commitment to those that long ago sold their souls. Now he is building a new batting order with plain old ass kissers, what happened to that BS about “fire in the belly” all the new aides care about is kissing up, they have no fire, thats for darn sure.

  • @Really. In terms of the first two captains, I don’t doubt their appeal to the troops. One of them was a part of the true inner circle of inner circles of the Paul Tanaka crime family. This captain has a long history of pandering to the troops at every turn, standing for nothing but making Paul happy. The other was transferred and placed in an outpost of a command that has as much challenge as tying one’s shoe. Why, I would have to ask. And then there is another who has been a screw-up from the second those bars were put on. As described to me from an insider of that command, full throttle arrogance on display by a captain wayyyyyy over his head. Multiple POE violations, multiple serious policy violations and one reported, “10-19 the Sheriff’s Office,” yet remains unscathed. These were all Tanaka boys, the last promoted at the direction of convicted felon Paul Tanaka long after he left LASD and indicted by none other than 10-29-Victor Mike Rothans. The fact that these three have very, very scandalous ink on their ankle is one thing, but if any of them have OGCF (or ever had, as in covered up) ink, that puts them in an unforgivable class of their own. McD inherited two of the three, but the last he owns lock, stop and barrel. It is a clear representation of how clueless McDonnell really is and frankly, in some areas, continues to be. He allows himself to be surrounded by buffoons who give him the worst advice possible. And many of these buffoons are absolutely carrying out Paul Tanaka’s directions to this day, placing “his people” in key positions. McD is displaying some of the same management characteristics as Leroy Baca, clueless, politically driven and aloof. McD knowing took over a corrupt LASD, and we who suffered under the Tanaka crime family, had high expectations. His start could have been easy; wipe out most of EPC, bring in the right people from the retirement pool to provide an instant, non-political cadre who have one objective, right the sinking ship, get the Sheriff on the right track, groom their replacements, and head back to retirement with a smooth running organization. But no, McD keeps Tyler AND them AND promotes more Tanaka loyalists so nothing changes. So now he is looked upon by the troops as a failure, a nice guy with good intentions, but a failure. He’s looked upon as Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?” So these three captains are who they were and who they are, inked up Tanaka guys with Tanaka values. If they have those four letters, oh boy.

  • Sooner or later a smart attorney is going to line up his ducks and have these OCGF captains in court, under oath, rolling up their calves to show a disgusted jury, and then pictures of his battered client. It won’t be pretty.

  • Lynwood Vikings…. No different than Rampart Division and their cast of characters. The continuence of Lynwood Station carried into Century Station who even went after their own (deputies). One female deputy had death threats. We only see Tan & Green? I don’t think so. Incredible!

  • @15 – “Century Station”, as protected by the corrupt LASD “leadership, was at the center of not only going after their own, but of openly cannibalizing them.

    “A deputy had death threats”? How about when that same LASD “leadership” actually put out a hit out on a current LASD employee. How many employees were shocked to see that employee alive, years later.

    Horrific, criminal behavior.

    Too bad McDonnell could care less about those LASD corruption victims.

  • If deputies ate their own, I can only imagine the community who suffered (outside of the criminals and gangsters) by the devious minds and actions of the Vikings. Another reason why recruiting candidates of color is so dismal for careers in Law Enforcement.

  • Lynwood Station has a long, long history of outrageous, criminal misconduct against supervisors who dared “supervise” the 10-30 element at that station. Starting with putting a lieutenant’s personal vehicle into SVS as a 10-29-V resulting in an investigation where an innocent female deputy was criminally prosecuted while the very much known individual responsible remained silent, yuking it up in DB. Fortunately, she was acquitted, but suffered. And that is just the beginning, and many of those folks are still on the job today, at various ranks. Absolute criminals and thugs who had no business wearing our badge, quite disgusting. Cowardly deputies, sergeants, lieutenants and above turned a blind eye and hid the truth from Sherm Block, to protect their careers. If that shit happened today, the FBI would have cleaned house, making Pandora’s Box look like a parking ticket. They are still around, Sheriff, right under your nose.

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