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Two More LASD Deputies Indicted Friday Morning

February 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

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.)

In the meantime, check our pals at ABC-7. and Richard Winton at the LA Times.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 34 Comments »

Sheriff’s Race: A Candidate Has a Plan…Who’s the Interim?… A New Child Safety Czar for LA’s Foster Kids?

January 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday morning, as TV cameras rolled, retired Commander Robert Olmsted stood in front of Men’s Central Jail to introduce a 9-Part Plan that outlines how he hopes to “transform” the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department “and root out its corruption.”

Olmsted is one of the six candidates competing to replace Lee Baca for the job of LA County Sheriff.

Those also in the race include Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold.

Hellmold formally announced his candidacy this week in front the iconic First AME Church in South Los Angeles with civil rights attorney Connie Rice endorsing him.

The LAPD detective Lou Vince and retired LASD lieutenant Pat Gomez are also vying for votes.

Olmsted’s plan is smart and thoughtful—in short, something that other candidates would do well to peruse.

It features various ways to improve nuts and bolts policing, while also outlining ideas to “institute systemic safeguards” to ensure that, as he puts it, “nobody can ever again do what the current top brass have done to undermine the primary mission of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.”

These proposed safeguards include pushing for a permanent Citizen’s Oversight Commission, similar to that which is proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, plus adding an additional office for internal oversight inside the LASD itself, with the idea of helping the department better police itself.

In other points, Olmsted says he would hire independent auditor to do a forensic audit to find out where the department’s money has been spent. (We really hope other candidates will embrace this idea as we have long believed a deep and rigorous forensic audit of the LASD’s fiscal matters is sorely needed.)

The candidate also notes department programs that have been woefully underfunded, like the The LASD’s Special Victims Unit, which investigates sexual and physical abuse against children and, according to Olmsted has an alarming backlog of some 2000 cases.

In the arena of realignment, Olmsted promises to look at “best practices” around the state, thereby “using the county as a laboratory for criminal justice” reform. (This is another principle we applaud.)

Olmsted declares himself a strong believer in the importance of “rehabilitative not just punitive, incarceration” so recommends continuing to support Baca’s education-based incarceration but also beefing up the department’s gang and drug prevention programs aimed at helping kids before they hit the justice system, programs that of late seem to have been drastically slashed.

You can find more on Olmsted’s “Pathway to Reform” here.

Attention all you other candidates….now it’s your turn.


Ever since Lee Baca recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, as his interim replacement earlier this month when he announced that he’d be leaving the department, we’d been hearing that Ms. McDonald didn’t have the proper credentials to step into the gap Baca is leaving.

Terri McDonald oversees the LASD’s custody division

Now the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has a story about this very issue and more. Here’s a clip:

The law enforcement leader many expected would replace Sheriff Lee Baca when he steps down next week does not have the required credentials, complicating the job of Los Angeles County supervisors who must pick an interim sheriff.

When Baca unexpectedly announced his plans to drop his reelection bid and retire at the end of this month, he recommended that supervisors appoint Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald to run the department until voters select a permanent sheriff later this year.

McDonald, a former state corrections official, was brought in last year to oversee the department’s massive and troubled jail system and is highly regarded by the supervisors. But state law requires that sheriff’s candidates have either advanced certification through the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training or specific types of field experience and education as a law enforcement officer. McDonald has neither.

The supervisors will meet in closed session on Thursday to further discuss the interim appointment.


While the rest of us were getting ready to ring in the new year late last month, LA County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection issued an interim report calling for—among other changes— the appointment of a Child Welfare Czar. This post, if created, would be “empowered by the Board of Supervisors to have the ability to transcend structure and propose the movement of financial and staff resources without regard to department lines.”

If you’ll remember, the commission was formed last year to make recommendations as to how to fix LA’s chronically and tragically dysfunctional foster care system.

Now Christie Renick of the Chronicle of Social Change writes about the proposal to create such a position.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established more than six months ago in the wake of a tragic child death and on the heels of a scathing report on 13 others, submitted a far-reaching set of recommendations to Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors just before the New Year.

The question is whether or not the recommendations, submitted as a first step towards a complete overhaul “of the current ‘dysfunctional’ County child protection system,” will be funded in such a way as to have impact.


The commission suggested the Board of Supervisors name a lead agency to oversee implementation of its recommendations by the end of January. Further, the recommendations suggest, this lead agency should have sweeping powers.

“The lead agency must be empowered by the Board to have the ability to transcend structure and propose the movement of financial and staff resources without regard to department lines,” the report said.

The commission suggested as a possible lead agency the District Attorneys office, the Violence Intervention Program at University of Southern California Medical Center, or a combination of the two.

In essence, the commission envisions a Child Safety Czar, with an expectation to present implementation plans, specific to the other agencies involved, as early as March.

Here’s an earlier post about a LA Times editorial noting the commission’s views on the catastrophic lack of coordination between agencies who interact with foster kids, or potential foster kids, and what can be done about it.

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD | 41 Comments »

Jails Commission Members Endorse a Sheriff’s Candidate….A New Candidate for Sheriff…the LASD is Sloppy With Money….& More

January 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Executive Director, Miriam Krinsky and members of the Los Angeles Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (CCJV) will hold a 9:30 AM press conference Friday to announce their unanimous endorsement of commission member and Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in his race for LA County Sheriff.

(The commission members make this endorsement of McDonnell as private citizens.)

The press conference will take place on the Temple Street steps in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration

More on the endorsement later.


Soon there will be two working assistant sheriffs running for the office of LA County Sheriff. CBS-2 news has the story. Here’s a clip:

In his first television interview since his announcement, Hellmold, who started his 25-year law enforcement career as an aide to Baca, told KCAL9’s Dave Bryan that he can see clearly what the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department needs.

“I have a vision for the sheriff’s department to modernize its patrol and detective resources with the emergence of advanced technology and cyber-crime. The sheriff’s department needs to be a modern policing agency with the technical skills, the equipment,” he said.
When Hellmold was asked about running for sheriff last week, he said he was a crime fighter, not a politician. He said he’s now ready to run.


A report released by the LA County Auditor-Controller on Thursday revealed a list of sloppy accounting practices by the LA County Sheriff’s Department when it comes to certain restricted funds that have been under the department’s fiscal control.

The LASD’s handling of so-called unclaimed funds was among the most startling of the discoveries.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacourt has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

The Sheriff’s Department took $1.6 million ­— most of belonging to released inmates — instead of directing it to the appropriate county agency, according to a report released Thursday by the county Auditor-Controller.

A spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca, Steve Whitmore tried to downplay the problem, saying it was “more about accounting than anything else.”

He vowed, however, that the department would correct the problem.

In her report, Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe said, “We noted that the Sheriff’s inappropriately transferred approximately $1.6 million in unclaimed funds into their operating revenue over a two-year period.”

To read the entire report yourself click here: 2014-01-16 Sheriff’s Department – Special Funds, Trust Funds, and Accruals Review


Two-thirds of the 730,000 prison inmates released into American communities each year have substance abuse or mental health problems. But, although research and common sense says that many of these men and women need treatment if they are to avoid returning to prison, finding ways to pay for that crucial treatment usually ranges from difficult to impossible—until now.

Vin Beiser has the story, writing for the Atlantic. Here’s a clip:

Ron Sanders may hold the record for the fastest round trip from and back into jail. Released after a year in a San Francisco county lockup—just one in a series of drug-related sentences he’d served over the years—he headed right back to the streets he knew best. “Four hours after I got out, I got me a 40 [ounce bottle of malt liquor] and a rock of crack,” says Sanders, a wiry African American man with a scar on his forehead and a pair of spotless Nikes on his feet. “Then I turned around, and there was a cop right behind me.” He was back behind bars before the day was over.

Slightly slower-paced versions of Sanders’ story play out every day all across the country. An astonishing two-thirds of the 730,000 men and women released from America’s lockups each year have either substance abuse problems, mental health problems, or both. Very often, those problems were largely responsible for getting them locked up in the first place. Most addicted and mentally ill prisoners receive little or no effective treatment while they’re incarcerated or after they’re turned loose, so it’s little surprise that, like Sanders, they soon wind up back in jail. But for some, that revolving door may stop spinning this year, thanks to a little-noticed side-effect of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, it turns out, might be a crime-fighting tool.


Providing treatment to those former prisoners could yield enormous benefits for all of us. The average cost to incarcerate someone for a year is roughly $25,000. That means if only one percent of each year’s released inmates stay out of trouble, taxpayers will save nearly $200 million annually—and the pool of troubled ex-cons looking to steal your car stereo will be that much smaller. “Success in implementing the Affordable Care Act has the potential to decrease crime, recidivism, and criminal justice costs, while simultaneously improving the health and safety of communities,” sums up a recent report by the federal Department of Justice.

Posted in 2014 election, LA County Jail, LASD | 54 Comments »

Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.


As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.


There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Defendants Go to Court…One Whistleblower Among Those Indicted

December 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


By Monday afternoon, all seven Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members indicted last Monday for obstruction of justice had entered pleas not guilty for their alleged roles in an elaborate scheme to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal agent handlers. (For the back story on the Anthony Brown case go here)

In all, there were eighteen federal indictments handed down last week, seven of which pertained to the hiding of Brown.

Former Lt. Gregory Thompson, Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and Deputy Gerard Smith, formally pleaded on Monday morning, while Lt. Stephen Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo went to court last week.

Deputy James Sexton pleaded not guilty in a hearing of his own on Monday afternoon.


Of the seven indicted for the Anthony Brown matter, Sexton is something of an outlier in that he has reportedly been cooperating with the feds on the case since the summer of 2012 when he and his LASD partner, Deputy Mike Rathbun, contacted the FBI as whistleblowers to report another case of alleged LASD wrongdoing they had witnessed inside Men’s Central Jail in the course of their work.

As a consequence, many were surprised at the inclusion of Sexton on the indictment list.

In contrast, the other six obstruction defendants reportedly declined to cooperate-–although sources tell us that at least one has signaled a willingness to talk since the indictments were unsealed.

The Anthony Brown/obstruction of justice charges could possibly bring as much as 10 or 15 years in prison, thus the feds are clearly hoping that last week’s indictments will persuade most or all of the defendants to reveal what they know—which is reportedly a considerable amount.

At the moment, the highest ranking of the 18 department members named in the federal indictments are the two lieutenants charged in the Anthony Brown case—retired Lt. Gregory Thompson and Lt. Stephen Leavins.

Yet, sources directly involved with or near to the hiding of Brown say that both Leavins and Thompson received their marching orders from the highest levels in the department.

According to sources, both men reported directly to former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Sources also allege that Thompson, Manzo and Smith were present on more than one occasion when Sheriff Lee Baca was briefed about the Brown operation.

The latter claim was repeated by the former undersheriff himself last spring in interviews with the LA Times and with KABC TV news, where Tanaka stated that he was ordered by the sheriff to keep Brown away from the FBI.

Here’s a clip from the April 30, 2013 Times story:

A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating whether sheriff’s officials were hiding the inmate and the phone from the FBI, or whether they were protecting the inmate from retaliation by jail deputies he was “snitching” on, as a sheriff’s spokesman has said.

Tanaka said Baca ordered subordinates to keep the inmate from the FBI until the department finished with him. He said the sheriff explicitly denied a request from a federal official to return the phone.

“I want the inmate interviewed. I don’t want him leaving our custody. I want the phone, all of the information removed from it and I don’t want the phone to go anywhere,” Baca said, according to Tanaka.

Asked if the sheriff was obstructing the FBI investigation, Tanaka said that he and other subordinates “had to really weigh” Baca’s orders to avoid “cross[ing] the line of doing anything wrong.”


When, at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox outlined some of the elements of the Brown case federal prosecutors expect to introduce at trial (which is set for February 4, 2014, but expected to be delayed) Fox said the feds had over a dozen audio recordings, around a dozen multimedia disks, and a long list of witnesses, many of whom have already testified in front of the federal grand jury that led to the current indictments.

Fox also said federal prosecutors had a copy of a recording that LASD Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long made in secret when they allegedly went out late at night to the home of FBI special agent Leah Marx, who was one of Brown’s federal handlers, and falsely told her they could arrest her on criminal charges, allegedly in an effort in a effort to intimidate her into revealing the information the feds had gotten from Brown.

In July of this year, WitnessLA reported on the existence of the recording in our story, Operation Pandora’s Box, about the hiding of Brown.

According to sources, the ICIB agents [Long and Craig] later played the recording for Sheriff Baca as part of a briefing on the matter. Baca reportedly thanked one of the sergeants for providing him with the week’s best laugh.


All the defendants were asked to surrender their passports, all who still work for the department have been relieved of duty without pay, and all but Sexton were directed to surrender all firearms.

Sexton’s attorney, who happened to be former US Attorney Thomas O’Brien—AKA the person that US Attorney Andre Birotte replaced when Birotte appointed to the job in early 2010—argued calmly that Sexton should be allowed to keep his two firearms at home for his protection. Evidently, the threats seemed credible enough that prosecutor Fox agreed to the exception without much argument.

The notion that Sexton had reason to fear for his safety was detailed in a civil lawsuit filed by Sexton and Rathbun in federal court last spring (and refiled in state court more recently). In the filing, both deputies detailed having received a harrowing barrage of retaliation and threats—including death threats—from department members and others after the two men reported alleged wrongdoing, first through the appropriate LASD channels and, when they got little response, to the FBI, to the press, and eventually—in the case of the hiding of Anthony Brown—in front a grand jury.

Before Sexton’s hearing was over, attorney O’Brian mentioned to Judge Anderson that he would likely file a motion to sever Sexton’s case from that of the other six defendants. It was unclear from the judge’s response whether he would be likely to grant such a severance or not.

Among those supporting Sexton in court was his father, LASD Chief Ted Sexton, who—along with LASD Custody Chief Terri McDonnell—was one of the two high-ranking outsiders brought in by Sheriff Lee Baca last spring as a demonstration of his willingness to move his troubled department toward reform.

Sexton Sr., the longtime sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, now runs LASD’s Department of Homeland Security. Although he declined to talk to reporters at the hearing, he looked decidedly unhappy about his son’s present circumstances.

Posted in criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 22 Comments »

SHERIFF’S ELECTIONS WATCH: More Commentary on the Fed Indictments and What They Portend

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The unsealing of 18 federal indictments against working and retired members
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department last Monday, thrust the ongoing problems at the LASD on to the national stage as well as causing local reporters to focus the issue more frequently.

So, in addition to our own reporting, we will keep you up to date with what other media outlets have been saying.


Here are clips from this weekend’s story by Jennifer Medina for the New York Times:

A man trying to visit his brother in 2011 in a downtown Los Angeles jail was arrested by a deputy sheriff, who took him, in handcuffs, to a windowless break room and shoved him against a refrigerator. One deputy stood guard while others kicked and punched the man, still in handcuffs, his face against the floor. They wrote a report accusing the man of assault and pressed charges, which the district attorney later dropped abruptly.

Months later, knowing the Sheriff’s Department was facing a federal inquiry into the jails because of such episodes, two sergeants went to the home of an F.B.I. agent, demanding to know details about the investigation. When she did not comply, the sergeants lied and told her that she was a criminal suspect who faced imminent arrest.

A generation ago, the Los Angeles Police Department was rocked by corruption and abuse charges after the Rodney King beating, eventually undergoing what is widely viewed as one of the most complete police turnarounds in 50 years. But these days, even as the Police Department is praised, the larger Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is enmeshed in a new round of allegations of pervasive civil rights violations that to some feel uncomfortably familiar.

If the law enforcement troubles 20 years ago had one face, it was Daryl Gates, the hard-nosed police chief, who was ousted by the mayor. This time, it is Lee Baca, the entrenched sheriff, who is up for re-election next year. Though his victory was long viewed as assured, the election is turning into one freighted with the troubled history of law enforcement in this region, a referendum less on Sheriff Baca than on the agency he has led for 15 years.


Now, Sheriff Baca is facing renewed calls for his resignation, even as he prepares to run for his fifth term overseeing the largest county law enforcement agency in the nation.

“We have now again reached a moment in time where people are — and really should be — questioning their confidence in the system,” said Miriam Krinsky, a professor at Loyola Law School who led a county citizens commission investigating allegations of abuse last year. “The question really is, ‘How can the department function with the dark cloud that now sits over it?’ This is where L.A.P.D. was at its bleakest moments, with a profound loss of the public trust. If Sheriff Baca were in this position for any private company, he would no longer be there.”


Kelly Goff of the Long Beach Press Telegram has this take on the indictment and what they could collaterally cost the LA County Taxpayers. Here’s a clip:

Several of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies named in federal indictments last week are also named defendants in civil lawsuits that could end up costing the county millions of dollars.

The names of five out of the 18 defendants in the federal cases alleging jailhouse beatings, false reports and other charges also appear in a handful of lawsuits detailing alleged abuses going back to 2009. Legal experts say convictions in the criminal cases will likely mean large payouts in the civil cases.

“The indictments could be a saving grace for the attorneys in the civil cases,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School. “If there are convictions, then it’s not about proving guilt in the civil matter, it’s about who is going to pay and how much.”


Two of the incidents detailed in documents submitted in connection with a pair of suits are the basis of the criminal indictment, with similar accounts of visitors to the jail alleging severe beatings at the hands of deputies.

In 2010, Leocadio Figueroa went to Men’s Central Jail downtown to see his brother, who was an inmate. While he was waiting to see his brother, he asked if he could speak to the watch commander, according to documents in a civil suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

He was then allegedly beaten by deputies who broke his arm and tried to detain him, claiming he instigated the fight, according to the suit. He ended up in the hospital and no charges against him were ever filed.

Two of the deputies that allegedly beat Figueroa, Noel Womack and Eric Gonzalez, are charged in the federal criminal case, accused of jailhouse beatings and covering them up with false reports. Figueroa’s allegations are referenced in the criminal indictment.

Figueroa’s attorney, Edgardo Garcia, declined to comment on the specifics of Figueroa’s case, but said he thinks the indictments will change the way the county responds to similar lawsuits.

“They always fight these cases. The initial response is always ‘Here’s a whiner who is complaining about a good deputy,’ ” he said. “That response is no longer available to them. In cases brought in the future, they are going to have to look more closely.”


A slightly different version of the same message came from Christina Villacourt of the LA Daily News. Here’s a clip:

Hours after the FBI rounded up 18 of his officers for various alleged crimes, ranging from beating inmates to obstruction of justice, Sheriff Lee Baca tried to project the image of someone who had the situation under control.

“There is no perfect law enforcement agency anywhere in the world but what I do is I tell the truth,” he told reporters on Dec. 9. “I accept responsibility, and I also believe in correcting things and getting proactive.”

“You haven’t seen me retire from the job,” he added. “You haven’t seen me blame somebody else besides me for whatever the challenges are.”

Whether the 71-year-old Baca will be forced to retire will be decided by voters in June. He faces several challengers in his bid to continue leading the world’s largest sheriff’s department — one that has a budget of $2.4 billion and a staff of about 18,000 responsible for protecting about 4 million people.

In previous years, his re-election victories had been almost taken for granted.

Baca won election in 1998 after challenging incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block, who died a few days before the vote. Now in his fourth term, Baca has trounced every challenger since then and ran unopposed in the last election.

But after 15 years in office, problems in the jails have taken a toll on his image.


An Op Ed from the LA Times Karen Klien puts the last seven days’ news into perspective. (Or something like that.) Here’s how it opens.

It was a little strange altogether — considering that the overriding issue this week in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department was its abominable treatment of inmates in its jails — to note that Sheriff Lee Baca felt he needed to leave his personal stamp on the case of a group of miscreant teenagers.

About 100 teens are thought to have broken into a vacant La Habra Heights mansion for a wild party, and 16 of them have been charged with looting the place of pretty much anything that could be carried, including designer suits and a mounted snow leopard valued at $250,000. The place was also trashed, with total damage amounting to $1 million. It was definitely an oddball crime, but not a topic of tremendous importance to the county.

But Baca wasn’t inclined to leave this to his spokespeople — though considering the comments he delivered, he might have been better off doing so.

Please do yourself a favor and read on.


Another LA Times Op Ed by another LAT staffer, Jon Healy, marvels over what kind of thinking could have precipitated the handcuffing and arrest of that Austrian diplomat and her huz.

What does it take to provoke a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy to slap handcuffs on you? For a female Austrian diplomat, all it took was asking to see a supervisor at the Men’s Central Jail.

That’s according to one of the federal indictments unsealed Monday in Los Angeles. Granted, the indictments tell only one side of the story. But it’s still astounding that a diplomat (and a female one at that) making a routine visit to the jail would end up in restraints.


Let’s assume just for the sake of argument that the consul and her husband weren’t the most cooperative and docile of jail visitors. Assume they were argumentative and demanding, or maybe even condescending. Regardless, U.S. law treats diplomats as special people with special privileges — as do the laws in the rest of the civilized world.

The problem here, according to the Justice Department, is that some in the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves in an even higher league of special. As Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, put it in a statement: “The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction-of-justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law.”

The indictment accuses Ayala of taking the consul and her husband to a deputy break room that’s outside of public view and caused the consul to be searched — and not because she was suspected of being armed or having committed a crime.

But as demeaning as a search can be, it’s positively kind in comparison to the beat-downs that the indicted deputies allegedly issued to other jail visitors.

Photo by Jaime Lopez, LASD

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

Press May Lose Access to LA Dependency Courts, Pregnancy and Parenthood in CA Prisons, Tanaka on Concealed-Carry Permits, the LASD “Asshole Culture,” and More

December 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


Earlier this year, Michael Nash, presiding juvenile court judge in LA County, ordered that the county’s juvenile dependency courts be open to the press (unless it was established that having reporters in a hearing would be detrimental to the child). This good and important action by Judge Nash let some light into the previously shrouded dependency court proceedings, and brought a new degree of public accountability to DCFS and the court system.

On Wednesday, a California appeals court tentatively ruled that the order was not within the scope of Nash’s legal power, and that it would likely be overturned. (The final decision will be made on Dec. 19. We’ll keep you updated.)

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In January, Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles County Juvenile Court, issued an order decreeing that dependency hearings, which had been presumptively closed, were now to be presumptively open to the press.

But the appeals court’s tentative ruling, issued Wednesday, said Nash’s order violated state law.

“There may be merit in effecting the reforms provided in the blanket order, but it is not the role of the judiciary to provide a more open system,” said the tentative ruling by California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight. “It is for the Legislature, not the courts, to effect changes to the system it has put in place.”


KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has a thought-provoking interactive longread that sheds some light on the women who give birth while serving time in California’s prisons. Fernandes (and photographer Mae Ryan) documented several mothers’ experiences, including one woman who was approved to live with her daughter in a special facility for incarcerated moms with young children. In almost all cases, however, if there is not a spouse or family member willing to take the newborn, the child ends up in the foster care system or with an adoptive family.

Here’s a clip:

In the first days of 2013, Regina Zodiacal was escorted from a Santa Ana jail cell to a bus headed to the California Institute for Women, a state prison in Chino.

Zodiacal had been in and out of trouble for minor crimes for years and her conviction this time was not remarkable – armed robbery for a $66 shoplifting incident gone wrong, and forgery for cashing bad checks.

“I grew up on the streets,” said Zodiacal, who left home at 15. “I’ve always been on my own and got money in the way I knew how – and that’s fast money.”

But in one significant way, Zodiacal was different from most of the women who routinely board this bus: She was five months pregnant.

Despite all the trouble she’d been in and caused, this was the one thing she was determined not to be – the girl who “went to prison to give birth.” Yet, here she was.

Pregnant women like Zodiacal make up less than 1 percent of female prisoners – 188 California inmates gave birth in 2011 and 45 in 2012, when officials began moving prisoners to county jails to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

Despite their small numbers, these women have posed a thorny question for guards and rights advocates for decades: how do you balance what’s best for the community with what’s best for the babies born to incarcerated felons?

For the most part, their children are raised by someone else in the outside world – a relative, a foster parent or an adoptive family.


Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka is taking a conservative tack on the issue of concealed-weapons permits in his campaign for sheriff, promising policy reform to allow for more approved permits. In the course of the two years that Tanaka was in charge of authorizing permits as undersheriff, however, he issued only a handful—one of which was to a billionaire movie mogul who is now a supporter of his campaign.

The LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has more on Tanaka’s seeming double-standard. Here’s how it opens:

As he campaigns for Los Angeles County sheriff, Paul Tanaka is making a pitch to the gun-rights community by promising to reform the way the department handles permits for concealed weapons, or CCWs. In a statement on his campaign website, Tanaka calls himself “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” and laments that L.A. is one of the toughest counties in the state in which to get a permit.

Tanaka also alludes to allegations that Sheriff Lee Baca, his opponent and former boss, takes a more liberal approach to issuing permits when the applicant happens to be a friend or supporter — allegations covered by the Weekly last year (“Sheriff Lee Baca and the Gun-Gift Connection,” Feb. 15). As sheriff, Tanaka said, he will issue permits “without favoritism.”

Yet Tanaka’s record of handling concealed weapons has been more complicated. For a two-year period when he was Baca’s undersheriff, Tanaka was in charge of issuing concealed-weapons permits. In that time, he denied the vast majority of applications he received. Of the few he approved, one went to a billionaire movie producer who is now a key supporter of his campaign.

Tanaka declined to be interviewed for this story. At a campaign event in Azusa on Nov. 21, he turned and walked away rather than discuss the issue.

However, he did respond in writing to a series of emailed questions, stating in part that when he worked for Baca, he was implementing Baca’s policies, not his own. “During my time as Undersheriff, my handling of the CCW permits was a direct reflection of the policies I was responsible to uphold by my former boss,” he wrote.

Steve Whitmore, Baca’s spokesman, takes issue with that.

“How long before Mr. Tanaka takes responsibility for anything?” Whitmore asks. “Or is it always going to be ‘I was only following orders?’”

Maddaus has also written a witty editorial on the LASD’s “asshole culture” with regard to the alleged needless handcuffing and searching of an Austrian diplomat, the threatening an FBI agent at her home, and officers’ behavior within the county jails. (Backstory on this week’s LASD indictments: here and here.) Here are some clips:

Evelin Fischer, an Austrian consul, went to the Men’s Central Jail on June 6, 2011, to pay a visit to an Austrian citizen who had been arrested. It was a routine diplomatic errand, and she brought her husband along.

While he was standing outside the visitor center, he walked a little too close to the entrance. According to an indictment unsealed on Monday, Deputy Sussie Ayala confronted him and then placed him in handcuffs.

When Fischer protested to a supervisor, she, too, was handcuffed. According to the indictment, Ayala and Deputy Noel Womack took her to a break room and searched her, though she was not suspected of a crime and should have been protected by diplomatic immunity.

As the jail scandal has unfolded over the past two years, it’s become commonplace to talk about the culture of violence within the Sheriff’s Department…

But many of the offenses outlined in the series of indictments unsealed on Monday do not fit neatly into that category. While some of the cases do involve allegations of extreme brutality, others involve misconduct of a different nature. We might call it asshole behavior.

What do we mean by “asshole”? Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at UC Irvine, has taken the trouble to answer that question with some rigor.

In his book, “Assholes: A Theory,” James defines an asshole as someone who “systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.”

Among his examples are people who cut in line, swerve in traffic or routinely interrupt conversations. The definition could as well apply to deputies who decide to handcuff and search a consular officer because her husband stood too close to a door…

(This is only the beginning—we really, really recommend you read the whole thing.)


We recommend you read the LA Times story by Jack Leonard, Victoria Kim and Robert Faturechi about how federal investigators are likely hoping to flip some of those whom they indicted on Monday in order to—so to speak—catch larger fish, particularly with regard to an obstruction of justice case having to do with allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown. We agree with the Times. By all accounts, Monday’s 18 indictments are not an end point, but a starting point.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison | 18 Comments »

Black Kids 8% of SF Students and 50% of “Defiance” Suspensions…LA Supervisors on LASD Indictments…and Gov. Brown Gets More Time to Drop Prison Pop

December 12th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


While African-Americans teenagers comprised just 8% of San Francisco’s public high school students in 2012, they accounted for a whopping 50% of suspensions for “willful defiance,” according to SF Unified School District data obtained by Public Counsel.

On Tuesday, in light of this data, a member of the district’s Board of Education introduced a resolution that would end suspensions for “willful defiance” by the beginning of the next school year, in addition to discipline alternatives like “trauma-informed counseling.”

Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has more on the data and what it means for San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

Willful defiance is a vague, catchall category for disruptive student behavior that can range from arriving late to using foul language to refusing to obey instructions.

The district’s black and Latino students are 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the student population. Together, however, students of these ethnic backgrounds comprised 77 percent of all student suspensions and 81 percent of all suspensions for willful defiance.

Just as The City by the Bay is challenged by sharp income divides, its schools, too, suffer from a wide gap in academic achievement between white student and those who are black or Latino.

High rates of suspension result in poor academic performance as out-of-school kids fall behind and disengage from school, said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s California statewide education rights director.

“These go hand in hand,” she said. “They are not separate.”

Suspensions, Public Counsel has said, are like an “unsupervised vacation” from school, with damaging consequences for students.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education began considering a resolution introduced by a member to eliminate, by next fall, the option to suspend students for willful defiance.

“We’ve made some progress in reducing suspensions overall,” said Matt Haney, who introduced the “Safe and Supportive Schools” resolution.

Despite that, Haney said, “the numbers for African American students remain not just troubling, but shocking.”


On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors held a closed-door meeting to discuss the controversial arrests of 18 current and former LASD officers Monday morning. (Read the backstory here, and here.) In the regular Tuesday board meeting, the Supervisors did not report that any decisions were made during the closed session.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Seema Mehta and also with Warren Olney of Which Way LA? on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called again for a citizens’ commission to oversee the sheriff’s department. The potential blue ribbon commission will be up again for consideration by the board next month, though a third vote is needed to move forward. At the moment, only Ridley-Thomas and Molina are in favor of the commission.

Here’s more on the issue from Abby Sewell and Seema Mehta. Here are some clips:

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina earlier this year proposed setting up a citizens’ panel similar to the one that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department, which was hit by misconduct convictions during the so-called Rampart scandal in the 1990s.

The other supervisors did not support the plan, saying the inspector general’s office — which was set up at the recommendation of a panel that studied jail violence — would be a more effective watchdog. Ridley-Thomas said he hopes the recent arrests will lead them to reconsider. The proposal for a citizens’ commission is slated to come back before the board next month.

“There is a model that has made [LAPD] better. It would seem to some that the county of Los Angeles would be anxious to do something similar if not better, particularly in light of today’s revelations,” Ridley-Thomas said. “…This is a cultural problem, fundamentally so, and this is tantamount in some ways to the stench of Rampart.”


Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who does not support creating a citizens’ oversight commission, said during the board’s weekly meeting Tuesday that he does support continuing efforts to hold wrongdoers in the Sheriff’s Department accountable.

“We know that continuing investigations are going on and very likely this is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s going to go higher up the chain of command,” he said.

Molina, a longtime critic of Baca, said in a biting statement, “Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform — they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years.”

We also wanted to make sure you did not miss the excellent Monday LA Times editorial about the arrests and underlying “deep-seated” culture of abuse in LA County jails. Here’s how it opens:

Any lingering doubt about whether there are deep-seated problems of abuse at Los Angeles County jails should be put to rest by Monday’s arrests following the unsealing of formal charges against 18 current or former sheriff’s deputies. Any inclination to pass off more than two years of news reports and official probes detailing inmate beatings as simply the result of a few rogue deputies should be shelved.

Some of the allegations are familiar, involving inmates suffering unwarranted abuse and beatings. One of the challenges in coming to grips with civil rights violations perpetrated against convicted criminals is that the victims receive little sympathy from most of the voters and taxpayers who put the sheriff in office and who pay his department’s bills; after all, the thinking goes, criminals deserve punishment.

They do not, however, deserve to be beaten. A civilized society is entitled to punish lawbreakers, but officials with badges, guns and the authority to ensure safety and order are not vested with the right to abuse those they guard. Nor are all inmates criminals; many are in jail awaiting trial, presumed innocent until the jury verdict…


On Wednesday, federal judges granted Gov. Jerry Brown an extension on the deadline to reduce the California prison population, moving the date to April 18 (from February 24). The judges also pushed back the deadline for negotiations on how to solve the overcrowding problem to January 10, but also said that they intended it to be the final extension. The good news is that the extra time does strongly suggest that the judges are rooting for the more progressive solution (rehabilitation, reentry programs), not solely the simple reduction of the numbers in the short term. (For previous WLA posts on the issue go here and here.)

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has the story. Here’s a clip:

The judges previously moved the deadline to February while a court-appointed mediator works to find a long-term solution with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and attorneys representing inmates who say crowding leads to conditions so poor that they violate constitutional standards.

The judges ordered that those talks continue until Jan. 10. But their one-paragraph order warns that they plan no further extension in the negotiations “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“The court is bending over backward to accommodate the state,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys representing inmates in the case. “We’re anxious to either complete the negotiation process, or if that’s not successful, to resume litigation at the earliest possible time.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, race, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

SHERIFF’S ELECTION WATCH: Candidates Comment Re: Fed Indictments…..and on Which Way LA? Ridley-Thomas Talks About Changing the State Charter to Appoint Not Elect LA Sheriffs

December 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


After federal indictments were unsealed Monday morning triggering the arrest of 18 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, there was initially no comment from former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff against Lee Baca.

But then on Wednesday, Tanaka released a statement that, while it didn’t address the indictments directly, seemed to be a gesture that direction. The LA Times’ Seema Mehta has a story on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff who is challenging his old boss Sheriff Lee Baca in next year’s election, made his first public statement Wednesday since news broke that the federal government had arrested 18 current and former members of the Sheriff’s Department in a jail abuse and corruption scandal.

“The residents of Los Angeles County deserve better, as do the hard-working men and women of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. It’s time for the sheriff to take responsibility for the decisions he has made as the top public safety official in the county,” Tanaka said in a written statement.

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, the strongest dark horse challenger in the sheriff’s race, had already released a statement about the indictments on Monday, along with making several media appearances, where he pointed to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven of Monday’s indictments.

For instance, in his appearance on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, Olmsted noted that when Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, earlier in the year, the former undersheriff admitted his involvement with the operation to hide informant Brown, claiming that Baca ordered him to do so.

“He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” said Olmsted. “[The hiding of Anthony Brown] could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Then on Wednesday, in response to Tanaka’s statement, Olmsted put out a second press release, again taking both Tanaka and Baca to task in relationship to the indictments. It reads in part:

“Rather than telling the whole truth about who permitted sheriffs’ officials to use excessive force, abuse inmates, obstruct justice, or intimidate an FBI agent, on Monday, Sheriff Lee Baca neglected to detail how all of this happened or what the chain of events transpired under his watch. Even worse, he didn’t take responsibility or hold himself fully liable for these failures.

Either Sheriff Baca was asleep at the wheel, or he purposely separated himself from the daily operations of his department, or he’s hiding his involvement in this train-wreck.

This week, retired LASD lieutenant and candidate for sheriff, Pat Gomez, also released a statement that was critical of Baca and Tanaka.


On Tuesday, on Which Way LA? Warren Olney did a second show relating to the indictments, this time asking guests if Sheriff Baca’s bid to be reelected for a fifth term in office is imperiled by recent events.

With Olney on the show were LA County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, attorney Mark Geragos, who is a strong Baca Supporter, Ralph Sonenshein, head of the Pat Brown institute at Cal State LA, and former County Counsel and Police Commission president, Andrea Ordin.

The notable moment on Tuesday’s show came when Ridley-Thomas again called for stronger oversight of the sheriff’s department and said that perhaps it’s time to change state law so that sheriffs, like chiefs of police, are appointed, not elected.

Be sure to listen to the show’s podcast here.

LASD badge and patch photo by Jaime Lopez


Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

Federal Indictments, Part 2: Where—and To Whom—-Will They Lead?

December 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

On the day after United States Attorney Andre Birotte unveiled five criminal cases that have thus far resulted in the 18 federal indictments, it is instructive to look beyond Monday’s charges to see what they might mean in terms of the feds ongoing probes.


Birotte made it clear that the 18 indictments unsealed on Monday—which he characterized has alleging “a wide scope of illegal conduct”—-were by no means an endpoint, that investigations were aggressively ongoing into these and other areas.

When asked by Warren Olney how high up the food chain he expected future indictments to go, Birotte said that the feds would “go where the investigations take us.”

If looked at as auguries of things yet to come, the three groups of indictments pertaining to the LA County jails are particularly interesting because they point to much broader indictments possibly on the horizon alleging a “pattern and practice” of abuse of inmates by deputies, and of related corruption in the jails.

For instance, one of the five clusters of indictments pertains to incidents at Twin Towers jail facility in which a training officer, Bryan Brunsting, along with Twin Towers deputy Jason Branum, is charged with planning an assault on an inmate “to teach him a lesson,” and then together with several other deputies, allegedly assaulting the inmate with kicks, punches and pepper spray to the point of “bodily injury.”

The indictment further alleges that Brunsting used deputies he was training to file reports that covered up the abuse and caused the beaten inmates to be falsely criminally charged to mask the beatings.

This alleged strategy of using accusations of violence against inmates to cover-up deputy assualts is one that has frequently turned up in high ticket lawsuits and incidents like the one WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on here last week. In other words, it suggests something more widespread than a few bad apples, but rather “pattern and practice.”


The second cluster of indictments, labeled “the visiting center indictment,” charges that a sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, and four deputies, with civil rights violations, and alleges they arrested or detained five victims—including the Austrian consul general and her husband—when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail.

According to Birotte, one of those victims suffered injuries that resulted in a permanent disability.

The indictment further alleges that Gonzales, who is no longer with the department, “encouraged deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force”….and to “criticize deputy sheriffs’ who were not aggressive.”

When Gonzales left Men’s Central Jail, the indictment charges that the attitudes he promoted continued.

Again, this cluster suggests possible “pattern and practice” allegations to come.

The visiting center indictment is also interesting because none of the people who were allegedly unlawfully detained and/or assaulted, were inmates. Instead they were simply the friends or family of inmates who had come to the jail to visit.


So how responsible are Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka for the actions alleged in the indictments?

When Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, was interviewed Monday on KCRW as part of the station’s coverage of the indictments, Krinsky talked about “failures of leadership at the highest level,” leadership that, among other things, failed to address a culture in the jails where “a code of silence and excessive force was the norm.”

A failure for leadership to address such attitudes, “…causes small problems to become large problems,” said Krinsky.

You can listen to the rest of what Krinsky had to say here.


Kevin Roderick of LA Observed made an interesting point in his KCRW segment on Monday, when he suggested that one of the reasons the sheriff, who has rarely spoken to the press these past months, felt he had to hold a press conference Monday afternoon after the indictments were unsealed, was because he feared a gaggle of reporters with cameras and mics would show up at his Monday night $1500-a-plate campaign fundraiser co-sponsored by Grey Davis, Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Mark Geragos. (“They probably showed up anyway,” Roderick said.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze went even further with his report on what the indictments might mean for Baca’s reelection race. Here are some clips.

When Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca woke up Monday morning, he was probably looking forward to the fundraiser being held that very evening for his 2014 re-election campaign.

But his mood probably changed about 9:30 a.m., when news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted 18 current or former members of the Sheriff’s Department on a wide range of misconduct charges that include excessive force, unlawful arrests and obstruction of a federal investigation.

At a morning press conference, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. pointedly said the incidents “did not take place in a vacuum – in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”


…The sheriff faced a daylong deluge of criticism from various corners.

Former federal judge and former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Robert Bonner, served on a blue ribbon commission that just over a year ago issued a report that faulted both Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

“I think [the charges] are reflective of what we found on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence,” said Bonner, “that there has been, in the past, a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that fosters the use of unreasonable and unnecessary force.”

Bonner called the indictments something akin to a thermonuclear bomb delivered by the U.S. attorney, noting how unusual it is for the federal government to indict law enforcement officials.

Since, along with his other past jobs, Jails Commissioner Bonner also ran the DEA, and the US Border Patrol, he is likely in a position to know a bit about law enforcement.


Bob Olmsted, the retired LASD commander who is challenging Lee Baca for sheriff, pointed unequivocally to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven indictments on Monday.

Olmsted was on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, and spoke to Frank Stoltze at KPCC, along with putting out a statement of his own about the indictments.

Regarding the cluster of indictments stemming from the Anthony Brown matter, Olmsted told Stoltze that the directions to hide FBI informant Brown, and to try to intimidate his FBI handler, could not have originated with the lieutenants and two sergeants who were indicted.

“Lieutenants do not have the capability to make decisions,” Olmsted said. “Those came from higher-ups. Being an investigator for years and years and years, I can tell you what’s going on: The Feds grabbed the low-lying fruit.”

Olmsted also pointed out that when Paul Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, Tanaka claimed that Baca ordered him to hide prisoner Anthony Brown. “He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” Olmsted noted both to WitnessLA and to Olney. “This could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Interestingly, when asked by Olney, if he would have the wherewithal to challenge two very well financed candidates with deep pockets—meaning Baca and Tanaka—Olmsted said he did, that by the end of the year he expected his fundraising to hit the same dollar amount that now LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey had raised at the same point in her campaign against the better financed and better known Carmen Trutanich.


Backing Olmsted’s observations about the involvement of top leadership, Bradley Gage, attorney for department whistleblower, LASD Lt. Katherine Voyer (among others), told KNBC reporters on Monday that Voyer—-who was a supervisor in the jails at the time when Anthony Brown’s identity as an informant was discovered—was told that if federal agents showed up to see inmate Brown, Paul Tanaka was to be called immediately on his personal cell phone, and that no one should use department phones or email, because those forms of communications might be tapped by the feds.


Molina issued a statement late Monday that read, in part:

“This morning’s Department of Justice arrests are disappointing but not surprising – and, in some ways, expected. These arrests reveal that Sheriff Lee Baca’s claim ‘there is no institutional problem within the Sheriff’s Department when it comes to correcting itself’ is untrue – especially since 18 current or former Sheriff’s Deputies were arrested. Saying you embrace change is not enough. Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform – they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years…..”

Ridley-Thomas also put out a statement, and told LA Times reporter Seema Mehta that the indictments were yet another indication of the need for strong oversight of the department.

“Ultimately, the next step in this process of reform is oversight and this should not be taken lightly because of the need to make sure that we are building a culture where no one operates under the impression they are above the law,” he said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas said the mechanism would be a blue-ribbon panel that he and Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed earlier this year that has stalled for the lack of a third vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They will revisit the proposal in January.

NOTE: Obviously, there are lots of important news stories that have nothing to do with the sheriff’s department or with new federal indictments. And we’ll be diving into those issues tomorrow morning.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »

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