A motion filed Tuesday, March 4, in federal court seeks to dismiss criminal charges against three Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies and alleges that former Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka personally ordered the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown, an operation that has, thus far, resulted in seven members of the department being indicted for obstruction of justice and more in relation to the Anthony Brown operation.
The document, obtained by WitnessLA, lays out additional details of the alleged actions by several deputies working in LA County’s Men’s Central jail. According to Brown, a jail deputy—aided by other deputies—made one or more deliveries to him of methamphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana, which Brown would then sell to other inmates in the facility.
Brown’s story of deputy-facilitated drug dealing was supported by photos found on his phone of “what appeared to be illicit narcotics and a large amount of cash,” reported the motion. The document also described how Brown kept a highly detailed ledger of drug sales, money owed to deputies for favors, and brutality toward inmates by deputies that he observed or was privy to.
The filing suggests additionally that, according to Brown, undercover FBI agents may have supplied a deputy or deputies with the drugs to be smuggled into the jail, and that the FBI acted as part of a sting aimed at uncovering corruption and brutality inside the county’s jail system.
It was previously widely reported that former Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, Gilbert Michel, was paid $1,500 to smuggle in a cell phone for Brown, with the promise of a total of $20,000 to be paid in the future.
The report of drug deliveries that then resulted in narcotics dealing inside Men’s Central Jail are a newer revelation.
Perhaps the most important bit of news out of the new legal filing, is the direct and detailed allegation that the two men then running the LASD—Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka—were, not only cognisant of the hiding of Brown, but directed it.
Here are more of the particulars:
“AUTHORIZED AND SUPERVISED” BY BACA AND TANAKA
On Tuesday, attorneys for three of the members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who were indicted for obstruction of justice relating to the alleged hiding of federal informant and jail inmate Anthony Brown, filed a motion to dismiss their case, and laid out a lot of previously undisclosed specifics about the operation in the filing.
First of all, the motion states that the three defendants’ actions in dealing with Brown, were conducted “in accordance with state law and local procedure” and—this is an important part—”duly authorized and supervised by LASD Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and numerous other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials.”
Deputies Gerard Smith, Mikey Manzo and James Sexton were three out of seven sheriff’s department members indicted for their alleged role in the hiding of federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal agents. (The other four indicted were lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long.)
The motion also describes the reported involvement of various other higher-ups in the department, including Captain Tom Carey, at the time a supervisor in the LASD’s internal criminal investigative unit, known as ICIB (where Leavins, Craig and Scott also worked).
In its “Statement of Facts” the motion advances the theory originally put forth by LASD higher-ups that Brown was being so elaborately hidden because he was fearful that deputies about whom he had informed might hurt him.
It should be noted that, although Brown may indeed have been fearful of being harmed, according to multiple sources who worked on or near to the team tasked with the elaborate strategy of hiding the informant, the purpose of the scheme—nicknamed Operation Pandora’s Box— was first and foremost to keep him away from the feds until LASD investigators could find out precisely what he knew.
The most significant point that the filing makes is this: when three deputies were given orders by multiple layers of superiors to hide and question an inmate/informant as part of what they were told was a perfectly valid—thus legal—investigation into possible illicit actions by deputies inside the LA County jails, they had no reason to believe that they should not follow those orders.
The filing also makes a point of stating that, although the intricate Brown operation was reportedly directed by others at the highest levels of the department food chain, that most of those superior officers “have not been charged with any crime.”
The 31-page motion, which is likely to be argued before a federal judge in April, was primarily drafted by Smith’s attorney, William Gennego, with input from Sexton’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, and co-counsels, plus Manzo’s attorney, Matthew Lombard.
O’Brien, who interestingly is the former U.S. Attorney who immediately preceded U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, is expected to argue the motion in court.
DOWNFALL: FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA, HIS SECOND IN COMMAND PAUL TANKA AND THE STORY OF HOW THINGS AT THE LASD GOT SO BAD
The insanely long story (more than 11,000 words) I wrote about former sheriff Lee Baca for Los Angeles Magazine is both online and on the news stand.
It is, of course, about way more than Lee Baca as the title suggests.
Regular readers of WitnessLA will find that much in the story covers material with which you’re already very familiar. But I think you’ll find some new nuggets. More than anything, I hope the tale gathers most of the main puzzle pieces together to form a larger, explanatory picture that will have some impact, particularly for those LA residents who are not obsessive LASD watchers, but who want a deeper understanding of what the hell is going on in the sheriff’s department and why they need to care about it.
Scores of other LASD members, working and retired, have described similar experiences to me. “The requests would come in a bunch of different ways,” said a female officer. “You would be told that it would be good for your career to walk precincts for Paul. I never walked precincts, but I’ve been to three of his events and another fund-raiser he threw for [former city attorney] Carmen Trutanich. I gave money each time. There wasn’t a choice.”
In one instance she gave $350, at the request of her boss. He in turn was required to collect checks from his underlings, she said, because he was prominently “in the car” with Tanaka. “In the car” was the term for those who operated in the slipstream of the undersheriff’s patronage. “If you were single, like I was at the time,” she explained, “you were told things like, ‘You don’t have any kids, so you can afford more.’ ”
The ring kissing worked in two ways, both directly and in tiers. “In other words,” she told me, “I wasn’t just writing a check to stay in Tanaka’s good graces, I was doing it to get along with my boss. It sounds crazy, but that’s how it worked. And if you said no, they’d tell you, ‘Then you have nothing coming.’ Those were the terms they’d always use—in the car and nothing coming.”
One meant you were protected. The other meant you were screwed.
And here again is a link the teaser Q & Athat my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me, along with a clip to give you an idea of the exchange below:
Q: When you began the assignment for this story a year ago, Baca was still very much in office. He had every intention of running for sheriff again and looked like a shoo-in to win in June. But he “retired” a month before we went to press and not long after the US Attorney’s office delivered a multicounty indictment against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. As far as LASD critics may be concerned, problem solved, right? So why do you think the story is still necessary?
A: Mainly because I believe the story is far from over. The FBI is looking at a number of new areas of alleged corruption that fall well outside the problems in the jails. And, although Lee Baca is has yanked himself from the LASD’s helm, his controversial second in command, Paul Tanaka, is running for sheriff. But no matter who is elected next November, for real reform to take place, the new sheriff will need to have a clear-eyed view of the dysfunction that still plagues this department. I hope this story can provide a bit of that perspective.
A NOTE ON RADIO SHOWS: As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on KCRW’s show Press Play with Madeleine Brand today, Wednesday, at noon. You can listen to it online here (or at 89.9 FM) in real time.
Here’s a link to the podcast. The LASD segment begins at just about the 26 minute mark.
Then tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll be on KPCC’s AirTalk with Patt Morrison sitting in for Larry Mantle. Airtalk is on from 11 am until 1 pm, and you can listen live at 89.3 FM. And naturally I’ll post the podcast for this show too when it goes up.
Okay, whew! I guess that’s it. There’ll be one more web extra about the LASD on LA Mag later in the week. I’ll let you know when it goes up.
California State Senator California Senator Ronald Calderon was taken into custody Monday morning after surrendering to federal authorities to be arraigned Monday afternoon on 24 counts that include corruption, mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery, conspiracy, money laundering….and more.
Thomas Calderon, the former speaker of the California state assembly, and Ron Calderon’s brother, surrendered this past Friday when federal charges against both men were announced by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte.
As you may know by now, Ron Calderon is accused of being involved in two elaborate schemes in which he allegedly solicited and accepted around $100,000 in cash bribes along with trips to Las Vegas, expensive dinners, and gratis stays at golf resorts, plus a couple of high-paying jobs for his son and his daughter (requiring little or no work). In return Calderon allegedly exerted influence on state legislation that was favorable to those doing the bribing.
In one of the bribery set-ups that resulted in the charges against Calderon and his brother, the state senator allegedly took money and favors from a guy named Michael Drobot, the former owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, which is a major provider of two kinds of expensive and delicate spinal surgeries that are often billed to workers’ compensation programs. (Drabot has accepted a plea agreement and is cooperating with the feds.)
The California law that Calderon reportedly worked to keep on the books (it has since been repealed), allowed a hospital to essentially bill twice for an expensive piece of hardware used in the surgeries. (First the hospital got to bill workers comp for the full cost of the surgery—which amounted to a 20 percent more than the facility would have gotten if it was being paid under Medicare. Then it got to bill all over again for the hardware—the average price of which, was already paid for in the original billing).
In the companion case filed on Friday, Drobot admitted that his hospital exploited this law, which was known as the “spinal pass-through,” law, by billing insurance providers at highly inflated prices for the device in question that had been bought from shell companies that Drobot controlled.
“Drobot allegedly bribed Ron Calderon so that he would use his public office to preserve this law that helped Drobot maintain a long-running and lucrative health care fraud scheme,” said the US Attorney’s office in one of its official statement.
In addition, Drobot had reportedly been paying kickbacks to doctors and chiropractors who, in return, recommended to what would amount to thousands of patients that they have their pricey surgery at Drobot’s Long Beach hospital, even if they lived a hundred or more miles away from Long Beach, and there was perfectly appropriate facility far closer to their homes.
“The co-conspirators lined their pockets by ripping off insurance companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
THE AFFIDAVIT AND THE STING
The charges against the Calderons were, to a great extent, previewed last October when reporters from Al Jazeera America managed to get their hands on a sealed 125-page federal affidavit that was used to get a judge to sign off on the FBIs raid of Calderon’s office some months earlier.
The affidavit (which was redacted by Al Jazeera to block out the identities of the undercover FBI agents involved in a sting against Calderon) is replete with lots of alleged dialogue between Calderon and the three FBI undercovers, who were posing as the head of a new (and fake) LA film company, the film company’s money man, and the film guy’s good-looking girlfriend, who was in need of a job. Calderon allegedly provided said girlfriend employment on the state’s dime—until such time as the fake film guy “was no longer with” his fake girlfriend. (Nope. Not making this last part up.) Oh, yes, and Calderon allegedly solicited and accepted bribes from the undercover FBI agents in return for pushing legislation that would be favorable to their “film company.”
US Attorney Birotte looked grim as he talked to reporters on Friday about the case against the high-living Calderon brothers. “Holding elected office means accepting the public trust…” said Birotte. “And the vast majority of officeholders do so with dignity, honor and the well-being of their constituents. When you selfishly line your pockets, it’s up to us to take steps to hold these individuals accountable.”
An internal sheriff’s department email that has recently surfaced appears to link former undersheriff Paul Tanaka to the operation to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.
Thus far, seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted for their alleged part in the hiding Brown in the summer and early fall of 2011.
In all, 20 from the department have been charged as part of the still widening federal investigation into corruption in the LASD.
But it is the indictment of two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies around the Brown issue that has triggered the most speculation about whether or not the indictment list will travel farther up the line and, if so, how far up.
Department members who have spoken to us on the subject have maintained that the two teams involved with the twinned schemes to keep informant Brown away from any and all federal agents—and then to question him about what he told the feds—could not have assigned themselves to those tasks. The idea that a couple of lieutenants would order and execute such actions on their own is simply not credible, said LASD sources.
Then around three weeks ago, WitnessLA obtained the internal sheriff’s department email that mentions Paul Tanaka in relationship to Brown.
NOTE: Both the LA Times and ABC-7 obtained the same email, and have each come out with their own stories on Sunday and Monday, respectively. More on that in a minute.
The email was written by Deputy Gerard Smith and addressed to the members of the fourteen-man team tasked with hiding Brown, plus two department supervisors.
It reads in part:
If you are getting this Email, you have been signed up to work this very important detail. I am in charge of security and scheduling for this detail. Please don’t let me or the unit down. …. There will be no other movement [of Anthony Brown], without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB LT. Leavins, LT. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo.
Of the six people listed, the last four people— Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith, and Deputy Mickey Manzo—have all been indicted. The remaining two—Captain Tom Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have not.
Farther down in the email, Smith writes:
To keep yourself free of any controversy don’t talk to him [Brown], let the approved, above listed people deal with Browns [sic] issues
By “the approved, above listed people” he clearly means Tanaka and the other three.
And then Smith writes this:
It has been expressed to me (several times now) that this is one of the most important investigations involving The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in its 160 year history. No joke……
None of our sources seem to know who would have been most likely to have made the statement to Smith about the Brown matter being so terribly important.
But whatever its provenance, such a pronouncement would likely have had a strong effect on those who received the email, said our sources, especially given the inference that it came from someone much further up the line.
“This kind of thing would have placed tremendous pressure on these young jail deputies,” an LASD supervisor who works the jails now told me. “When their superiors tell them something is important, they don’t want to stumble. They don’t want fail.”
Tanaka said in a statement to The Times that he had a minimal role in the Brown matter — known inside the department as “Operation Pandora’s Box” — and that he did nothing improper or illegal. He also said he does not recall being made aware of the contents of the email before it was sent.
“While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position,” he said in the statement.
Multiple sources who were directly involved in the Brown operation told Eyewitness News they were told by the indicted Lt. Greg Thompson that if anyone questioned what they were doing with inmate Brown, they should instruct that person to call then-undersheriff Tanaka.
A similar story comes in sworn deposition testimony from Lieutenant Katherine Voyer. She was working at the downtown jail complex in the summer of 2011 and testified about the orders she received: “No federal agents were allowed in the facility and if they came with the writ, call Mr. Tanaka’s cell phone, personal cell phone.”
“Mr. Tanaka was very hands-on in how he handled this department,” said Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association. “So he knew pretty much everything that was going on in this department.”
Moriguchi’s union represents some of those indicted.
The email is supported by some of the reports we’ve heard from sources who worked on the team that hid Brown. For instance, one recalled an instance in which Brown was moved to a cell in the out-of-the-way the San Dimas station, at which time the deputies present were confronted by a watch commander who wanted to know what they hell they were doing bringing this mystery inmate in so late at night. According to our source, the deputies told the watch commander that they should check with Undersheriff Tanaka if they had a problem.
The watch commander stalked off for a few minutes then reappeared and reportedly everything was fine.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
AN ANN ARBOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WRITES A LEGAL BRIEF ARGUING THAT JUVENILE LIFERS DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE
The Detroit Free Press ran the story on their front page. Here’s a clip from the opening. But her actual brief is worth reading.
Sixteen-year-old Matilyn Sarosi spent the recent spate of snow days off school writing an 18-page paper for which she will get no academic credit.
Instead of the paper being graded by a teacher at Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor, Sarosi hopes the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court will give her brief thoughtful consideration.
Sarosi’s amicus, or friend of the court brief, argues that Michigan prison inmates who were sentenced to life for crimes, such as murder, committed when they were younger than 18 now deserve a chance at parole. The legal brief was submitted Friday to the state Supreme Court, which is to hold a hearing on the issue March 6.
“I was really kind of shocked at the issue, the injustice of it all, and the magnitude,” said Sarosi, an honor student and public speaking events competitor. “I’m a teenager and I know my peers. We make impulsive, immature decisions. We make dangerous decisions. But if you give up hope on our youth and kids, you’re giving away our future.”
LA POLICE COMMISSION MAY REVISE THE WAY OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS ARE JUDGED
The Los Angeles Police Commission is poised to adopt a major shift in the way it judges police shootings, tying an officer’s decision to pull the trigger to his actions in the moments leading up to the incident.
The rule change, which will be taken up Tuesday, would settle years of debate over whether the commission can make a determination that a shooting violated department policy if the officer created a situation in which deadly force was necessary. Until now, the commission has generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he opened fire.
“This is one of the most significant policy decisions we’ve made in my seven years on the commission,” Robert Saltzman said.
Although only a few words would be added to the existing policy, Saltzman said, “the clarification is significant. Some have interpreted our current policy to suggest the commission should ignore all the officer’s pre-force activity, no matter how relevant those earlier actions are.”
The proposal was submitted by the commission’s inspector general, who reviews officer shootings and makes recommendations to the commission on whether they fall in or outside department policy. Along with Saltzman, it has won the support of commission President Steve Soboroff.
Really, the clip is only an opener. Read the whole story to see the logic involved in the decision the commission is considering.
Wherever you personally come down on this issue, I guarantee you’ll find it interesting.
I’ll be on Which Way LA? tonight at 7 pm on KCRW, 89.9 talking about what these most recent federal charges against two more sheriff’s department members mean and what they suggest about years of faulty leadership in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.
(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)
The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”
These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.
The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.
But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.
1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED
Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.
According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.
No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.
But, heck, why deal in evidence?
2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.
After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.
Not that it did any good.
According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.
Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:
“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”
3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.
Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.
“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.
The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.
Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.
(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)
We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.
I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.
Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.
(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)
In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.
May it be so.
The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.
4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?
And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.
And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.
With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.
We are counting on just that.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)
Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.
I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.
So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?
While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?
It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.
Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.
The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.
Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?
Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”
(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)
Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.
As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.
On Friday morning, US Attorney Andre Birotte announced that two more members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted.
Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were charged in relation to a reported beating incident that occurred in February 2009. Both Aguiar and Rameriz were, at the time, working the 3000 floor of LA County’s Men’s Central Jail.
According to the indictment, the “victim-inmate” —ID’d with the initials BP—was awaiting a hearing on a parole violation when the encounter with the two deputies in question occurred. BP was reportedly chained at his waist with his hands cuffed to the chain, when the deputies allegedly pepper-sprayed, struck and kicked the man. Then later, according to federal allegations, the two accused the inmate of assaulting them, describing in their report an elaborate attack.
However, unlike many alleged beatings of inmates by deputies, this incident was witnessed by one of the jail chaplains assigned to MCJ. The encounter on which the federal charges are based, first came to light in the course of the ACLU’s 2011 report on brutality by deputies against inmates in the LA County jail system.
These newest charges naming the two deputies brings the total to 20 LASD department members who have been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into brutality and corruption inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
No one expects the indictments to end here.
Here’s the video of Chaplain Paulino Juarez describing the 2009 beating he witnessed.
We’ll have more on the new federal charges, plus some thoughts on what they mean, Sunday night. (I originally said Friday night, but we’ll have a fuller report on Sunday.)
US ATTORNEY BIROTTE ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEA OF LOS ANGELES CHILD SEX TRAFFICKER
On Tuesday, US Attorney André Birotte’s office announced that Paul Edward Bell, an alleged member of the Rolling 60s Crips, pleaded guilty to the sex trafficking of young girls in LA. Specifically, Bell housed four girls between the ages of 15 and 17, who were recruited in the Inland Empire, and forced them to work as prostitutes in Lynwood and Compton in 2011. Bell faces 30 years in federal prison, and is the last of eight defendants convicted after an investigation by the Inland Child Exploitation/Prostitution Task Force. (The task force is made up of officers from the FBI and law enforcement agencies across Southern California.)
The investigation in this case began in January of 2011, when the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department learned that teenage girls attending schools in the Inland Empire were being recruited to work as prostitutes. The investigation later revealed that Alberti attended one of the schools and recruited underage females by “grooming them”—or gaining their trust and telling them that they could make large sums of money by working as prostitutes for Alberti’s pimp. The girls who were successfully recruited to work as prostitutes were brought to the Los Angeles area, where they were housed by Bell and the Rogers brothers at hotels on and near Long Beach Boulevard or at Bell’s apartment.
Bell also admitted to physically abusing one of the girls. Here’s a clip from the plea agreement detailing the incident:
In April 2011, Victim 4, then 17, worked as a prostitute for defendant while Samuel Rogers [one of the other eight defendants] was incarcerated. During that time, defendant harbored Victim 4 at the Euclid Residence with other prostitutes defendant employed. Also, during that time, defendant knew that Victim 4 was 17 years old. While working as a prostitute under defendant’s supervision and direction, on our about April 6, 2011, defendant physically abused Victim 4 for not performing as a prostitute and for acting up. Therefore defendant used force to cause Victim 4 to engage in commercial sex acts.
Here’s what US Attorney Birotte had to say about Bell’s case, according to the FBI’s announcement:
“Sex trafficking is an abominable crime that condemns its victims to physical and psychological trauma, hardship and abuse,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Mr. Bell and his cohorts coldly and brutally victimized young women and juveniles, subjecting them to treatment that can only be described as inhumane. Bell exploited his victims for profit and now he will be held accountable and punished for his predatory conduct.”
We’ve reported on this issue before. Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe are working to put a focus on child sex trafficking, with an emphasis on decriminalizing and aiding the child prostitutes. (These arrests were actually made in Mark Ridley-Thomas’ district.)
“Every day, children as young as 12 are bought and sold by adult men,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas…“We will shine a light on this despicable behavior. You, who come here days, nights, weekends to buy these girls, we see you. And we will bring changes throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California.”
Human sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business increasingly run by gangs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children in the United States are sold for sex each year. In Los Angeles, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 children are trafficked.
GOV BROWN TO PUMP MORE MONEY INTO PRIVATE PRISONS REGARDLESS OF JUDGES’ PENDING DECISION
Governor Jerry Brown’s recently proposed budget, which banks on federal judges pushing back California’s prison overcrowding deadline by two years, would still increase spending on private prisons and jail leasing. We at WLA are not thrilled with this news. (Read the backstory here.)
Detailed expenditure records released after Brown announced the highlights of his proposed budget for 2014-15 show that the governor expects to increase the use of outside prison contracts. His plan sets aside nearly $500 million to pay for and administer prison contracts to take nearly 17,700 inmates, increases of $100 million and 4,700 prisoners over the current year.
A little more than half of those prisons are out of state. The rest are community correctional centers, which could be run by local governments or private prison operators.
The governor’s planning documents show that even with that increase in spending, California prisons would remain 3,000 inmates over what federal judges say they can safely hold and still provide adequate healthcare and psychiatric services. The documents do not show how Brown plans to address further growth of the state’s prison population.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO VOTE ON SPENDING RULES REGARDING HIGH-NEEDS YOUTH
Today, the California Board of Education is expected to vote on important new rules to ensure school district accountability on spending extra budget money on at-risk students.
The first draft of these spending rules was trashed by education advocates three months ago. They said districts would have the freedom to spend extra money however they pleased. Now the state board is back with new rules that require each school district to show how they’ll use the money to increase services for low-income students, foster youth, and english-learners…but student advocates are not entirely satisfied…
PATT MORRISON DISCUSSES THE STRANGER THEORIES REGARDING THE LOWERED CRIME RATE
Last week, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that citywide violent crime rates were down by 12% and property crimes were down 4%, in 2013, keeping up an 11-year crime reduction streak.
In an LA Times editorial, Patt Morrison offers some of the loonier circulating theories on what factors may have contributed to the decline in crime. Morrison says the crime rate drop is cheering, but that it cannot go on forever, and advises the mayor and police chief to be prepared for a time when the numbers move in a different direction.
The mayor and the police chief, Eric Garcetti and Charlie Beck, respectively, were justifiably over the moon this week about the winning streak, 11 years of plummeting crime rates, the lowest overall since 1949.
Both of them credited community policing, community groups and the use of computerized crime data for the laudable numbers.
Some other theories have been floated, some more far-fetched than others, but there’s a master’s thesis lurking in each and every one of them:
Full prisons. The more people you put behind bars, the fewer criminally inclined are out and about to commit more crimes. Although that seems right intuitively, the numbers don’t necessarily bear that out.
Recession. Also counterintuitive because you’d expect that poverty would drive people to desperate, violent measures. Researchers are puzzling over why this didn’t happen. Maybe the potential evildoers just couldn’t afford to buy guns and bludgeons.
Whatever’s making crime diminish, I am, as an Angeleno, delighted that it’s happening. But logic argues that this decline can’t go on indefinitely; there has never been a zero-crime society in human history, insofar as I know.
The difficult part for both Garcetti and Beck will be in tempering their deserved pleasure at the good numbers and getting some talking points and research ready for the inevitable day when the numbers are not so good.
FEDERAL JUDGES PREPARED TO RULE ON HOW CALIFORNIA WILL ALLEVIATE PRISON OVERCROWDING
A federal three-judge panel gave Gov. Jerry Brown and prison advocates until last Friday to come to an agreement on how to comply with the judges’ prison population reduction order. The deadline passed by with no agreement. On Monday, the judges issued an order giving Gov. Jerry Brown and prisoner advocates until Thursday, Jan. 23 to file their respective proposals for compliance, after which the judges will order their own solution. (If this is unfamiliar to you, read more of the backstory here.)
The judges Monday gave Brown and lawyers for inmates until Jan. 23 to file proposed terms “to achieve durable compliance” with crowding limits that were to go into effect April 18. They said they will push that ultimate deadline back by however long it takes the jurists to decide their own solution.
That means, for now, California will still be blocked from expanding its contracts with private prison operators for cells out of state. And it means a short delay before Brown and state lawmakers learn if California will need to spend a planned $315 million to expand private prison leases, or just $228 million to keep those lease contracts at their current level. If the crowding deadline is pushed back to 2016, as Brown seeks, the governor pledges to give $81 million of the savings to counties for prisoner rehabilitation programs.
In the absence of a deal, Brown revealed last week that he is immediately expanding state parole programs for the frail and elderly, and increasing early release eligibility for some repeat offenders. Those steps would make some 2,200 prisoners eligible for release, but state officials previously told the court they expect only about 440 inmates would actually be freed within the first six months of those programs.
Prophet Walker, who, at 16, was sentenced to six years in prison for breaking another boy’s jaw during a fist fight, is now running for California State Assembly, with the help of some serious mentors and supporters (namely “Hangover” producer Scott Budnick and Carol Biondi, commissioner of the LA County Commission for Children and Families) and his own perseverance. Prophet made incredible use of his time in prison (helping to transform the system along the way), and went on to receive an engineering degree from Loyola Marymount upon his release. (WitnessLA met Prophet, and found him quite impressive.)
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Cohn has Walker’s cheering story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Here are some clips:
His mother was a heroin addict, and his neighborhood was filled with racial strife between blacks and Hispanics. Walker, the son of a white mother and black father, got into fights often, believing that physical violence was the key to his survival. One day while ditching school, Walker and his friends got into a fight with a group of Hispanic teenagers. Walker fractured another boy’s jaw, and was arrested. Then 16, he was tried as an adult and convicted of assault causing great bodily harm. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
But this is a story of hope and redemption, not despair, one that links the disparate worlds of Los Angeles’ ghetto neighborhoods with the glamour of Hollywood. It is the story of how Walker, with the help of movie producer Scott Budnick (“The Hangover”) and his own fierce determination, overcame his difficult circumstances and transformed his life into a success story.
“Prophet is truly an extraordinary person,” says Carol Oughton Biondi, a commissioner of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families and a director of the Washington, D.C.-based Children’s Defense Fund. “He will excel at anything he wants to do. He is the real, real deal.”
Walker’s transformation began while still in prison. With Budnick as his mentor, he participated in a program called InsideOUT Writers, which uses creative writing to help currently and formerly jailed young adults transform their lives. He earned his high school degree while behind bars, but that was only the beginning.
He helped devise a Youthful Offender Pilot Program to allow juvenile offenders to pursue an education in safer settings, such as medium-security prison, rather than being thrown in high-security prisons that offered few opportunities. Budnick helped persuade state prison officials to adopt the pilot program, which has since been expanded.
After being released from prison, Walker graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in engineering, helped design an innovative robotic garage in Santa Monica and became a project manager for Morley Builders, a prominent southern California construction company. And today Walker, now 26 years old and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, is running for the California state Assembly from the 64th district, which represents Carson, Compton, Watts, Wilmington and North Long Beach.
Carol Biondi says that Walker’s background – and the fact that he has overcome his past – could actually be more of an asset than a liability in his race for the Assembly seat in the 64th District.
“I honestly think it’s mostly an asset because the mass incarceration of men in his district is out of control,” says Biondi. “The fact that he went [to prison], and really shouldn’t have for a fight, is outrageous. He was never gang involved. It was his first offense. He was an honor student. He holds absolutely no bitterness or anger about it and takes responsibility for his action. And he showed courage throughout his time there. But most important, he triumphed over the experience. Every mother either has a son who is or was on probation, is or has been locked up or lives in fear he will be. They all have husbands, brothers or cousins that are in the system. He is the hope for all of them.”
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY’S SUCCESSFUL USE OF SPLIT-SENTENCING FOR AB 109′ERS
Contra Costa County uses split-sentencing (where sentences are divided into part jail time, part probation) for most of its realignment cases. Preliminary data shows that while Contra Costa is seeing fewer than 25% of its probationers returning to jail, almost two-thirds of state parolees reoffend.
LA and other counties that have under-utilized split sentencing, thus far, but Gov. Brown’s proposed budget would set aside money for split-sentencing. That budget banks on the federal panel of judges giving the state a two-year deadline reprieve on reducing the prison population.
Sara Hossaini has the story for KQED’s California Report. Here’s a clip from the transcript, but do go take a listen:
…The county leads the state in so-called “split-sentencing.” Other counties, like LA and Fresno, have been slower to try this approach, even though it’s the lynchpin of California’s 2011 prison realignment law, AB 109. John Kennedy is a district judge for Contra Costa County. He says the county decided pretty early on that split-sentencing would be their focus: “We have to design a sentence that is going to be most effective in deterring recidivism. We think that it’s been helpful to have everybody working together, because, as you know, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea agreement.”
JURY FINDS FULLERTON OFFICERS NOT GUILTY IN KELLY THOMAS CASE — FBI MAY INVESTIGATE FURTHER
On Monday, an Orange County jury acquitted two former Fullerton police officers in the beating to death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man. The FBI says they will examine the trial evidence to decide whether further investigation is needed.
It was a strangely melancholy, almost Shakespearean scene on Tuesday morning at the Monterey Park headquarters of the LA County Sheriff’s Department where, at just after 10 am, Sheriff Lee Baca emerged and announced to a large crowd of journalists and others that he was leaving the department he had served for 48 years, and led for fifteen. His exit would be effective at the end of January.
[KPCC has most of the audio of Baca's statement and the Q & A that followed here.)
“I was elected to four terms. And I will go out on my own terms,” the 71 year old sheriff said looking fit and also fragile.
At several points in his prepared statement,the sheriff teetered on the precipice of tears.
“All the people in this county count,“ he said, his voice thickening. “Everybody.”
Baca said he was retiring for many reasons, But “the prevailing one,” he said, “is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the sheriff’s department.
“This is all about doing what is right for the people of Los Angeles County.”
Since the meaning of this statement was somewhat…unclear…a reporter asked Baca why he couldn’t just announce that he wasn’t running for a new term, but still finish out his existing elected term.
He thought of it, he said, “But I know the intensity of politics…”
Anoather reporter asked Baca if his resignation had anything to do with worry about federal indictments. He answered opaquely.
“I’m not afraid of reality,” he said. “I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth.”
Along with the crowd of journalists recording the moment, there was also a second crowd of department members. The mood among the latter was, oddly, one of relief—as if after months of tension the storm had broken. The rain had come. There was no more wondering what would occur. Now it had happened.
Even Baca looked like a weight had been lifted.
After delivering his own news, the sheriff endorsed Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald— formerly of the California Department of Corrections, who is now in charge of the department’s custody division— as his choice for interim sheriff. (The LA County Board of Supervisors has the ultimate say about who will be chosen as interim sheriff.)
Baca also endorsed two of his assistant sheriffs as candidates for the office of sheriff, Todd Rogers and Jim Hellmold.
I spoke to Rogers after Baca’s press conference concluded. When I asked him if he planned to declare his candidacy on Tuesday, at first said he wasn’t officially declaring on this day, but another minute or two into the conversation, he changed his mind and went ahead and jumped into the race for real. He then talked about a “catastrophic failure of leadership” in the department and how Baca had trusted the wrong people, particularly Paul Tanaka. By this time, some TV reporters had drifted over, and Rogers repeated everything for the television cameras.
I had a similar conversation with Jim Hellmold, who was in his sheriff’s department uniform so couldn’t really legally talk politics. But he said he was strongly considering running, but hadn’t decided yet.
Both Hellmold and Rogers seemed very interested in whether Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell was going to jump into the race. (He has said he is now strongly considering the option. More on McDonnell later in the week.)
After the official event was over, as reporters and department members stood around talking, there was much speculation about why Baca had chosen so unexpectedly to call an end to his time in office. Most agreed it had something to do with the federal investigations, but no one seemed to know for sure.
OTHER CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF SPEAK OUT
Candidates for Sheriff Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince all issued statements in response to the Lee Baca’s announcement.
Olmsted (who reportedly has raised $250,000 in campaign donations thus far) wrote this:
“They said he couldn’t be beaten. They called him the Teflon Sheriff. But no man is above the law. Plagued with an active FBI investigation and a host of scandals, Lee Baca announced his resignation today.
He can run from the job, but he can’t hide from the culture of corruption he oversaw. It’s like cleaning up after a hurricane. The storm is gone, but the damage remains. It’s time to clean house, implement major reforms and restore honesty and integrity to this department……
WLA ON KCRW & PACIFICA TALKING ABOUT BACA’S RETIREMENT—AND MORE
On Tuesday afternoon, I was on KCRW’s “All Things Considered” talking about Baca’s announcement with Steve Chiotakis, and you can find the podcast of the short segment here.
Regrettably, on Tuesday morning, I was so busy chatting with people outside the LASD headquarters that I failed to pick up the request to be on Which Way WLA? until it was too late. (Here’s the WWLA? show on Baca’s retirement announcement.)
We also recommend Larry Mantel’s show on the matter at AirTalkfeaturing LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Jails Commission executive director Miriam Krinsky and the So Cal ACLU’s legal director Peter Eliasberg. Definitely worth a listen.
MORE INDICTMENTS COMING?
There have been strong rumors—as yet unconfirmed—that more indictments could arrive as soon as next week—or perhaps earlier—this time involving people higher on the department food chain.
But one of the most intriguing moments of speculation came in the course of a KFI news segment on Tuesday when reporter Eric Leonard says that he has talked to a source at the federal law enforcement source who reportedly said after it was learned that the sheriff was stepping down, “The election for the next sheriff of Los Angeles County going to change dramatically again this week.” (You can find the quote at around minute 5:40)