Wednesday, November 25, 2015
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Letter Asks DOJ to Deal With OC Prosecutorial Misconduct Scandal…Responses to Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s Prop 47 Videos…LA Launch of Coalition to End Child Exploitation…and More

November 19th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a 25-page letter to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, more than three dozen former prosecutors, legal experts, and organizations called for a US Department of Justice investigation into the Orange County District Attorney and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s use of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence from defendants.

“We the undersigned share a firm belief in our criminal justice system and its overall ability to produce fair and reliable results,” the letter begins. “Compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County, however, has caused us grave concern.”

The alleged misconduct resulted in Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals’ removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Among those undersigned are former CA Attorney General and LA District Attorney John Van de Kamp, former LA District Attorney Gil Garcetti, former Chief Assistant United States Attorney Richard Drooyan, as well as Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, of the UC Irvine School of Law, Harvard legal theorist Charles Ogletree, criminal justice scholar Angela Davis, Harvard professor Alex Whiting, and the ACLU.

The writers list reasons why they believe the Orange County’s justice system to have reached crisis-level: “Charges in extremely serious cases have been reduced or dismissed; violent crimes—including murders—have gone entirely uninvestigated; to date, four law enforcement officers have refused to testify in pending criminal matters, citing their Fifth Amendment privilege against self‐incrimination; and at least one prosecutor has been found by a court to have given ‘incredible’ testimony under oath. More troubling still, this all appears to be the tip of the iceberg.”

“Orange County requires a thorough investigation by an independent entity, one with the authority to investigate long-concealed evidence in the custody of the OCSD and OCDA,” concludes the letter. “The unwillingness of the OCSD and OCDA to acknowledge the due process implications of the alleged misconduct has become only more entrenched as attention to the situation has grown. Nearly two years have passed since many of these issues were first brought to the attention of the OCDA and OCSD, allowing them ample time to demonstrate their ability to bring themselves into conformity with core constitutional principles. It is our firm belief that the Department of Justice is the only entity equipped to conduct this investigation and restore public confidence in the criminal justice system in Orange County.”

(For backstory on the OC’s misconduct scandal, go here.)


At the beginning of November, as part of a series of LA Times editorials on Prop. 47 and its effects, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell videotaped a few short op-ed messages sharing his take on the law one year into its implementation. Sheriff McDonnell said that the law has removed consequences beyond citations for certain offenses, and has made Californians less safe than they were a year ago.

Mark-Anthony Johnson, wellness director for the nonprofit Dignity and Power Now, shot a series of op-ed videos in direct response to McDonnell’s videos.

You can watch the first video message above, but head over to the Times for the rest.


Today (Thursday), LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell will launch the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force along with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Supervisors, United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker, advocate groups, and young victims of sex trafficking.

Through partnerships with community groups as well as county, state, and federal agencies, and a $1.5 million grant from the DOJ, the task force will combat human trafficking, with a particular focus on protecting victims of child sex trafficking and prosecuting those who buy and sell children.

The launch of the new task force follows Sheriff McDonnell’s October announcement that there’s “no such thing as a child prostitute.” (WLA reported earlier this month on why the LASD’s focus on child sex trafficking is so important.)


In an op-ed for the LA Daily News, US Senator Dianne Feinstein says prosecution of buyers of children and teens, as well as better coordination between law enforcement and social service providers, must be top priority in the fight against sex trafficking.

Feinstein says that targeting youth homelessness would go a long way toward helping young victims. A bill introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Rob Portman, called the Homeless Children and Youth Act, would give kids who live in motels (or do not have a permanent home) access to programs and resources for the homeless. Here’s a clip:

In California, the number of homeless children has nearly quadrupled since 2003. According to recent data from the Department of Education, there are nearly 120,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties alone.

A 2013 Covenant House survey of trafficking victims showed that nearly half had been homeless. The University of San Diego study also confirmed that homeless and runaway children are at much greater risk of being trafficked.

The good news is that real progress is being made in Los Angeles. Sheriff Jim McDonnell and I convened a meeting in August with law enforcement, public officials and advocates to discuss how we can fight trafficking. There was consensus that this problem is growing quickly and meaningful action must be taken to address it.

The Board of Supervisors, with the support of Sheriff McDonnell, passed a resolution recognizing that child trafficking victims like Carrie are victims, not prostitutes.

Sheriff McDonnell has also partnered with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and regional colleagues to launch a task force to better coordinate investigations and rescue operations, and connect victims to services. Through collaboration, traffickers will end up where they belong — behind bars — and these girls will get help…

Coordination between law enforcement and social service providers must be continually improved so victims don’t fall through the cracks, and we need to do much more to address youth homelessness, one of the root causes of the trafficking epidemic.

Posted in Department of Justice, Homelessness, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sex trafficking | 5 Comments »

Federal Judge Sends a Message With 8-Year Prison Sentence for LA Sheriff’s Sergeant in Jail Visitor Abuse Case

November 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, federal Judge George H. King sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, to eight years in a federal prison. The sentencing followed Gonzalez’ conviction on June 24, 2015, of charges pertaining to the brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, along with a conspiracy to cover up the beating by falsifying official reports, thus causing the victim to be criminally charged as the aggressor.

After King pronounced the sentence, he remanded Gonzalez, 46, straight into federal custody, rather than giving him a few weeks or more to wrap up his affairs and surrender, as had been the case with some of the other department members convicted of wrongdoing by the feds in the past two years.

Judge King —who is, by the way, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California-– made it clear that he wanted to send a message with the sentencing, stating grimly that Gonzalez “abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold.”

When law enforcement officers “think they are above the law,” King said, “the entire rule of law is threatened.”

The judge expressed hope that the stiff sentence would provide “general deterrence,” because, he said, law enforcement must know that there are “very serious consequences for the type of gross misconduct” Gonzalez’ actions represented.

“This conduct went beyond the pale” said Judge King.


For those unfamiliar with the case, the whole matter began on February 26, 2011, when Gabriel Carrillo and his girlfriend (now his wife) went to the Visiting Center for Men’s Central Jail intending to visit Carrillo’s recently arrested brother. Both Carrillo and his girlfriend carried their cell phones into the visitors’ center, although phones are prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, Carrillo was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where prosecutors said he was subjected to a “savage beating” and sprayed with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. Paramedics later transferred Carrillo to the hospital, suffering from injuries to his face, ribs and wrists.

In December 2013, five LA County Sheriff’s department members were indicted for the Carrillo beating and cover-up. This past June, Gonzalez was convicted on all counts along with former LASD Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. Two other former LASD deputies—Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—had taken plea deals earlier in the year and thus became witnesses for the prosecution.

During their testimony, both Womack and Deputy “Z”—as Zunggeemoge was called— unspooled harrowing descriptions of a cluster of large deputies kicking and slugging the far smaller Carrillo, who writhed, handcuffed, on the floor, trying to escape the blows, as Gonzalez looked on. “He was no threat to anyone,” said Womack of Carrillo.

During his turn on the stand, “Z” described how, after the beating, he was given specific language by Gonzalez to insert into the necessary report. Z said that, with Gonzalez coaching him, he wrote of a violent, assaultive, escape-minded Carrillo, using a narrative that was entirely fiction, he said, but that succeeded in triggering felony charges against the handcuffed victim.


During Monday’s sentencing hearing, Carrillo asked to speak to Judge King. “This wasn’t a one-time thing,” he told King, “this was a one-time get caught.”

Carrillo argued for the 10-year-plus sentence recommended by prosecutors, noting that the false charges that Gonzelez and company caused to be filed against him, could have resulted in a 14-year prison stretch.

In fact, Carrillo was a week before trial for the false allegations when his attorney, Ron Kaye, found the photos of Carrillo’s injured wrists (shown above) that his girlfriend had taken and forgotten about, not realizing their importance. Kaye also found a neutral witness, a middle-aged woman who had been in the visitors center sitting near the so-called break room during Carrillo’s beating, and was able to describe what she heard coming out of the room. “She was very important,” Kaye told me.

Thus, instead of going to prison, Carrillo works in construction as a fork lift operator and is married to his former girlfriend, Grace Torres, with whom he has two children.

Judge King also discounted the argument of Gonzalez’ defense attorney, Joseph Avrahamy, who argued that the battering of Carrillo, and the ensuing fabricated reports, represented an isolated incident. King said that the speed and ease with which the cover-up fell into place, suggested “a known course of conduct that has played out before.”

Indeed, in the original indictment that preceded the two deputy plea deals, prosecutors laid out three additional incidents of alleged abuse against people who came to the jail to see friends or loved ones, including the beating of a jail visitor who was slammed around by deputies to the point that his arm was fractured, all reportedly because he asked to see a supervisor when his combat veteran brother repeatedly couldn’t be located in the jail.

Each of the incidents allegedly involved some mix of the same cast of characters. And in at least two other cases, according to the indictment, deputies prepared “false and misleading reports in an attempt to show that…their uses of force were justified.” Sergeant Gonzalez, the indictment alleged, “would assist deputies in preparing these reports and would approve these reports knowing they were false.”

The original indictment also included an allegation by the feds that former Sergeant Gonzalez would “maintain, perpetuate and foster an atmosphere and environment” in the visiting area “that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law, including the use of unjustified force….” among other abuses.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if the visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.” He allegedly would “praise overly-aggressive behavior by deputy sheriffs and criticize” deputy behavior “that was not aggressive” and would “encourage deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force,” according to information the FBI and the prosecutors gathered.


At the sentencing, Gonzalez was not in the least contrite. Instead, he energetically defended his actions to the judge. As ABC7′s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez wrote in their account of the sentencing:

“Gonzalez told the court that the jail’s Visiting Center was controlled by gang members before he cleaned it up, changing it from ‘a violent place… to Disneyland.’”

The now ex-Sergeant also said that he and his fellow jail deputies routinely dealt with some of the most violent criminals in Los Angeles County, and while they could have had “uses of force every day,” they were “limited to a handful.”

The government was not impressed.

“Today’s lengthy prison sentence demonstrates that individuals who abuse their positions of trust as law enforcement officers will be held accountable,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker after Gonzalez sentence was handed down. “The former deputy sheriffs who participated in the scheme to violate the civil rights of a handcuffed man who was beaten without cause cast a stain on the entire Sheriff’s Department, where virtually all of the deputies serve admirably.”

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted a sixth deputy in relation to the incident at MCJ’s Visiting Center. Former Deputy Byron Dredd pleaded not guilty on Friday to conspiracy to violate civil rights and two counts of making false reports, and he was ordered to stand trial on December 22.

The case against Gonzalez and the five others is one in a series of indictments, that have resulted in the convictions of 15 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on federal charges. At least seven of those convictions will be reviewed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals next year.

Still more indicted department members have yet to come to trial. The highest profile of those trials looming in the future is that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka scheduled for March 2016.

Whether the feds’ still ongoing investigations will produce any more indictments of LASD personnel in the months to come is anybody’s guess. But rumors abound.

So, stay tuned.

VIDEO NOTE: The video above shows Carrillo being interviewed by then LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who had, a few hours before, supervised the Carrillo’s beating and the cover-up. It was shown at trial and the jury watched it with rapt attention. ABC-7 News producer Lisa Bartley obtained the video, so we have her to thank for being able to show it to you. Here’s ABC-7′s excellent story on Gonzalez’ sentencing, written by Bartley and reporter Miriam Hernandez

Posted in LASD | 35 Comments »

More on the LASD Deputy Who Vanished….. Heroin Use and the Rise in Numbers of Foster Kids…The Need for Civil Attorneys…& Prop 47

October 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Magazine story by Claire Martin about the disappearance of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Aujay is now online.

The tale as Martin tells it is long, very deeply researched, fascinating, and disturbing. It is also a must read for those with any interest in the workings of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin doesn’t solve the mystery of what happened to Jon Aujay after he took off for an all-day desert run in the Devil’s Punchbowl area of Antelope Valley on June 11, 1998, and never returned. Instead, she takes us through the investigations by the former department members who do not believe that Aujay killed himself as the LASD officially concluded. Nor do they believe he took off for Alaska, or rejoined the military as some other friends suggested. Instead, they believe he was murdered, and Martin delves into the reasons for their conviction.

One of those who became convinced Aujay met with foul play is Larry Brandenburg, a homicide detective who began investigating the case in early 2000. But when he wanted to search a fellow deputy’s house, his superior reportedly became furious and shut the investigation down, threatening to fire Brandenberg. When Brandenburg then appealed to the chief of the detective division and a commander in the homicide bureau, another detective was sent to collect all of his files.

Next there is former Deputy Darren Hager who was part of an interagency task force called “Operation Silent Thunder,” which was investigating the invasion of meth manufacturers and distributors in the Antelope Valley. In the course of delving into the drug action, Hager found what he believed were important leads into the Aujay case, and began digging. He came to believe a deputy named Richard Engels was involved and wanted to probe further. Instead, Hager was pulled off the case and ultimate terminated having to do with his investigating of Engels. Hager sued for wrongful termination and was award $8.5 million by a jury.

(It was when Martin attended Hager’s case trial that she first became fascinated with the story of Aujay’s disappearance. The trial, she wrote, “shed new light on the department’s handling of Aujay’s case as well as its approach to policing itself.)

Another haunted by Aujay’s disappearance was his former partner when the deputy was on SWAT, David Rathbun, now a reserve deputy with LASD search and rescue teams. Rathbun looked for Aujay for months with other friends after the official search ended.

Still one more man who couldn’t settle for the official story was Aujay’s last boss, retired captain Mike Bauer who now lives in Idaho. Bauer has devoted much of the past decade to hunting down new leads in the Aujay mystery, and believes he likely knows who killed the former sharp shooter turned K-9 handler.

Anyway, there’s much, much more to this well told Rashomon of a story.

To get you going, here’s a clip from one of the sections on Bauer’s ongoing investigation:

Last year Bauer wrote to John L. Scott, the interim sheriff, raising concerns about the department. When the captain of Internal Affairs called him, Bauer aired his theory; the captain vouched for the integrity of Bauer’s main suspect, he says, accusing Bauer of jumping to conclusions and then only seeking facts to support them. Bauer is still outraged. He could understand some skepticism, but he expected the sheriff’s department would take him seriously, given his background. This wasn’t the first time he felt rebuffed by the department over Aujay. Three years ago he spent half a day going over his evidence with deputies. “I expected a phone call from the captain of homicide a week later saying, ‘You know, we looked at your stuff and you might have something. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll keep you posted on what we find out,’ ” he tells me. He heard nothing, but it wasn’t a total surprise. Bauer says he retired early, at 53, because of the corruption that flourished under Sheriff Baca, who wound up resigning in 2014 amid a barrage of federal indictments of staff who helped hide an informant from the FBI. That’s what led to Bauer’s second attempt, which wasn’t any more satisfying. Scott wrote him back that Aujay’s case “is disturbing to us all” and expressed confidence that the investigation had been thorough, noting that homicide detective Bob Kenney “continues to actively follow up on leads.”

Bauer was perplexed: If the department was sticking with the suicide theory, why was there an open homicide case? And if it was vigorously investigating, why hadn’t he heard about it from any of the dozens of people he has stayed in contact with in the course of his work? Debra, for one, says she has not been contacted by members of the sheriff’s department since 2001, when she was interviewed by Joe Holmes. Now that many of the players involved in the original investigations are retired and a new sheriff, Jim McDonnell, is in charge, Bauer and several others who knew Aujay have raised the question of whether the department would or should reevaluate the case. Aujay is still classified as a missing person with a possible suicide, according to homicide detective Larry Brandenburg. When I called Kenney in September to inquire about the status of the Aujay investigation, he replied, “I have no comment about that case at all.” Sheriff McDonnell also declined to be interviewed for this article.

The man serving as second in command to McDonnell is Neal Tyler, a 40-year department veteran and the former commander of the Antelope Valley region. Tyler was briefed on the Internal Affairs inquiry of Darren Hager, whose task force confidential informants had fingered Engels for murder, and he personally fired him….

Now read the rest for yourself.


A report issued this past summer by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that, after years of decline, the number of kids coming into and staying in foster care is on the rise. And one of the reasons for the increased numbers, according to some child welfare officials, is that an uptick in the use of heroin and abuse of prescription opiates, has rendered an increasing number of parents unable to care for their children.

According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released in May, thirty-four states saw an increase in the number of children in foster care, and California, Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona were the states that saw the largest rise.

A new NPR story by Jake Harper takes a look at the phenomenon through the lens of foster care in Indiana.

Here’s a clip:

Between September of 2013 and September of 2015, Indiana saw the number of “children in need of services” jump by 40 percent. In more than half of new cases in which children had to be removed from their homes, substance abuse was listed as a reason. As in other states (such as nearby Ohio), officials in Indiana blame heroin and prescription painkillers.

The increase is taxing the child welfare system, officials say. Children of addicts often need special care and counseling, and they often stay in the system longer because it can take months or years for their parents to get clean.

“We have more children than we’ve ever had in our system in Indiana,” says Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the state’s Department of Child Services. “That puts a stress on the staff, a stress and strain on providers.” And it’s increasingly a challenge, she says, “to find and recruit and train qualified foster families.”

If the Houglands hadn’t provided a home for their foster son, he might have ended up at an emergency shelter like the Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit in Indianapolis. The organization takes in kids from the Department of Child Services when a foster family can’t be found quickly.

“Kids come in here 24/7,” says Tina Cloer, who directs the Children’s Bureau. “So we accept kids all day and all night, and we get calls all day and all night.”

The shelter has been full more often this year, she says, as it has become harder to find kids foster homes. Last year, the average stay was just two days — now, it’s 10. “We have kids that have been here as long as 2 [or] 2 1/2 months,” Cloer says.


We know that Americans who are charged with a crime but who cannot afford to pay a lawyer have the right to legal representation paid for by the government. That right is enshrined in US law by the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 that guaranteed everyone charged with a criminal act the right to counsel.

With civil procedures, there is no such guarantee. However, there is an increasing awareness of the need for some kind of system of civil legal aide. The need is particularly demonstrated among people being released from prison who, along with the many daunting challenges to reentry, often find there are lingering legal issues as well, most of them not criminal in nature.

For example, many returning men face debts in the tens of thousands of dollars in back child support that has been accumulating while they were in prison and had no ability to pay. Once out, even if they are able to get a job quickly, those positions are rarely high paying. Thus keeping up with current child support, while paying extra back payments is often completely defeating, and can lead to a return to prison. However, a civil attorney can help negotiate a payment system that both is practical for the recently incarcerated father, and fair to mother and children as well.

Civil attorneys can also assist in getting driver’s licenses restored, which can be crucial to getting and keeping a job, or helping to clear a former inmate’s criminal record, thus improving the likelihood of finding employment….and so on.

Writing for Rebecca Vallas and Billy Corriher have more on the need for civil legal aide and what’s in the works to fill that need.

Here’s a clip:

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an appropriations bill that—while far from sufficient to meet demand—would boost legal services funding for FY 2016 by $10 million. Meanwhile, House appropriators have called for slashing legal services funding by $75 million—a staggering 20 percent below the current funding levels. While Congress has passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until mid-December, as it continues to debate the budget it should ensure that any proposal includes adequate funding for civil legal aid. Additionally, Congress should take swift action to reauthorize and boost funding for the bipartisan Second Chance Act. This legislation allows the Department of Justice to award federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations—including civil legal aid programs—that provide services to support re-entry.

If the criminal justice reform legislation introduced this fall is enacted, many currently incarcerated individuals will have an opportunity to petition for reduced sentences or early release. Civil legal aid lawyers will be important partners in helping these individuals transition back into our communities and get back on their feet. Neglecting the back end of mass incarceration—including by failing to adequately invest in civil legal aid—is a recipe for ensuring that most people will end up behind bars again, and that many of the gains we see from criminal justice reform will be short-lived.


Here’s the next in the LA Times series discussing Prop. 47. In this essay, editorial board member Rob Greene looks at the “felony hammer” prosecutors say they need to get drug offenders into treatment, that Prop. 47 has taken away. Here’s a clip:

In police and prosecutorial parlance, the hammer is the weapon of choice that gets drug defendants to go to treatment. The hammer is the felony charge, or in some cases, the “wobbler” that prosecutors could choose to charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. With the hammer of a felony charge in hand, the prosecutor used to be able to tell the defendant that he was looking at three to five years in state prison on a drug possession charge. The defense lawyer might advise his client that his actual exposure was more like 18 months, but still — that’s real time in prison. Plus a felony rap sheet, which forever after would affect the defendant’s ability to get a job, get a professional license, go to school, get housing, adopt a child, become a foster parent, and interfere with numerous other aspects of daily life.

So the drug defendant could allow himself to get hit with that hammer.

Or, to avoid being hit, he could choose drug treatment. In some counties, even that meant pleading guilty to a felony, with the plea held by the judge but tossed out when the treatment program was completed, or reinstated when the defendant failed. Other counties had “pre-plea” programs, which allowed defendants to complete the program without first entering a guilty plea.

Yet defense attorneys and justice reformers say there’s also another way of dealing with the problem that doesn’t have to involve the felony hammer blow.

Read the rest here.

Posted in LASD, Reentry | 34 Comments »

The Troubling Case of the Vanishing LA County Sheriff’s Deputy

October 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In 1998, LA County Sheriff’s K-9 deputy Jonathan Aujay went out for a run in the Antelope Valley and never came back. Higher-ups in the department at the time concluded that Aujay likely killed himself. However, many friends and former department colleagues don’t buy the suicide explanation at all, and believe that Aujay was murdered.

In a deeply researched longread for the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, on the news stands right now, journalist Claire Martin writes about the case, its aftermath, and about those who are still haunted by it.

I spoke with Claire Martin several times at length while she was working on the story, so know a little bit about what she was uncovering.

The story is not yet on line (although it’s out there in hard copy), so to whet your appetite for the whole thing, LA Mag’s executive editor Matthew Segal interviewed Martin about the story and about what it points beyond itself to say about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department during the reign of former Sheriff Lee Baca.

Here are a couple of clips:

This story been almost four years in the making and took you to places, mentally and geographically, that you couldn’t have anticipated. How did you learn about Jon Aujay?

In the fall of 2011, I learned about a trial that had just begun in downtown L.A. A former sheriff’s deputy was suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for wrongful termination. I’d heard a few details about the case—that it involved meth cartels in the Antelope Valley, a DEA joint task force dubbed Operation Silent Thunder, and the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of Aujay by a fellow deputy. I was surprised I’d never read anything about the case before, and when I did some quick Web research, nothing much turned up. I decided to drive downtown and listen to a day’s worth of testimony. I ended up returning every day for a couple of weeks, until the closing arguments.

The testimony from the various agents, deputies, and sheriff’s officials proved to be jaw-dropping at times. Aside from the murder allegations, there were details of misconduct among deputies, some of whom were accused of getting too cozy with the meth manufacturers of the area. How bad did things get for the sheriff’s department in the Antelope Valley?

Things were bad enough that the DEA was called in to dismantle the meth rings as rumors circulated that sheriff’s deputies were befriending drug dealers and leaking information to them in advance of busts. The allegations against deputies ranged from fraternizing with cartel members, to warning them of investigations, to operating meth labs with them, to murder.

This is where Aujay’s story comes in. As you you’d heard when you started attending the trial, one theory being pursued by a couple of LASD investigators was that a fellow deputy, someone with alleged ties to the meth world, had killed him. There’s a theory from a former LASD captain—Aujay’s last boss—that he was killed by a deputy, but not the deputy who was being investigated. And there were vague suspicions within the department that whatever the case, Aujay’s stern demeanor could have provoked his murder. Workplace politics can be tricky, but it’s remarkable that more than one officer or former officer thought that his coworkers would be capable of murder—of fratricide.

That’s right. The LASD quickly ruled that Aujay had likely committed suicide, but tipsters and confidential informants told the department they’d heard he may actually have been murdered by the operators of a meth lab, which included a fellow deputy. Separate investigations by a sheriff’s homicide detective and the Operation Silent Thunder drug task force turned up similar intel. So did the FBI. Years later, Aujay’s former boss, Mike Bauer, began to suspect that a different deputy, someone who’s now retired, had murdered Aujay. Bauer had worked under three sheriffs during his career and told me he’d watched the LASD’s checks and balances for handling internal corruption collapse under Baca.

Sheriff Lee Baca.

Right. Other people I spoke with described an environment under Baca in which deputies weren’t held accountable for their unethical or illegal actions.

Read the rest here.

And we will, of course, link to the actual story the minute it’s online. But why wait? It’s a great read, so hit the news stand!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy to File $15 Million Lawsuit Against Paul Tanaka, LA County, & More, for “Egregious Abuse of Power”

October 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The accusation seems outlandish, but insiders, and a new lawsuit suggest otherwise.


On Thursday, June 11, of this year, a Southern California jury took less than three hours to acquit two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of charges alleging that the twosome conspired to file false police reports in the course of a drug arrest.

After the verdict was announced by the jury foreman, however, something unusual happened. The attorneys, the defendants and other trial watchers filed out of the Judge Renee Korn’s courtroom in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. But the jurors, who after most trials typically walk quickly to their cars to avoid the press, in this instance didn’t seem to want to go home. Instead, they waited in the court hallway in order to meet and talk with the two deputies, Robert Lindsey, 33, and Charles Rodriguez, 40, to tell them how convinced the panel had become of the deputies’ innocence.

Several of the 12 insisted on hugging the newly-acquitted defendants. One juror, a tall black man named Alvin Green, reportedly told David Martinez, the lead investigator for the Lindsey defense—who is also a retired LASD lieutenant—that “it was a shame” that the two deputies had been prosecuted, that they “had done nothing wrong.”

Another, juror, a woman named Sylvia Thomas, took Lindsey’s mother Kathy Lindsey aside to explain how she and her fellow panelists had become so sure of the rightness of their decision.

After that, everyone trooped outside the court building, where exuberant selfies were snapped—along with a group shot featuring seven of the jurors and the two deputies, plus some of the legal staff.

“In all my years of practice, I’ve never had a jury do any of that,” said James Blatt, Rodriguez’ attorney.

Yet, despite the June acquittal, although the two deputies are again receiving their salaries they have not gotten the months and months of back salary, they are not back to work, nor do they have their badges, guns and credentials. Instead, they are now both the subjects of an Internal Affairs investigation by the LASD which, in turn, means that they are on what amounts to house arrest. Thus if they need to leave their homes during business hours, they must get permission from the department.

With all of the above and considerably more in mind, on October 8, Deputy Robert Lindsey—known to his friends as Robbie-–filed a notice, through his attorney, Paul M. Mahoney, of his intention to sue the County of Los Angeles for $15 million for actions that include “the deliberate fabrication of evidence,” “the creation of false police reports,” “the violation of the claimant’s civil rights,” among other things. (You can find the Notice here: Government Claim Oct 8th)

Those to be named in the lawsuit include: former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former captain Tom Carey, Captain Rod Kusch, Sergeant Dan Tobin, former department members, Stephen Leavins, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, plus a string of deputy DAs, and more.


The case involving Lindsey and Rodriguez was a curious one right from the beginning. In an era when great swaths of the American public are suspicious of U.S. prosecutors whom they believe are overly reluctant to file on law enforcement officers, the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB), along with some members of LA District Attorney’s office, pursued the two deputies with what appears to be unusual vigor.

In fact, it reportedly took three tries on the part of the ICIB investigators involved with the case to get a charge to stick in the district attorney’s office. In the first instance, the reviewing deputy district attorney approached by the ICIB guys in the spring of 2013, reportedly said there was nothing to file.

A month later, ICIB personnel found a more sympathetic prosecutor who agreed to assign the case. However, on its first round in front of a judge at a preliminary hearing the case again ran into a wall when the judge did not find enough evidence to support the charges and kicked the case.

Undaunted, the investigators and prosecutor pressed on and managed to acquire a copy of a video that they claimed would support their charges. A new prelim was held, and Lindsey and Rodriguez were indeed bound over for trial.


Although this time the deputies were charged, they were also firmly acquitted by jurors who clearly felt they had saved two good men from an obviously wrongful fate. The charges for which Lindsey and Rodriguez were tried stem from a June 2011 drug-related arrest outside the Durango Bar in Huntington Park. Earlier in the evening, the partners had gotten a tip that a man named Abraham Rueda was dealing cocaine in the Durango’s parking lot out of a white Lexus. When the twosome arrived in the lot, they spotted a white Lexus with two men standing outside the car with the driver’s door of the vehicle open. One of the two men matched the description they had of Rueda. Lindsey exited the patrol car and called out to Rueda who immediately identified himself.

Looking in the car windows, Lindsey spotted a plastic “bindle” of what appeared to be cocaine protruding from an air-conditioning vent. After he and Rodriquez placed Rueda and his companion inside the patrol car, Lindsey proceeded to search the Lexys and removed the protruding bag of coke, but subsequently found no additional drugs.

Believing there may be more coke hidden, Rodriguez requested a drug-sniffing dog from his boss, a sergeant, who said none were available and that the deputies should just drive the Lexus to the Lynwood station where it could be further searched in a contained environment. Rodriquez and Lyndsey did precisely that, with Lindsey driving the Lexus, Rodriguez the patrol car, which contained Rueda and his pal, both of whom who had, by that time, been Mirandized but were not handcuffed.

At the Lynwood station, Lindsey further searched the car, while Rodriguez booked the prisoners. Then each deputy wrote brief reports about the night’s activities and the arrests.

ICIB investigators alleged that some elements of the deputies reports were untrue.

But, as described above, the purported discrepancies were not persuasive enough to form a case the first two times around. It was not until the district attorney’s office was provided with videotape from a security camera focused on the bar’s parking lot, that the case managed to move forward.

Lindsey was charged with one count each of filing a false report, conspiring to file a false report and conspiring to obstruct justice.

Co-defendant Rodriguez, was charged with one count each of conspiracy to file a false report, conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory after the fact.

In plain English, the prosecution alleged that Lindsey was not standing where he said he was standing when he first spoke to Rueda and first glimpsed the cocaine and scrap of packaging in the air-conditioning vent. Prosecutors also claimed that Rodriguez lied and said that he and Lindsey drove the Lexus and the two suspects to an undisclosed second location—not the station—to search the Lexus for drugs. And finally, the deputy DA said that Rueda and his friend were handcuffed when they were transported to be booked, although the deputies reported that they were not.

There was no accusation of planting of drugs, no claim that the deputies had roughed up the two arrested men, tricked them, or otherwise violated their rights.

And the video, which was central to the case, turned out to support the accounts of the deputies, and not those trying to convict them, according to jurors, who said afterward, that they’d reviewed the video with extraordinary care, frame-by-frame.

Moreover, it was revealed during the trial that Rueda, who was the primary witness for the prosecution, was an undocumented man who had been promised, in return for testimony, what is called a “U-Visa,” which was originally created for victims of crimes who have endured mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement and government officials investigate and prosecute the abuser.

It was further revealed that one of the deputy DAs who brought the case told Rueda’s sister that he added the obstruction of justice charge to the other two charges against Lindsey and Rodriguez specifically in order to qualify Rueda for the U-Visa.

(WitnessLA has obtained documents that show multiple exchanges between then prosecutor Kevin P. Stennis—who is now a Superior Court Judge—and Rueda’s sister, Veronica Flores.)

Nevertheless, by the trial’s end most of Reuda’s testimony had reportedly decompensated and changed enough that it too supported that of the deputies.


So why in the world would the internal criminal investigative arm of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department push and keep pushing to have two of the department’s deputies brought up on criminal charges for actions that, when pulled apart in the light of day, caused a jury to reject them dramatically and vocally?

And why would several prosecutors at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office buy in to what appeared to be a loser of a case at best and, at worst—if the defense is correct—may have persuaded the prosecution to either deliberately ignore or outright alter facts in order to get the thing to trial at all?

Sources close to the case told us that the answer may be found in a previous LASD vendetta, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Deputy Lindsey or Deputy Rodriguez—at least not directly. It’s roots, they claim, have everything to do with Robbie Lindsey’s father, retired LASD commander Robert Lindsey, who allegedly refused to engage in actions he was ordered to perform for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, more than a decade ago, actions that Lindsey Sr. believed were unethical and likely illegal. As a consequence, sources said, threats were allegedly made by Tanaka, who was—at the time—still at the rank of chief.

The charges against Lindsey Jr. were the threats being made good all these years later, with Rodriguez as “collateral damage,” sources claim. To accomplish the deed, sources further claim, required the participation of various FOPs—Friends of Paul—both in the LASD and possibly in the DA’s office, in at least one case.

There are many additional colorful details to the story, of course. But they will have to wait.

The specifics of the claim will reportedly be laid out in the civil case, which is scheduled to be filed in LA Superior Court in the near future.

So stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 99 Comments »

New Former Sheriff’s Deputy Indicted for Lying About Beating of Jail Visitor

October 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Thus far, a total five former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been convicted of a string of civil rights abuses
pertaining to the vicious beating of jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, and a post-beating conspiracy to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

On Friday afternoon, however, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced a a brand new three-count indictment against a sixth former department member, Byron Dredd, 33, who is charged with conspiracy to violate Gabriel Carrillo’s civil rights, plus two counts of making false reports.

Dredd, along with the other defendants previously convicted, was assigned to the Visiting Center at Men’s Central Jail. On February 26, 2011, Carillo and his girlfriend went to the jail to visit Carillo’s incarcerated brother (who coincidentally had also been beaten by department members. Albeit, in the brother’s case, the beating reportedly occurred in the course of his arrest.)

The incident began when Carrillo, his mother, and his girlfriend (now his wife) went to downtown jails’ visiting center to see the brother, who had been injured during his arrest, causing family members to worry. As it happens, both Carrillo and the girlfriend had cell phones in their possession, which is prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, Carrillo was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where he was beaten, kicked and sprayed with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. His injuries were severe enough that he was later transferred to the hospital by paramedics. As a result of false statements made by the previously convicted deputies and allegedly made by Dredd, in addition to being pounded on while handcuffed by multiple department members, Carrillo was charged with several crimes, including resisting an officer and battery.

The indictment against Dredd alleges that he wrote an incident report in which he falsely claimed that Carrillo was not, in fact, handcuffed, and that he attacked one of the deputies then attempted to escape—although Dredd, allegedly, knew otherwise.

“The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable individuals who abuse their positions as law enforcement officers by committing crimes or by trying to cover them up,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker, in a statement released Friday afternoon. “While this former deputy sheriff allegedly participated in a scheme to violate the civil rights of a man who had to be hospitalized after he was beaten by other deputies, his actions should not reflect on the good work performed by the overwhelming majority of Los Angeles deputy sheriffs.”

If convicted, Dredd could face a penalty of up to 10 years for the civil rights conspiracy, up to 20 years for the falsification of records, and up to five years for making false statements to the FBI, totaling a maximum sentence of 35 years in federal prison.

And the beat goes on.

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

LA County Assistant Sheriff Announces Retirement After Controversial Car Purchase Comes to Light

October 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday morning, news raced around the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that Assistant Sheriff Mike Rothans
had emailed friends and colleagues letting them know that he would be retiring—and he would be pulling the pin, so to speak, really, really soon—like on October 24.

By Tuesday afternoon, the LASD made it official that the department’s third-in-command was definitely leaving.

The announcement read in part:

Assistant Sheriff Michael J. Rothans, who is currently on a leave of absence, has announced his intention to retire from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department effective Saturday, October 24, 2015. Assistant Sheriff Rothans’ career with the Sheriff’s Department began in 1984. Over the course of his tenure with LASD, he worked a variety of assignments, was promoted through the ranks, and in June of 2014, Sheriff John Scott promoted him to the position of Assistant Sheriff overseeing patrol operations.

While no one in an official capacity is saying so outright, the timing seems to have a great to do with the investigation that was opened by the sheriff into the matter of the car that Rothans purchased from his longtime friend, Lisa Vernola, who also happens to be the owner of a towing company with which the sheriff’s department does business. In addition to the fact that it’s a distinct no-no for department members to buy items that the LASD has impounded (which was the case with this particular auto), the car—a 2012 Audi A4 luxury car—turned out to be stolen.

Oh, and Rothans bought the Audi for $3000, which appears, at least on the surface, to be a preposterous underpayment. (Keep in mind that this make and model, if it is in good condition, would sell today in the $20,000 range. If in bad condition, but drivable, it goes for $10,000 or so.) Admittedly, Rothans claims he had to make a lot of costly repairs but, when we last checked, he was still unable to produce receipts for those repairs.

The fact that Rothans made the purchase only came to light after the phoney VIN number on the car—presumably affixed by the thieves after they stole the Audi from a dealership—got flagged by the DMV. The DMV then sent a letter to the assistant sheriff asking him to bring the Audi in for a “VIN verification.”….and things got mighty messy from there—especially after the LA Times’ Cindy Chang got wind of the stolen car and contacted the LASD to ask a few questions. News travelled quickly to Sheriff McDonnell who asked Internal Affairs to launch an investigation. McDonnell also asked that LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman be notified of the probe, and said he welcomed Huntsman’s involvement.

We are happy to note that, according to the LASD spokesman, Commander Keith Swensson, “a full and complete investigation” into the matter of Assistant Sheriff Rothans and the stolen Audi will not be derailed by his retirement, but is ongoing.

“The sheriff believes this is all an issue of public trust,” said Swensson.


It’s also good to know that—as we reported on Friday-–the sheriff and his staff will soon put into place new policies for the selection of tow company contractors that it is hoped will prevent future conflicts of interest—real or perceived.

(Hopefully the new policies will also prevent outright graft and corruption, which would be a very nice thing as well. But that’s another conversation altogether.)

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

Sheriff McDonnell to Launch Anti-Corruption Policy Regarding Who Approves the LASD’s Long Controversial Tow Contracts

October 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

In the process of discussing the kerfuffle around Assistant Sheriff Rothans
and the stolen car he inadventantly bought from his pal at one of the department’s contracted tow companies (see story below), WitnessLA has learned that Sheriff Jim McDonnell is in the process of making significant changes in the way that the LASD awards its tow contracts.

This is very welcome news.

From at least the time of former undersheriff Larry Waldie forward, there has been back room talk about corruption leaking into the awarding of the sheriff’s department’s lucrative tow contracts. These are the contracts given out to companies that tow and store the vehicles that the LASD has, for one reason or another, impounded. Since at least 1999, the much sought after contracts have been awarded by the department, based on a system outlined in an MOU with the county’s board of supervisors.

The MOU states that the actual selection of the recipients of the various regional contracts is overseen by the LASD’s Major Crimes Bureau—but with each station captain having the primary say-so over which tow company (or companies) gets the final nod in each geographic area.

This system has been sensible in some ways, since presumably the regional commanding officers are more likely to know the local players better than most.

But there has also been a serious downside in that the arrangement also opens itself up to the possibility of sub rosa pay-to-play arrangements.

This is not to say that the majority of station captains have not made their selections based on merit—doing their best to hand out contracts fairly and without bias or personal interest. (And we are in no way suggesting that Assistant Sheriff Rothans was anything but ethical in his contract dealings when he was captain at Pico-Rivera. He may very well be clean as a whistle—despite his recent foray into what has the appearance of impropriety.)

But in too many cases, if years worth of stories are to be believed, the contracts have been tied to monetary kickbacks that, in some instances in past years, have been rumored to be sanctioned at higher levels in the department.

All this is very hard to prove, of course. Based four years of our own digging into the matter, we’ve found many of the accounts we’ve encountered to be extremely credible, but difficult to nail beyond doubt. For one thing, the tow companies allegedly involved have thus far declined to come on the record, even those who reportedly hate being asked to pay-to-play. They have too much to lose.

We know that many have gone to the feds with what they know, but since there have been no indictments, we assume the FBI has not gotten what they need either.

Apparently Sheriff McDonnell has also heard the stories and found them convincing. As a consequence, we have learned, the method by which the LASD tow contracts have been handed out in the past….is about to change.


Instead of the choices being made at the station level, according to department spokesman, Keith Swensson, the selections under the new system will be made by three chiefs who have no direct connection with the individual stations. Sheriff McDonnell will be the final decision maker.

“The captains will have no input whatsoever,” said Swensson. The point, he said, is to avoid corruption. (And the appearance of corruption, which can also be corrosive.)

A new MOU should be going to the Supes soon for their approval, Swensson said.

This, as we mentioned above, is very good news.


Posted in Jim McDonnell, LASD | 41 Comments »

Probe Launched Into Top LA County Sheriff’s Official Stolen Luxury Car—Bought at a Bargain Price From His Tow Company Pal

October 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has launched an investigation
into the fact that the department’s third in command, Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, has been driving a stolen luxury car—a 2012 Audi A4—for the past year—a car that he bought for an unusually low price from the owner of a tow company, which has a lucrative contract with the department.

In a statement released Thursday, McDonnell emphasized that the probe into the matter of his assistant sheriff and the stolen Audie would be thorough and transparent, and that the Inspector General Max Huntsman would be involved.

“Upon taking office, I made it clear that I expect every member of the Department to be held to the highest standard,” the sheriff said. “Immediately upon learning of this incident, I ordered an administrative investigation into the facts of this case and notified the inspector general. This matter will be handled thoroughly and fairly and I welcome the engagement of the Inspector General in helping us evaluate the underlying facts.

The investigation was triggered when the LA Times’ Cindy Chang, who broke the story Thursday morning, began asking the department questions last week about Rothans and the stolen car.

As it happens, the fact that the assistant sheriff was driving a car that was stolen is not, actually, the main issue. More potentially problematic is the fact that the vehicle was impounded by the department. (Buying LASD impounded items is reportedly a no-no.) Worse, in terms of appearance, is the matter that Rothans bought the car from the head of a tow company—Vernola’s Towing—-that has a contract with the department. Furthermore, starting in 2006 when Rothans was made captain of the LASD’s Pico Rivera station, he was the person who had the final say-so over the awarding of the tow contract. Even now, as assistant sheriff overseeing patrol, Rothans could theoretically favor or nix the contract with Vernola’s.

Rothans told the Times’ Chang that he considered the sale a private transaction between friends and believed it not to be against the rules. “I didn’t think I was manipulating the policy or that a car was changing hands so I could get a special deal. I bought the car from someone I’ve been friends with for 20 years. Looking at the policy, I still don’t think I did anything wrong.”

And maybe he’s right.

Then again, maybe not. As things stand now, it seems there were some possible red flags when it comes to the car’s title history (or lack thereof), and its purchase, that the assistant sheriff could or should have seen.


The 2012 Audi came to the authorities’ attention when its driver, an alleged gang member, was stopped at a drunk-driving checkpoint in Pico Rivera, and the driver was arrested for alleged weapons violations, the car towed and impounded.

The car had been stolen from a dealership in Mission Viejo on Dec. of 2011, but didn’t pass through the check-point for another two years. Somewhere during that two-year gap, the Audi’s VIN number was switched with that of a non-stolen 2010 Audi A4, thus the impounded car wasn’t flagged as jacked.

In LA County, a vehicle’s owner has a maximum of 180 days to claim an impounded car (less in some cases). If one is arrested or otherwise incapacitated, one generally empowers a friend or family member to pick up one’s car and pay the impound fees.

But no one came to claim the Audi.

In the case of an unclaimed car, it is advertised for sale in the paper and sold in a “lien sale” by the tow company, which, in turn gets to recoup its costs off the top, plus a little extra. Any additional $$ left from the sale price goes to the DMV.

The Audi A4, however, didn’t sell. When that occurs, the vehicle becomes the property of the tow company. The company’s head, Lisa Vernola, told the Times that, after the non-sale, she decided to put the pretty Audi in her name. But some time later, she claims she figured the car had too many problems, and she resolved to unload it.

The Audi caught Rothans’ attention when he dropped by the tow company to meet Vernola’s father, Luigi Vernola, for lunch. (The senior Vernola is a Norwalk city council member and former Norwalk mayor.) Sometime shortly thereafter, Lisa Vernola sold Rothans the car for $3000.

Both Vernola and Rothans maintain that the three grand was a fair price, because the car was minus a radio and had some body damage in the back. In addition, Vernola told the Times that sometimes she had trouble starting the thing, and that it needed a new engine. (Even if there was problem getting the car to start, why that would mean a new engine is not clear.)

In any case, the implication was that lots of costly repairs were needed.

Department spokesman Commander Keith Swensson said that delving into the cost of such repairs would be among the questions that would be asked during the investigative process.

In the meantime, a cursory perusal of the Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and other like sites, shows that a 2010 Audi A4 with the 24000 miles Rothans claimed when he registered it—even if it was in “poor’ or “rough” condition—would sell today for between $11,000 and $13,150. If the condition is raised to “fair,” the price jumps to $12,500 to $15,000. Returned to a paltry “good” condition and you’re in the $17,000 range. Moreover, let’s just say Vernola was right about the engine, has anyone priced new engines for Audi A4s including labor? We have. They’re pricey, but they don’t break the bank.)

All this is to say that, if that the car was drivable—which it obviously was at the time it was impounded— and not demolition-derby trashed, that $3,000 price tag sounds like a gift.

THE 2010 IS A 2012

In late August, after Rothans had been driving the car in his non-working hours for about a year, the stolen VIN number was finally flagged and Rothans got a notice from the DMV informing him that he needed to take his now fixed-up Audie in for a “VIN verification.” When he brought the car in, a CHP officer reportedly spotted the phony VIN on or around the dashboard, and also located a secondary “real” VIN in a less obvious place on the auto. The 2010 Audi A4 was, in reality, a 2012 A4—and stolen. (Not to put too fine a point on things, but that makes its value—banged up or pristine—considerably higher. Also, during all these repairs, did no one report that they were working on a 2012, not a 2010? The models are similar, but not identical.)

Now the heisted Audie 2012 has been returned to its rightful owners at the dealership, and Rothans is out the $3000 he paid for car and whatever repairs it required. In other words, he’s a victim, along with the car’s original owner, the dealership.

However, one does wonder why an obviously savvy law enforcement veteran of more than 30 years of service, wouldn’t at least ask a few questions about the car’s likely questionable provenance, and a few more questions about his own possibly questionable actions in buying it.

Posted in LASD | 53 Comments »

Fed Judge Denies Immunity for Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca to Testify at Paul Tanaka’s Criminal Trial

September 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

A new moment of drama in the run-up to the trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka occurred on Monday
when District Court Judge Percy Anderson told Tanaka’s attorney that, no, he was not going to give former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca immunity from future prosecution should Baca be called to testify at Tanaka’s trial.

Tanaka’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, filed the request in mid-August, asking that the former sheriff be granted immunity because, “if he testifies truthfully, [Baca] will provide evidence that will contradict the government’s evidence” and thus provide a basis for [Mr. Tanaka’s} “acquittal of the charges.”

The motion was almost certain to be a non-starter with Judge Anderson from the get go. But it was also understandable that that attorney Steward would roll the legal dice, no matter how slim the chance for success.

When Tanaka was originally indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice back in May 2015, former LASD Captain William (Tom) Carey was indicted at the same time as a co-conspirator and also for perjury, having to do with his previous testimony in the trials of seven other former LASD members indicted with obstruction of justice for some of the same series of alleged actions. (The seven have since been convicted of the obstruction charges, and their convictions are on appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

At that time, Seward made confident statements to the press about his client’s innocence and how Mr. Tanaka would prevail when it came time for trial—which certainly he still may.

However, in mid-summer, the odds of an acquittal for Tanaka suddenly rearranged themselves when Tom Carey took a plea deal in return for his cooperation in Tanaka’s trial and any subsequent proceedings relating to department member misdeeds of which Carey had had knowledge, and which related to the original indictment concerning the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown and other actions designed to thwart the FBI’s investigation into chronic corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system.

Carey’s plea, which was filed on August 13, 2015, sent Tanaka’s defense scrambling for a witness to counter what Carey was likely to say on the stand.

Hence, presumably, the motion about immunity for Baca.

Carey and Tanaka took the stand in the previous obstruction of justice trials, and former Sheriff Baca was on the witness list for the defense at least twice, most notably in the two trials of former LASD Deputy James Sexton (who was tried twice before the feds could produce a guilty verdict). Yet Baca was never called in either of the trials because his then-attorney informed Sexton’s legal team both times that Baca would take the fifth if put on the stand.

Baca hired a new attorney, Michael Zwieback, earlier this month. While Zwiback did not attend the Monday hearing, he confirmed to us that Baca would indeed be invoking his 5th Amendment rights this time around, if called as a witness.


At least one federal witness was reportedly given immunity that was limited to his testimony before a federal grand jury during hearings that likely contributed to Tanaka’s and Carey’s eventual indictment. But that witness had already been convicted of obstruction of justice, so the government’s cost/benefit ratio in issuing limited immunity was presumably very different that it would be in the case of Baca, who at remains conspicuously un-indicted.

To put it another way, if federal prosecutors are able to convict the former undersheriff of the allegations arrayed against him, the notion that Baca’s once powerful second in command is guilty of corruption charges that have already resulted in seven additional convictions and one plea bargain, it becomes less and less believable that Tanaka’s former boss, the man who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half, is legally blame free.

Originally Mr. Tanaka’s trial was scheduled to begin in early November of this year. But on Monday Judge Anderson agreed to delay proceedings until March 22, 2016, at the request of Mr. Tanaka’s attorney.

Posted in LASD | 41 Comments »

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