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LASD Deputy James Sexton Will Call Lee Baca to Testify in Upcoming ReTrial

August 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, LASD Deputy James Sexton and his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, were in court
as Judge Percy Anderson decided what evidence would and would not be permitted to be used for Sexton’s defense in his retrial scheduled to begin on September 9.

Although Anderson did not issue final rulings on all of the day’s motions, for the most part he appeared to lean toward excluding what the prosecution wanted excluded.

He did appear to mostly agree, however, that Sexton’s attorneys could call former Sheriff Lee Baca as a witness.

Sexton, if you’ll recall, was one of seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant and then jail inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers in the summer of 2011.

Deputy Sexton was already tried once on obstruction charges this past May. The trial resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury, with a split of 6-6.

Initially, it was not clear that the prosecution would try Sexton a second time. Yet, after the government got guilty verdicts in early July against the six other department members charged with obstruction, federal prosecutors announced they were going to go ahead and retry the deputy.

Although Sexton will be retried on charges similar to those of which the other six were convicted, his case is dissimilar in significant ways, in that he was far lower on the food chain that the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two deputies who were convicted, and are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Also, unlike the others, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews.

(The deputy talked with the FBI so much, in fact, that, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, FBI agents gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them.)

Interestingly, among the elements from the last trial that the prosecution wishes to exclude from Sexton’s defense in the second trial are the details of this cooperation.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 32 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

This American Life Does the LASD, Garcetti Says Why He Will Do the Right Thing With Border Kids….And More

July 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THIS AMERICAN LIFE LOOKS AT THE WHEN THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT GETS MAD

This past weekend, in a show called “Mind Your Own Business” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story having to do with The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In particular, they talked about what happened when the FBI began to investigate brutality against inmates at the LA County Jail system, and the sheriff’s department decided they didn’t like being investigated.

Here’s how the segment, produced by Nancy Updike, opened:

There’s been a big, messy, fascinating story unfolding in Los Angeles for awhile… involving two big law enforcement agencies: the LA county sheriff’s department, which is huge, and the FBI. A secret investigation got exposed. There were accusations and counter-accusations, and clandestine recordings, and by the end, a bunch of people’s careers were over.

For the story (which begins shortly after the 30 minute on the podcast) producer Updike interviews LA Times reporter Robert Faturechi. Then she plays excerpts from three of the recordings that were introduced as evidence at the recent federal trial that ended with six members of the LASD being convicted of obstruction of justice.

The first recording she plays is from 2010 in which FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the lead investigator looking into inmate abuse at the jails, is covertly recording a conversation with Deputy William David Courson (with whom she’s on a semi-date) who told her—among other things—about what he called the “unwritten rules” of how to treat inmates. For instance, he said, “… you learn that any inmate who fights with a deputy goes to the hospital.”

They don’t have to make the first move, he says, they can just be thinking about it.

There’s lots more. So listen.


MAYOR GARCETTI EXPLAINS WHY HE WILL SHELTER ENDANGERED IMMIGRANT KIDS

This weekend, as anti-immigration protestors around the country continqued to oppose any kind of government help for the more than 50,000 unaccompanied kids now detained who have crossed American borders in recent months, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti talked to Arun Rath of NPR’s Weekend Edition, about his controversial announcement last Tuesday that Los Angeles would help find temporary homes for many of these kids while the courts tried to sort out what to do about the ballooning humanitarian crisis.

Here’re a couple clips from the NPR interview:

RATH: Determining the final status of these children could take a while. Immigration hearings can take years to schedule. This take us sort of beyond housing to, you know, schools, health care, other services. Won’t this seriously strain city resources over the long-term.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, Los Angeles already faces the broken immigration system and its costs when we can’t award scholarships to students who are A-students and have only known the United States but might be undocumented, when we see, you know, emergency room visits and other things. There’s no doubt that there’s been a strain on local budgets, which is why I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. But this is a different issue here. This is an emergency situation. These are kids first and foremost. And then of course, you know, we do have to go through formal procedures on what will happen with them. I would love to see those things accelerated. I would love them to see, you know, a faster path to citizenship for people who already live here. I would love to see our borders secured, but that shouldn’t keep us from action at moments of humanitarian crisis.

[SNIP]

RATH: Mayor, what would be your message to potential immigrants or those who are considering potentially risking their children’s lives to get them to this country?

GARCETTI: Well, I don’t think – the system that we have, it’s very wise. And for me, the reason that I’m reaching out is we have children that are here. But I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to send their children or for children to cross the border. That’s an incredibly dangerous journey. And I’d want people to hear that loud and clear. But just as loud and clear, I think we have an obligation, once we suddenly have children that are in our country here, to be caring about them while we determine their final status.


THIS IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION CRISIS, IT IS A REFUGEE CRISIS

If you are newly grappling with this issue, for one of the quickest, clearest pictures of why the growing number of unaccompanied minors represents a different brand of immigration dilemma, we recommend reading the whole of last Sunday’s NY Times op ed by the Pulitzer-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole chilling—and informative—essay, but here’s the opening to get you started.

Cristian Omar Reyes, an 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, tells me he has to get out of Honduras soon — “no matter what.”

In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as a security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly, but she has not.

Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.

“I’m going this year,” he tells me.

I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States. Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.


TRAINS, AMPUTATIONS AND WHY KIDS ARE ON THE RUN

And for an additional view, read this by another very experienced reporter, the Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris, who writes of what she saw about kids fleeing violence ten years ago when she was based in Latin America for the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, and how much worse things have gotten now.

Ferris also writes about how dramatically different an outcome is likely to be for a child in immigration court— depending upon if he or she has a lawyer, or is without one.

Here’s a clip:

A Syracuse University project known as TRAC released a report this week analyzing more than 100,000 juvenile cases filed in the nation’s immigration courts over the last 10 years. Only 43 percent of kids in these cases were or are currently represented by lawyers who help plead for asylum or another form of legal status, according to TRAC, the acronym for the university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Immigration courts are clogged with backlogs, but juvenile cases only represent about 11 percent of all cases currently pending.

Kids, like adults, do not have the right to the appointment of attorney in immigration proceedings.

But TRAC found that having a lawyer increased the odds that kids would win their claims against deportation: In cases that have been resolved, nearly half the children who had attorneys — 47 percent — were allowed to remain in the United States. When children did not have legal representation, courts allowed only one in 10 to remain here.


SUNDAY, UNACCOMPANIED KIDS WERE THE SUBJECT OF LA’S ANNUAL IMMIGRATION MASS

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has that story. Here’s how it opens:

During Sunday Mass at a sunlit cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a 22-year-old woman stepped timidly to a podium and began her story.

“My name is Dunia Cruz,” she said in Spanish. “I came here from Honduras.”

As she spoke of the gang violence that she said drove her and her toddler son from Central America in April — and of their dangerous journey across Mexico — Cruz was interrupted by bursts of applause.

Her tale resonated with many of the transplants from other countries in the crowded church pews….

Posted in immigration, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD | 9 Comments »

Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

Mystery Message in the Sky Over LASD Headquarters

July 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Around 2 PM Wednesday, just at the time when the Sheriff Department’s executive planning committee was scheduled to meet,
A mystery banner was flown behind a small plane repeatedly over Los Angeles sheriffs department headquarters in Monterey Park.

The banner read: EPC: LEADERS DON’T FEED DEPS TO FEDERAL WOLVES

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Executive Planning Committee, or EPC, is exactly that, the inner circle of command staffers who meet on a regular basis with the LASD’s top brass—the sheriff and assistant sheriff—to talk about the running of the department.

Shortly after the banner appeared a crowd of department members and staffers spewed from the building to gaze skyward and snap cell phone photos.

Rumors circulated quickly about who could have hired the banner-flying airplane, which was in the air a bit over an hour.

Some said it was the LA County deputies’ union, ALADS, which was tired of paying the growing legal bills for deputies who were indicted. (It should likely be mentioned here that, the union has declined to pay any part at all of James Sexton’s legal representation. But that’s another subject altogether. In any case, the illogical rumor circulated.)

Others said it was an ominous warning sent by persons unknown urging department members to return to the code of silence and to cease and desist talking to the FBI “wolves” about any kind of wrongdoing committed by those in the LASD.

Still others said the plane was hired by a group of Tanaka supporters, hoping to protect their man from legal action against him by warning people not to testify or cooperate with the feds against him in any way. (Although how this airborne message would be an effective means of delivering such a warning is unclear.)

Our department sources, however, tell us that these rumors are all complete nonsense, that the banner’s appearance was paid for by an unnamed group of deputies who reportedly work within the LA County Jail system. Their point, as we understand it, was caused by anger that those indicted—and in the case of six of the defendants, convicted—-on the obstruction of justice matter were taking the hit for those higher who gave the crucial orders, all of whom still seem to manage to be in possession of a get out of jail card.

Or something like that.

That’s all we know at the moment.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 48 Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts Prisons

July 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.

Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.

The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.

A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.

“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.

In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.

Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.

In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.

Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.

Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.

The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.

Read on.


SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:

The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.

Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.

At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.

“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.

The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.

Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.

So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.

California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…

Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”

County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.

But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.


MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.

The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:

For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.

But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.

Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”

The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.

Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.

Posted in Homelessness, jail, Probation, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice | No Comments »

THE JURY SPEAKS: Six Guilty On All Counts – What the LASD Verdict Means

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE JURY SPEAKS

After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.

Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.

All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.


“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”

According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.

“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”

Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”

Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE

At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.


GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.

As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.

Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.

Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”

The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?

Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?

Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.

It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.

Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.


AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:

Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7

Rina Palta for KPCC

Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang for the LA Times

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 103 Comments »

2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



REPLACEMENT OF 2 JURORS MEANS PATH TO VERDICT IN LASD TRIAL GETS LONGER

Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS NO TO HEARING APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA LAW BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


SENATORS COREY BOOKER & CHRIS MURPHY INTRODUCE BILL TO INCENTIVIZE STATES TOWARD BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE POLICIES USING EXISTING FEDERAL $$$

Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

LASD Lt. On Trial Tells of Orders Given by Baca and Tanaka, and Admits to “System Failure” Re: LASD Ability to Investigate Its Own Wrongdoing

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Lieutenant Steve Leavins, one of six defendants in the ongoing obstruction of justice trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department,
took the stand on Friday morning in a packed federal courtroom. In the testimony that followed, Leavins described a chain of events that began with a meeting on August 20, 2011, at which Sheriff Lee Baca (whom Leavins said he’d never met before that day) gave him the orders that set in motion a sequence of actions by Leavins and his five fellow defendants—Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith—that ultimately led to the charges for which Leavins and the other five are now on trial.

According to the prosecution, those actions include, but are not limited to, allegedly helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and endeavoring to bully and cajole sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI.

The jury had already heard in earlier testimony, how the August 20 meeting was called by the sheriff on an emergency basis on the Saturday after Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka first learned that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been found with a contraband cell phone, and that Brown was not any inmate, but an FBI informant. The jury had also heard previously that, two days before the August 20 meeting, Baca had been told by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office that the cell phone and Brown were part of an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails, meaning the whole matter of the cell phone was fully sanctioned by FBI higher-ups.

Nevertheless, according to Leavins, Baca ordered him to launch a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, who was the lead agent on the feds’ undercover probe, and thus responsible for Brown and the cell phone. He also ordered Leavins to “safeguard” Brown, which ultimately led to Brown being hidden—using an elaborate strategy of repeated name changes and avoidance of the normal fingerprinting process—from the FBI.


THE RISKS AND BENEFITS OF TESTIFYING

It is usually considered a risk for a defendant to get on the stand because, in cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant is suddenly subject to questioning that may not be in his or her best interest. Yet on Friday the risk appeared to be mostly paying off for Leavins in that much of what he said bolstered an important part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that all six defendants were good cops following lawful orders that were not of their own making.

In that vein, Leavins described the meetings subsequent to August 20 in which he said he briefed, got approval, and/or had been given orders by Baca or then undersheriff Paul Tanaka (or sometimes both men) about each action he and other defendants took to hide inmate Brown.

On the stand, Leavins’ painted a picture of a hyper-involved sheriff and equally present undersheriff who collectively directed him to circumvent the normal chain of command and report directly to them in meetings that were generally held in Tanaka’s office.

He also told how he had obtained “authorization” from Tanaka before he ordered surveillance of special agent Marx and how, in a meeting in Tanaka’s office, Sheriff Baca had instructed him to contact Marx at her residence “to get facts and information about the introduction of the cell phone.”

Another significant revelation that came out in Friday’s testimony was the fact that, according to Leavins, at least two department-related attorneys gave advice and signed off on the legality of many of the actions that are the now the basis of the government’s criminal charges. These included the hiding of Brown, and the investigation of FBI special agent Marx.

One of the attorneys Leavins said he consulted multiple times was Paul Yoshinaga, a deputy county counsel who was assigned to the sheriff’s department and had his office in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. (Yoshinaga is reportedly also a long-standing personal friend of former undersheriff Tanaka, with the friendship dating as far back as high school when the two were in the same 1976 graduating class from Gardena High.)

The other attorney with whom Leavins said he consulted on repeated occasions about the legality of his actions was Mike Gennaco, head attorney for the Office of Independent Review (OIR). According to Leavins, at one point in a meeting in which the sheriff was also present, Gennaco said that “the FBI was going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone,” meaning the contraband cell that LASD deputy Gilbert Michel had brought in illegally to informant Brown as part of the FBI’s undercover sting. Baca, said Leavins, was in agreement.

“This furthered my belief that we were on firm legal ground to proceed,” Leavins testified of that meeting with Gennaco and Baca.


SYSTEM FAILURE

In another interesting and unexpected feature of both his direct testimony and in cross-examination by prosecutor Brandon Fox, Leavins admitted that he had “become aware that the sheriffs department’s internal mechanism to investigate…abuse” and brutality by deputies toward jail inmates “had failed,” that there was a “systemic breakdown” in supervision, discipline and investigation of abuses “that were occurring on a wide scale.”

Under questioning from Fox, Leavins conceded that, in one instance, he had become aware of a video of an inmate being abused by a deputy while restrained by chains. And yet, despite the presence of the video, both the department’s internal affairs investigators, and an “executive force review panel” concluded that the incident was fine and required no action. Leavins further conceded that, because of the “lack of discipline” signaling “tacit approval” for the deputy’s actions, the man committed more assaults on inmates, and has since been charged with the original assault.

While the theme of deputy abuse of inmates and “systemic breakdown” in the LASD’s ability to investigate such matters was originally brought up during the defense’s questioning of Leavins, it seemed mostly to support the prosecution’s contention that the FBI’s launch of an undercover investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jail system was more than warranted.


BUT WERE THE ORDERS LAWFUL?

Although the just-following-orders part of the defense strategy seemed measurably strengthened by Leavins’ testimony, the contention that these were lawful orders that he and the others were following seemed a harder theme to maintain, due to problems with the timeline in which the actions occurred.

For instance, Leavins had repeatedly insisted that Brown was only moved to outlying areas of the jail system with his name repeatedly changed, not to hide him from the feds, per se, but out of fear for the inmate’s safely because, due to his informant status, corrupt deputies might wish to do him harm. However, in cross examination Leavins conceded that, after Brown stopped cooperating with members of Leavins’ task force in early September 2011, he was moved virtually immediately back to Men’s Central Jail where he remained for 10 days (making him presumably within reach of deputies who might wish him ill) before finally being transferred to state prison.

Also in cross examination, Leavins described his attendance to a meeting on August 29, 2011, that included—among other people—Sheriff Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. It was at that meeting that Birotte told the sheriff to—as Leavins’ put it—”butt out” of the feds’ civil rights investigation into wrongdoing in the LA County Jails. Birotte further said, according to Leavins, that he didn’t want any more discord in the matter, and that he hoped the sheriff’s department would cooperate.

Yet, despite what was made clear at the August 29 meeting, according to Leavins’ earlier testimony, he kept on, as ordered, with a criminal investigation of FBI agent Marx and, in late September, with the sheriff’s encouragement and approval, sent Craig and Long to Marx’ home where the two sergeants falsely threatened to arrest her.

Leavins’ testimony will continue on Tuesday morning.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

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