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LA Supes Vote to Analyze LASD Deputy Probationary Training After IG Report Finds Problems

June 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department may be failing to weed out problematic or underperforming deputies during the standard year-long probationary training period, according to a report from Inspector General Max Huntsman presented to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The board approved a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich to direct Sheriff Jim McDonnell to report back with a plan for ensuring that the probationary supervision period “is a meaningful part of the employee selection process.”

After deputies graduate from the Academy, they must complete a one-year probationary period, which is spent in the Custody Division. First, they attend a four-week, classroom-based training course to prepare for work in Custody, then they are divided up among the county jails.

After that, new deputies spend 12 weeks in an on-the-job training program under the guidance of Training Officers. During this time, the TOs are expected to assess and give trainees feedback regularly, and complete bi-weekly evaluations of the deputies’ training progress.

At the 90-day mark, a unit commander (usually a captain) must review a trainee’s work habits and performance, with a focus on “issues such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and character, and any other characteristic” that would show whether a deputy was fit for a law enforcement career. If the trainee passes the assessment, he or she moves on to an assignment within the jail. Thirty days before the probationary period is up, the unit commander must complete a final evaluation of career performance to determine whether the deputy will move on from probation. This is a crucial step, because during the probationary period, deputies do not have the same protections held by permanent LASD employees, and if trainees do not meet department policy standards, they can be “released.”

None of the LASD Academy’s 334 Deputy Sheriff Trainees (DSTs) who graduated in 2014 were eliminated for poor performance.

Over the last two years, the department has reportedly revamped it’s hiring practices in order to get a large number of recruits through the door quickly.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was sworn in on December 1, 2014 (and has had the task of reforming a department plagued by abuse and misconduct scandals), has said he only wants to hire officers with a strong moral character. “While we’re heavily recruiting and we want to be able to fill the ranks, we’d rather work short than hire the wrong people,” McDonnell told the LA Daily News last year.

A veteran LASD manager, now retired, said that in the past, under former Sheriff Baca’s rule, there were too few background investigators to handle the number of LASD applicants, and some applicants that should have been disqualified were hired (despite objections from investigators) in order to quickly increase the sheriff’s department ranks.

The IG’s report took an in-depth look at 16 of the deputies’ probationary training files. According to the report, 9 out of 10 evaluations of new deputies on probation occurred after the one-year deadline, leaving no way to get rid of any unfit trainees—which is the main purpose of the probationary period. Those final evaluations are supposed to be completed a month before the end of the probationary period. The untimely assessments were reportedly completed between 1.5 and 5 months after the end of the probation period. Some were never completed. Moreover, many of the written evaluations included non-specific, cut-and-pasted comments about the trainees.


AN INDIVIDUAL TRAINING STORY

In one particularly alarming case reviewed by the IG’s Office, a problematic trainee was passed around among several Training Officers like a hot potato, but still managed to finish his probationary period. The deputy’s first TO wrote that the trainee was “not comprehending the importance of having knowledge of department policy and unit orders,” and not taking his TO seriously, despite multiple conversations about the issue.

After a pile of similar reviews, the department moved the deputy to a new TO, with similar outcomes. The deputy was passed to a third TO who said the trainee was “not taking his position here at Men’s Central Jail as a Deputy Sheriff seriously” and that his “integrity is a major concern not only in his role as a Deputy Sheriff but also for the safety of his partners.” The department sent him to yet another TO, who was able to push the deputy through the training program 10 months into his probationary year.

The deputy finished his year, and did not receive a final assessment. “Even though this DST received rigorous evaluations over the course of his probation that revealed the significant likelihood that he was not a fit for the position of Deputy Sheriff, the Department nonetheless failed to take advantage of the opportunity to release a low-performing employee before he obtained the substantial rights provided by civil service protection,” the IG’s report said.


THE RECOMMENDATIONS

IG Huntsman recommends certain clarifications on current custody training policies, like actually defining what a “meaningful” assessment entails, as well as what specific competencies a trainee should have (with measurable benchmarks) in order to move on to patrol.

The report also recommends that each deputy trainee be assigned to one dedicated Training Officer for their entire probationary year, and that custody training officers receive a boost to their salary for their extra responsibilities.

Huntsman makes a good point, said our veteran source. “But it is not as easy as it seems.” Making sure there are enough seasoned, capable training officers in Custody, which has in the past not been considered a coveted assignment, he said, “will take some real leadership, standards and honest assessments of employees.”

Unfit deputies should actually be let go during their probationary period, the report says, and higher-up commanders—rather than captains—sign off on each trainee’s completion of probation 30 days before the end of the year.

Sheriff McDonnell only agreed with the recommendation to review department policies, including defining “meaningful” training. McDonnell did not agree with the other recommendations—assigning a trainee to one TO for the whole year, releasing unfit deputies, and moving evaluations up to the commander level—citing staffing issues.

The Supervisors voted to have Sheriff McDonnell report back to the board within 60 days with a plan for implementing the first recommendation, as well as options for achieving the remaining recommendations (and what each option will cost), and any other recommendations for improving the department’s probationary training system.

Posted in LASD | 14 Comments »

Former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Gets 5-Year Sentence & Scorching Lecture

June 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced
former Los Angeles County undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, to five years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Before his forced retirement in August 1, 2013, Tanaka was the second-in-command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department—according to many, the real power behind the throne—and was widely considered to be the person mostly likely to replace Lee Baca as sheriff.

Instead, Tanaka, 57, is scheduled to self-surrender to federal marshals on August 1 of this year. (Unsurprisingly, his attorneys have already appealed his conviction, which will likely put off any self-surrendering for a while.)

In the minutes before the stony-faced Judge Anderson actually announced Tanaka’s 60-month sentence, the judge first took time to deliver a scorched-earth speech to the defendant about his “abuse of the public trust” and the “incalculable harm you have caused this community.”

And that was just for openers.

It helps to know that, in addition to Tanaka’s trial, Anderson, who was nominated to federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, presided over the previous obstruction of justice trials that resulted in the conviction of seven department members for attempting to derail the FBI’s investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system, which is overseen by the sheriff’s department. Anderson also presided over the plea deal and sentencing of former deputy Gilbert Michel, who was caught in an FBI sting for accepting a bribe from an inmate in return for bringing said inmate a contraband cell phone. (The inmate, Anthony Brown, turned out to be a federal informant.)

And Anderson managed to yank former sheriff Lee Baca’s plea hearing away from another judge to whom it was originally assigned. Thus it will be Anderson who will sentence Baca on July 11.

In short, this means that Percy Anderson is far more familiar with the facts of Tanaka’s case, and those cases that surround it, than even the best informed and most diligent jurist would ordinarily ever be.

This has turned to be bad news for Tanaka, for whom Anderson reserved an unusually strong expression of censure.


A FRACTION OF THE PROBLEM

Anderson’s lecture of the about-to-be-sentenced Tanaka covered a lot of ground, including the fact that the judge found the defendant “evasive, combative and not credible” when on the stand in trial.

Most of the judge’s remarkably detailed criticism, however, had to do with the principles with which Tanaka allegedly “operated in his career.” The former undersheriff, said Anderson, “rewarded loyalty over honor,” and “derailed the careers” of anyone who got in his way. Anderson referenced such controversial Tanaka hallmarks as his infamous “work the gray” statements, which Anderson said communicated that “deputies would not be held responsible for aggressive behavior.”

Similarly, the judge said that Tanaka’s management style “undermined the authority of supervisors” who attempted reform, and “set the stage” for “an environment of aggressive deputy conduct,” and an “us versus them mentality” that resulted in hospitalized inmates, and falsified reports, to cover-up the LASD-perpetrated jailhouse brutality.

The evidence is “overwhelming,” said the judge, that the defendant “made no attempt to investigate and build cases against corrupt deputies.” To the contrary, Tanaka and his coconspirators attempted to convince witnesses “not to cooperate” with the FBI, seeming to focus only on “avoiding embarrassment” for the LASD.

“The most troubling thing about this troubling chapter” in the sheriff’s department’s history, Anderson told the former undersheriff, “is that your efforts to shield dirty deputies has been largely successful,” despite the government’s multiple convictions of deputies for brutalizing inmates.

“Those convicted deputies are a small fraction” of a “deputy culture” that Tanaka allowed to thrive, Anderson said. “Some of those deputies, remain with the department,” and have risen to high levels. As a consequence, Anderson said, “the public has little confidence” that the problem has been rooted out.


NO REMORSE

During much of this disquisition, Anderson stared down at Tanaka from the bench with the ferocity of a large-winged raptor, noting pointedly at one juncture that “you have shown no remorse.”

When U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a short post-sentencing press conference on the steps of the court building, her words echoed those of the judge. “His actions harmed the sheriff’s department, harmed law enforcement everywhere and the good men and women who strive every day to uphold their oaths and serve justice,” said Decker. “The sentence today demonstrated that, indeed, no one is above the law.”

In sentencing Tanaka, Anderson went above federal guidelines, which reportedly call for 41-51 months in prison. The 60 month sentence that Anderson finally imposed, was the term the prosecution had requested. Still, one got the sense that, while Anderson thought the five year stretch sent a strong message, he wouldn’t have minded going higher.

Tanaka—who wore a closely tailored black suit for the packed hearing, along with what appears to be one if his favorite ties, an elegant blue on blue striped number that went with his baby blue shirt—was stoic and mostly expressionless when the sentence was announced. In fact, perhaps the only time he spoke was when the judge asked him if he understood that if he violated his bail conditions in even the tiniest of ways, bail would be revoked.

“Yes, sir,” said the former undersheriff.

Tanaka’s family arrived in force for the hearing and, both before and after sentencing, did their best to offer Paul and each other steadying support.

Other court watchers mostly commented on Judge Anderson’s unusually vivid pre-sentencing tongue-lashing.


SENDING A MESSAGE

“I think that the judge made a very strong statement today,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and served as an advisor to Sheriff Jim McDonnell during his first year in office. It wasn’t so much about the case, she said. “It was really an indictment of an entire career and a culture of lawlessness that Paul Tanaka allowed to fester,” “I think the judge sent a strong message that this kind of gross abuse of the public’s trust by those whom we trust with keeping the community safe will simply not be tolerated.”

Anderson also seemed to be making the point, said Krinsky, that Tanaka’s policy of sidelining anyone who attempted reform, may have produced as situation where, those department members already convicted for wrongdoing, “may be merely the top of the iceberg in terms of misconduct.” And that there may be others in the department “who share the views of those who have been criminally convicted.”

It’s clear, said Krinsky, “that this is the beginning not the end of a process of reform and transformation of this department.”

Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, also spoke after the hearing. They said they were “very disappointed” at the sentence, of course, and that they completely disagreed with the judge’s pre-sentencing remarks.

But they are also “very optimistic about our client’s chances on appeal,” said Haig. In fact, the attorney remarked as we chatted, that the fact Judge Anderson chose to allow a line of questioning about Tanaka’s Viking’s tattoo into the prosecution’s cross examination during the trial “is a big part of our appeal.”

In other words, the drama continues.

In the meantime, a three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit will hear the appeal of the seven department members previously convicted of obstruction of justice on July 5th.


Full updated story published at 7:45 p.m.

Posted in LASD | 66 Comments »

Former Sheriff Lee Baca’s Alzheimer’s Confirmed by Court Filings

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Court filings released today have confirmed the story that WitnessLA
broke last month, that former sheriff Lee Baca is suffering from early state Alzheimer’s.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing-related memo just released that this diagnosis should not prevent Baca from being sentenced to prison.

More soon.

Posted in LASD | 21 Comments »

Attorneys for Paul Tanaka Fight for Probation Only, Saying Former LA Sheriff Baca Was the Real “Ringleader”

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S THE BOSS?

“The truth is that the crimes charged in this case were planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles. None of this would have happened if Baca had simply cooperated with the FBI at the beginning.”

Last week we wrote about federal prosecutors’ argument that former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka should be sentenced to 60 months—or 5 years—in federal prison when he comes before U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on Monday.

Tanaka, as most readers know, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, on April 6, having to do with what the feds contend was Tanaka’s involvement in attempting to derail a federal investigation into abuse of jail inmates by sheriff’s deputies and other departmental wrongdoing. Judge Anderson is due to sentence Tanaka on June 27.

This week we have the defense’s argument about sentencing, in which Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward Jerome Haig, argue that their client should have no prison time, but only probation, that if anybody deserves a stretch in a federal lock-up, it is the former-undersheriff’s boss, former sheriff Lee Baca.

When the presented their sentencing memo two weeks ago, the prosecutors contended that the former undersheriff, more than the sheriff, was “in charge of” the obstructive operation, was “involved in all aspects of the obstruction,” and he “set the tone of the operation early and repeatedly with his ‘F**k the FBI’ statements.

“While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy,” they wrote, “the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning.
”

In their sentencing brief, the defense argues energetically otherwise. If there was any “ringleader,” they wrote, it was the four-time elected sheriff of Los Angeles County, Lee Baca.

“Baca himself told federal officials that he, Leroy Baca, called the shots on the Brown/cell phone incident.” The “boots on the ground” in the matter of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, writes the defense, were the six department members already convicted of obstruction, “who were simply following Baca’s orders.” These facts, they write, “could not be any clearer.”


BACA’S “ISSUES”

One of the most interesting moments in the defense’s sentencing brief comes when defense attorneys Steward and Haig compare the government’s suggested 5-year sentence for their client with the 0-6 month sentence to which the feds have agreed in their plea deal with Lee Baca.

“In their sentencing memo,” the defense writes irritably, “the government feigns concern about disparity in sentencing. And yet they offered and agreed to a deal, that if accepted by this Court, gives Leroy Baca the gift of no more than 6 months in jail, while they gleefully request 5 years for Mr. Tanaka.” (The ital. is ours.)

And then there is this: “The government may respond that Baca is different, as he has issues that were submitted to this Court under seal, and revealed to the defense. However, these alleged facts fly in the face of Leroy Baca’s speech and acceptance of honors from a local religious group last month.”

As for Baca’s “issues,” reference to which are under seal, but were “revealed to the defense,” we again presume that Steward and Haig are talking about the report that the former sheriff is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that his lawyers have argued that this purported diagnosis should figure into his sentencing. (WLA broke that story here.)

The defense then cites a lively interview Baca gave to the Jewish Journal after he was honored on May 29 by the local LA group, Congregation Bais Naftoli, for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

The defense seems to infer that if Judge Anderson buys Baca’s contention that he can do no prison time because he is too incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, then they’ve got some nice swamp property they’d like him to buy, or possibly a bridge….


SUBPOENAS AND THREATS

To bolster their contention, that Tanaka’s involvement was peripheral, that at most he was simply a conduit for the sheriff’s directives, the defense cites, among other things, a Sept. 26, 2011, letter from the former sheriff to then-U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. The letter was written after all the actions that caused the obstruction charges were already over, yet it is indeed a remarkable document.

In his correspondence, Baca expresses his state of pique over subpoenas for records the department has received from the FBI as part of the feds’ continuing investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. Baca objects to the subpoenas, and tells U.S. Attorney Birotte that the FBI is, in fact, unqualified to investigate brutality in the jails, that the LASD alone has the experience and the know-how to do such an investigation.

“Due to the FBI’s aforementioned incompetence in investigating alleged civil rights violations concerning force taken by deputy sheriffs,” Baca writes, he wants the US Attorney and his office to “ameliorate”—AKA dial back—support from the federal investigation into wrongdoing in his jails, and instead “support the Sheriff’’s Department’s investigation to it’s conclusion.”

And, just to make sure Birotte gets the picture that he better get with the program and dump the FBI’s probe into department wrongdoing, in favor of the LASD’s far superior work, Baca threatens to pull the sheriff’s department out of all the “many ongoing joint missions” in which the department participates with the FBI “due to the breach of trust that will take time and corrective action to heal.”

If you’d like to read the entire letter, you can find it right here.


ENTER: THE JUDGE

So what will Judge Anderson make of all this?

There is no way of knowing, of course. But perhaps the U.S. District Court Judge will decide that he does not need chose send either Baca or Tanaka to prison, that he can select Door No. 3, and give healthy prison sentences to both of the once allies, now enemies.

We will learn the answers to these sentencing questions on June 27, for Tanaka, and July 11, for Baca.

Oh, yes, and on July 5, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the appeal of the cases of former sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, and the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Stephan Leavins, and Gregory Thompson.

So stay tuned!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

Bribery-Taking LA County Deputy Gets a Surprise Sentence, Causing Some to Ask What it Means for High Profile Sentences Still to Come

June 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS HAS COURT WATCHERS GUESSING

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Gilbert Michel to six months in a federal prison, plus two years probation.

The sentence was a surprise to most of those observing.

The federal prosecutors had consistently pushed for prison time for other former LA Sheriff’s department members who had been convicted in the last few years. But in the case of Michel, who had cooperated with the feds from nearly the beginning (once he was caught), the government asked Judge Anderson for a sentence of four months of home detainment, which would allow him to continue to work to support his family.

And, for a moment it looked as the sentencing might go as expected. The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Brandon Fox, explained its position, citing Michel’s high level of cooperation, how he had taken responsibility for his offenses, and his concrete efforts to reboot his life.

“There needs to be a balance between personal responsibility and cooperation with the investigation,” said Liz Rhodes.

When it was his turn, Gilbert Michel read with apparent sincerity from a prepared statement, choking up several times as he did so.

“Five years ago, I made a decision that was very wrong,” he read. “In my arrogance, I took a bribe. I not only thought I could get a way with it, I thought I would not be held accountable for it.

“These decisions that I have made have not only affected myself, but my family, and the citizens of Los Angeles County.

“I want to apologize to my family, mainly my children, for not setting the example I should have set for you. I hope you’ve learned from my wrong decisions….

“To the citizens of Los Angeles County I am truly sorry for my misconduct. I took an oath to honorably perform my duties as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, and I failed you….

“I humbly accept whatever punishment I am given.”

As he read his statement, Michel looked sober and sorrowful, yet self-pity seemed notably absent

(click to enlarge)


CRIME AND CONSEQUENCE

To remind you, Gilbert Michel was the deputy who, in July and early August of 2011, accepted cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was the friend of a jail inmate named Anthony Brown. In return for the money, Michel agreed to bring a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail, and to give the phone to inmate Brown for his use.

For still more money, Michel further contracted to recharge the phone and return it to Brown, never sensing that Brown was a federal informant, and he, Michel, had just landed smack in the middle of an undercover sting designed by the feds to catch corrupt deputies—like himself—-who were willing to break the law in return for cash. The sting was part of a larger undercover FBI investigation into deputy brutality and abuse toward inmates.

In a deal struck with federal prosecutors six months later in January of 2012, Michel pleaded to one count of bribery, and agreed to fully cooperate with the government’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the department’s troubled jail system.

“Cooperation” involved disclosing what he knew about deputy wrongdoing inside the jail, including his own misdeeds. It also meant testifying under oath at two federal trials involving former department members, one of them, the trial of Paul Tanaka, the other the trial of the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice in what has become unofficially known as Operation Pandora’s Box.


BEATINGS & LIES

Although Michel was not charged with abuse and brutality against inmates, he admitted to abuse in multiple interviews with the FBI, and also under oath in his lengthy testimony at both the Tanaka trial, and the earlier joint trial of six former department members.

In the trial of the six, Michel’s testimony was dramatic and harrowing. He testified that, shortly after his graduation from the department’s training academy, he worked the 2000 and the 3000 floors Men’s Central Jail where as part of his initiatory training he learned the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel’s described details of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been present for, or administered himself.

His testimony portrayed, not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to a subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates. The brutality was accompanied, according to Michel, in many instances, by the falsification of criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

Even if inmates wrote up complaints, said Michel, they were often intercepted by deputies who had access to the complaint box.


THE JUDGE RULES

On Monday morning, after everyone else had finished speaking, and it was time for the Anderson to hand down a sentence, Anderson’s expression was grave. He spoke of
“the seriousness of this offense,” the bribery itself, and “the fact that the offense involved repeated” behavior. And, then, although Michel wasn’t charged with anything more than the single count of bribery, Anderson brought up the physical abuse visited on inmates, that Michel had testified about twice in his courtroom, (Anderson presided over all four of the obstruction of justice trials.)

The defendant was a law enforcement officer, said Anderson. “He broke his solemn vow to uphold the law…victimized those he was sworn to protect… abused the public trust….Not only did he bring shame on the sheriff’s department, but on law enforcement in general.”

Then after a long pause Anderson got to the point. “The court finds that the defendant’s conduct does require a period of incarceration.”

Physical abuse of inmates, Anderson said, was “rampant and unchecked” and “went all the way to the top of the department.”

Department members “behaved no better than the inmates they were assigned to guard.”

Thus, due to the “need for deterrence,” and for “a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offenses….six months of incarceration is appropriate.”

Anderson gave Michel a little over a month to get his affairs in order, telling him he must self-surrender by noon on July 26.


A GHOST OF SENTENCING FUTURE?

When those on the court benches filed out into the hallway after the hearing was over, one of the main topics of conversation other than the surpise sentence itself, is what it might mean for future sentencing. Did Anderson’s significant deviation from the prosecution’s request presage a similarly non-lenient view of, say, the upcoming sentencing of former sheriff Lee Baca on July 11, and also that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka at the end of this month.

“If I were Lee Baca, I’d be concerned,” said one attorney who observed the Michel sentencing hearing.

“This judge wants to know that you get it,” agreed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky. “From what we’ve seen today, I don’t think he’s going to go easy on former sheriff Baca.”

A few minutes later still, Michel stood in the sun outside the federal court building on Main Street and told reporters that he does get it.

“I made a mistake. I did wrong. This whole thing has been a life changing experience for me,” Michel said. “I’m ready to take what the judge gave to me, and move on with my life. It’s a fair sentence. It was totally fair and justified.”

As for the “rampant and unchecked” abuse of inmates by deputies that Anderson and others have mentioned?

“There is an arrogance about the department where I worked….,” Michel said, his wife close beside him. “It was everywhere. We thought that we ran the jail. That it was our jail, that we controlled the jail. Nobody else did. It was arrogant.” We worked there. But” the jail “doesn’t belong to the deputies. It belongs to the people of Los Angeles. But that’s not how we saw things.”

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

THE LASD SAGA CONTINUES: Another LA Sheriff’s Deputy Soon to be Sentenced….Retired Sheriff Lee Baca Unconcerned with “Jail”….LASD & DA Investigated Baca & Pal, Bishop Turner

June 6th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Michel will be sentenced next week.

Michel, if you remember, was caught in an FBI sting inside Men’s Central Jail in 2011.

At the time, the FBI was investigating multiple reports of what sounded like credible accounts of inmates being brutalized by deputies, or observing others being brutalized, to the point that “there appeared to be a pattern,” as Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes explained during one of the government’s criminal cases against former sheriff’s department members.

But such allegations are tough to prove. “Inmates could be discredited,” Rhodes pointed out. “And the jails were controlled by the very people the FBI wanted to investigate.”

So the feds launched a number of quiet strategies, one of which was an undercover sting involving inmate/informant Anthony Brown, who said that he knew deputies who would bring in contraband in return for money.

And so it was that deputy Gilbert Michel was paid by a supposed Brown confederate, but in fact an undercover FBI agent, to bring a cell phone to Brown inside Men’s Central Jail, in return for a cash bribe. For additional money, Michele continued to charge Brown’s new cellphone.

A week or so later, the cell phone was discovered by a deputy in a routine search, Brown was found to be a federal informant, all hell broke loose, and the feds pounced on Michele who eventually made a plea deal with the government in return for his cooperation.

Now it remains for him to be sentenced.

The question is, will he get more or less time than the 0 to 6 months that has been offered to former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca in return for his plea deal.

The prosecution has asked for four months of home confinement citing a great many factors including his cooperation, his important and affecting testimony “against more senior deputies, sergeants,
lieutenants, and ultimately the Under-sheriff of his former department. The government believes that his testimony was important to securing those convictions.”

Baca, just to remind you, is due to be sentenced on July 11. Paul Tanaka is due to be sentenced on June 27.


FORMER LA COUNTY SHERIFF BACA SAYS “NOT AFRAID OF JAIL,” STANDS ON RECORD “PROUDLY”

And on the topic of Baca’s sentencing…..

“I’m not afraid of jail. I’m not afraid of anything.”

(By the way, we think Baca meant “prison,” not “jail,” a distinction one would think he’d have mastered by now. But, no matter.)

That’s what former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca told the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok in an interview published last week, which took place after the former sheriff was honored at a celebratory breakfast by Congregation Bais Naftoli for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

Some of the notable quotes from Baca’s post-breakfast interview with Torok are as follows:

“I’m one that believes if you know how to suffer properly, you don’t suffer at all. I’m an individual who does not suffer because of mistakes. I’m someone who learns from mistakes. … I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”

“I’m not asking for forgiveness for the mistakes that I’ve made. I’ll let God decide to forgive me. I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are, I’m not afraid of that, because I know who I am, I know why I do what I do and I know the people who work for me know that I love them…And I love my critics, as well.”

Torok also writes that, regarding the multiple former department members who have been convicted on charges related to abusing jail inmates or jail visitors, Baca said “that jailing deputies will not solve the problem of inmate abuse.”

Alrighty then. Good to know.



THE LASD AND DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE WERE INVESTIGATING BACA AND BISHOP TURNER—AND FOUND NOTHING TO SEE

Last week there was one more Lee Baca-related story that you should not miss.

This intriguing story, by ABC7′s investigative producer Lisa Bartley, revealed that both the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the LA District attorney’s office were investigating Baca and his former paid buddy, Bishop Edward Turner..

Turner, to remind you, was one of the former sheriff’s four “civilian field deputies,” and had a county-paid salary of $114,584 a year, a county-paid car, and a deputy sheriff assigned to him as his part-time aide, and other perks. In return for the taxpayer-supplied salary and goodies, Turner was tasked with a list of slightly fuzzy responsibilities, prominently including “constituent outreach” (which sounds a lot like year-round campaigning, but no matter), and facilitating some drug prevention programs.

In 2013, Bartley and ABC7 reported on various extravagantly questionable activities engaged in—or allegedly engaged in—by Turner while he was on the LASD payroll.

The ABC7 investigations evidently triggered investigations by the sheriff’s department, and subsequently the DA’s office, into possible criminal wrongdoing by Baca and Bishop Turner. Then, a few weeks ago, writes Bartley, the DA’s office concluded there was nothing shady going on after all—a conclusion that seems to bring up as many questions as it attempts to put to bed.

The District Attorney’s office “Charge Evaluation Worksheet,” released last month and obtained by producer Bartley, makes for fascinating reading. (You can find it here.)

But to better appreciate the DA’s report, it will help to have a refresher on ABC7′s 2013 investigations, which looked at the activities of Baca’s field deputies in general, and turned up a bunch of curious facts about Turner in particular:

1. For example, ABC7 reporters learned that Turner was the landlord for property across the street from his South LA Church, the Power of Love Christian Fellowship, and it turned out that one of Turner’s tenants on the property was a marijuana dispensary, at a time when Baca had been vocally against medical marijuana dispensaries.

When asked about the dispensary—which is illegal in that it is not one of the 134 dispensaries then sanctioned by LA’s Measure D—-Turner claimed he didn’t really know anything about the operation, or its illegality. However, when ABC7 talked to the dispensary’s owner, the man said he walked the rent check across the street to Turner’s church every month.

2. In addition to his church, Turner was running a nonprofit organization called H.O.P.E. for Life. ABC7 tried to look into the organization’s financials, which, due to its tax exempt status, should have been publically accessible. They found that H.O.P.E. for Life had its nonprofit status revoked in 2009 for its failure to file the proper yearly disclosures with the IRS.

This information was problematic for the LASD because Baca had repeatedly raised money for H.O.P.E for Life with the department’s yearly “Multi-faith Prayer Breakfast,” an event that many upper-level department supervisors were reportedly strongly urged to attend. Yet, ABC’s report found that was not at all clear where the money for the LASD-sponsored event(s) eventually wound up—all of which suggested fraud.

3. Then, weirdest of all, Bartly and ABC7 obtained a highly suggestive sheriff’s department incident report, circa 2005 involving a mysterious package addressed to Turner’s church containing large amounts of cash.

Here’s what reporter Marc Brown reported in 2013:

We also had questions about a 2005 sheriff’s department “incident report.” A package that was addressed to Turner’s Power of Love church was intercepted by a sheriff’s department narcotics team. The package contained $84,020 in cash.

Detectives wrote in their report that based on their expertise, that the cash was the “direct proceeds from the sale of controlled substances, or illegal narcotics.”

“I was totally appalled and upset about that situation,” said Turner.

According to the report, Turner called a detective and said he wasn’t expecting a parcel and didn’t know anyone in New York who would send him a box of money.

In 2013, WitnessLA spoke to then-Baca spokesperson, Steve Whitmore, who told us that the sheriff was “taken aback” by news of the marijuana dispensary.

Whitmore also said that Baca moved quickly to cancel all future donations to Turner’s non-nonprofit.

About the box of cash, Whitmore said that the matter had been “fully investigated” by the department, and that, despite the fact that the package was addressed to Turner’s church, “they couldn’t connect the package to Bishop Turner.”

“But we’re still going to look into all that again in our investigation.”

And while, indeed, there were two investigations into Turner and the drug money-–one in 2005, and one after the ABC7 reports—the handling of said investigations have raised some concerns.

Most troublingly, a number of present and former LASD officials—including former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have suggested, or outright stated, that Lee Baca spiked the 2005 investigation into Bishop Turner and the mystery drug money.

Yet when the department—and subsequently the DA’s office—decided to look into whether or not the the former sheriff had actually shut down a criminal investigation into his pal Bishop Turner’s activities, according to Bartley, at least two of the most crucial LASD players in that alleged drama declined to talk to ICIB, the LASD’s internal criminal investigative arm, or anyone else, about the 2005 Turner investigation, and why it was closed.

Yet, instead of pushing further with those important potential witnesses, the DA’s report repeatedly floated a rumor that then candidate for sheriff, Robert Olmsted, started the rumor about the spiked 2005 investigation to discredit Baca whom he was challenging politically.

However since, thus far, there are multiple instances in which Mr. Tanaka and/or Mr. Baca have been accused of triggering retaliatory IA investigations against people with whom they disagree, and shutting down or minimizing investigations into the actions of people whom they favored, and exactly zero instances that we know of where Olmsted has been accused of retaliatory witch hunts, or the like, we found this tack on the part of the DA’s report to be….perplexing.

Anyway, read Bartley’s report, and then read the DA’s report, and let us know what you think.



Lee Baca photo by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Fed Jury Takes Less Than 90 Min to Convict Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies in Latest Jail Brutality Trial

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After three days of dramatic testimony
in the trial of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies accused of brutalizing a mentally ill jail inmate, the seven woman, five man jury deliberated for just over an hour.

The jury was given the case for deliberation at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, after nearly four hours of lengthy and contentious closing arguments.

Then, once they left the courtroom, the jurors had to settle down in the jury room, elect a jury foreperson, and hit the restrooms. After that, arriving at a unanimous decision reportedly took surprisingly little time.

Still, the lawyers from both sides of the case were startled when they got word just before 4 p.m. that the federal jury had a verdict on the charges against deputies Bryan Brunsting, 31 and Jason Branum, 35, who were accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying an allegedly unresisting schizophrenic inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor who should be criminally prosecuted.

The jury panel found Brunsting and Branum guilty on all three counts, which were, conspiracy to violate jail inmate Philip Jones’s civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsification of records.


TWO LESSONS

The jurors arrived at their verdict after closing arguments—with the prosecution going first: Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told jurors that the heart of the case was “about the defendants teaching two lessons.”

The first lesson was for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, who would be taught the lesson that “disrespect will be met with physical violence.” Jones had talked back, brief, to a female custody assistant.

And when we’re done, “we’ll have you charged” for a felony “you didn’t commit.”

The second lesson, according to Fox, was for the benefit of “honor recruit,” Joshua Sather, “the future of this sheriff’s department.” For Sather, said Fox, “it was Training Day.” The message was, he said, “we’re going to teach you how it’s done at Twin Towers.”

As part of the lesson, said Fox, Brunsting and Branum decided to test the new deputy “to see if he could be trusted” not to be a snitch. And so it was that Sather became part of the group teaching inmate Jones his lesson.

“For one day Joshua Sather passed their test with flying colors.” said Fox. But then a few days later, the promising deputy became troubled and “decided to walk away from his promising career. He decided to come forward.”

Similarly, custody assistant Porscha Singh “told the truth about what she saw” and heard.

What the defendants didn’t expect, said Fox, “was that these two people—Porscha Singh and Joshua Sather—would cross the thin blue line” to tell the truth.


JUDGE & JURY

“As long as you’re in the United States you have the right not to have excessive force used on you,” continued Fox. “You have the right not to be prosecuted with false evidence.” But for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, “‘he went down that hallway with deputies who were both judge and jury.”

Force was not justified, said Fox. “There was no law enforcement reason to beat Mr. Jones. He was not kicking or hitting. He could not escape. There was no place for him to go.”

The defendants wrote in their reports that Jones took a swing at deputy Sather. “Instead he was on the floor, curled up and crying and screaming” after being kicked in the groin, beaten, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Fox pointed to the “nearly identical reports written by Brunsting and Sather at Brunsting’s direction,” which say “that inmate Jones clenched his fists and said, ‘Fuck you and fuck that bitch in the booth!’” And then, according to the reports, said Fox, Jones “took a swing at Joshua Sather,” but Sather stepped back and dodged the punch.

“But that never happened.”

Sather never wavered on the main facts, said Fox. For instance, “he told his uncle, internal affairs, the FBI, and the grand jury about the groin kick.”

But the defense wants the jury to think that Sather would gain by calling his uncle to “make up a story where he commits multiple felonies.”

As for Singh, said Fox, “Porscha Singh knew that lying to the FBI is a crime.” So when called to the grand jury, she was about to shut down and take the fifth. Instead, “she decided to come forward and tell the truth.”

In her testimony last week, Fox pointed out, Singh admitted that she’d lied to the LASD’s internal affairs. “Now the sheriff’s department knows about it.” But she told the truth anyway.

“The defendants are not above the law. They are part of the problem,” said prosecutor Fox. “They were ready to train new deputies in how to beat and how to lie.”


LIARS, LIARS EVERYWHERE

When it was the defense’s turn, their main thesis was that the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Sather and Singh, were clumsy liars

Of Sather, Brunsting’s attorney, Richard Hirsch, said, “His testimony was dramatic,” but “would anyone buy a house from that man? Or buy a car from him—let alone a used car?”

As for Singh, “her motivation” was to give the feds “a story that would be beneficial to me.”

“But liars ought to have good memories,” said Hirsch using a phrase that he would repeat often.

Branum’s attorney, Donald Re, continued the theme.

Sather, he said, would tell you that “two experienced deputies would commit a felony” around someone “they’d known for a day and a half.”

If he [Sather] “came to your door selling magazines, you’d probably call the police.”

In fact, Donald Re said, Sather likely made the whole story up as “an excuse to give his uncle” when, after his first encounter in the “real world” of law enforcement, “he couldn’t deal.”

Before he finished Re pulled out all the stops. He brought up the many wrongful convictions we’ve seen in the news in recent years. There’s no DNA, he said, but “what if we find out (later) that there’s a video of the whole thing?” Then, “imagine hat this is a trial of a family member of yours. How would you feel about that?”

Since prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors are allowed a rebuttal closing after the defense has finished.

“You can see why people don’t want to come forward,” prosecutor Fox said to the jury, almost as an aside, as he got up for the government’s final round. “They’re treated as outcasts….”


THE VERDICT

In the end it didn’t matter. The jury didn’t buy what the defense was selling.

Instead, the jurors said later, the panel believed custody assistant Porscha Singh and former deputy Joshua Sather.

Thus they came back with a verdict after a little over an hour of discussion.

US District Judge George W. Wu will sentence the two defendants on August 22. Each faces a statutory maximum penalty of 40 years in federal prison.

As a result of today’s guilty verdicts, 21 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.

Former sheriff Lee Baca is now due to be sentenced on June 27.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will be sentenced a week earlier on June 20, both by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson..

Posted in LASD | 25 Comments »

A Federal Jury Weighs Competing “Truths” After “Honor Recruit” Deputy Tells About Kicks to the Crotch of a Mentally Ill Inmate and Other Alleged Brutality

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


COMPETING NARRATIVES & DECIDING WHOM TO BELIEVE

The most recent jail brutality case brought by the federal government against members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is, as usual, a case of whom do you believe.

In the trial that began on Tuesday of last week in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, the prosecution’s case rides on a former sheriff’s deputy named Joshua Sather who was most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer.

Thus far, 19 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County Jail system.

The defendants in this latest trial, are LASD deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum who are accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying the allegedly unresisting mentally ill inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor.

According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson also alleged in her opening statement that training officer Brunsting “set out to teach a lesson to a new deputy” about how to use and how to “get away with” excessive force. The “new deputy” was Joshua Sather.

In the course of the trial, the government produced five witnesses to support their case. But, it is Sather, and another witness named Porscha Singh, whom the prosecution most needs the jury to believe.

Conversely, for the defense to prevail, it must convince the jury that Sather and Singh are unreliable or out-and-out lying for self-serving reasons.


THE CUSTODY ASSISTANT

Porscha Singh was the first witness called by the prosecution. Singh was, at the time of the 2010 incident, a custody assistant working on the 6th floor of the Twin Towers jail. Custody assistants—or CAs—are jail workers who work for the sheriff’s department, but who are not slaw enforcement officers.

Before CA Singh began to tell her story, both she and prosecutor Dotson made clear that she did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed,” she said, “and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

Singh also told the jury that had been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring any kind of charges against her, “as long as my testimony is truthful.” If she lied, she said, “I could be sent to prison.”

Singh was the custody assistant whom schizophrenic inmate Philip Jones “disrespected,” thus setting the chain of events that allegedly led to his beating.

On the day in question, Singh said that she was stationed in “the control booth,” an elevated multi-windowed perch at one end of the 6th floor module where she generally worked, when at once she noticed that there was one more inmate than there should be in unit’s visiting center, the entrance to which was across the module from the control booth, thus in her direct line of sight.

In order to sort out the discrepancy, Singh keyed up the intercom in the visiting room and asked the inmates each to say their names then recite the last four digits of their booking numbers, so she could check IDs against the list of people who were supposed to have visitor passes. All but one of inmates dutifully complied. The inmate who failed to do so was Philip Jones who instead said, “Fuck that bitch.”

At that, according to her testimony, Singh came down out of the control room, unlocked the visiting area, and confronted inmate Jones.

“I told him ‘What the fuck was his problem?!” she said. Then she asked to see his wristband. He complied. She checked it, then went back to the booth.

And, no, Singh said in answer to prosecutor Dotson, “I was never afraid.”

She was, however, irritated. So, according to Singh, she then called out to deputy Branum who was standing within shouting range of the control booth, “Somebody needs to check that motherfucker because he has a bad attitude!”

Jason Branum allegedly told her not to worry about it, that he was going to handle it.

“Nobody disrespects my CA”—meaning custody assistant—Singh said that Branum said.

Singh said she told him to “leave it alone,” and additional F-Bomb laden words to that effect.

(Singh is short and curvy with a slightly pugnacious demeanor, and during the whole of her testimony and cross-examination, displayed a breezy verbal mastery of the art of F-bomb usage.)


LISTENING IN

Around five minutes after that exchange, according to Singh, deputies Brunsting and Branum asked her to “pop’ the door to the visiting area—-“pop” being slang for “unlock.” She popped the door, and moments later she saw Jones being escorted by the three deputies.

Q: Did you see him resist at any time? A. No.

The deputies then escorted the inmate inside another door that led to a hallway connecting two modules, but where there were no cameras. Singh said that, on instinct, she pushed the intercom button allowing her to listen in on whatever went on in the camera free connecting hallway the deputies and their charge had entered, without anyone knowing she was listening.

Sign said she first heard training officer Brunting say, “Nobody disrespects my boot CA!”

Then a voice she assumed was Jones said, “Are you guys going to mess me up?”

“Then I heard a commotion.” Finally, she said, one of the deputies put out a “415” radio call, meaning deputy involved fight. Within a minute, other deputies ran into the area. A minute or two later still a “Code 4” was broadcast on the radio meaning everything’s okay.

When it was their turn, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re did what they could to dent Singh’s credibility by pointing out some inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her grand jury testimony and noting that in an interview with the LASD’s internal affairs, she told an altogether different story.

Yet, Singh freely admitted that she had lied to internal affairs to protect herself and her deputy colleagues.


THE HONOR RECRUIT

Former deputy Joshua Sather was next. Sather is broad shouldered, on the low side of medium height, and has good bones. He did not look happy to be on the stand.

In answer to questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, Sather told the jury that when he joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, it was October of 2009, he was 23-years-old and had been working in Colorado as a paralegal, but felt he wanted a more meaningful career.

I wanted to do something to help people,” he said. It was this desire that led him to law enforcement.

Sather’s uncle, his father’s brother, was a gang detective at the department’s Carson station, and told his nephew he loved what he did and that the LASD was a good place to work. “My uncle had an influence,” said Sather.

Sather told how, after he was accepted into the department, he went through 19 weeks of academy training along with approximately 49 other recruits. Upon graduating in February of 2010, was selected as the “honor recruit,” which meant, he explained when Fox probed, he was the top performer in all areas in his class.

After graduation, he went through a few additional weeks of training to work in the county’s jails, where nearly all newly-minted deputies are stationed for a few years before they can transfer to patrol. In March of 2010, he started at the Twin Towers, the newer custody facility built next to the county’s decrepit and infamously troubled, Men’s Central Jail.

All new deputies are assigned to training officers. But a day or two after Sather began work, his training officer’s wife had a baby, and he took paternity leave.

Sather‘s second T.O. was Bryan Brunsting.


BAD KICKS

On March 22, 2010, when the event in question occurred, Sather said he had been on the job about seven days, and was working with some other deputies on the 4th floor of the jail when he said he received a call from Brunsting, who told him to return to the 6th floor’s 161 unit, where he was met by Brunsting, Branum and a third deputy.

It was then, according to Sather, that Brunsting talked of the necessity to teach inmate Jones “a lesson.”

Sather described how the door to the interconnecting hallway area that Singh had described earlier was opened and inmate Jones was directed by Brunsting to go down the hallway.

As the door to the hallway closed, effectively locking the group into the narrow passage, according to Sather, Jones took a few steps then turned and said, “Oh, shit. I’m going to get my ass kicked!” Or words to that general effect.

“Then he began running down the hallway toward the door at the far end.” But that door was closed and locked.

“I ran after him and tackled him,” said Sather. Then he described striking Jones in the ribs and legs “because we were teaching him a lesson.”

Jones was not resisting in any way, according to Sather. Not kicking, attempting to punch, simply going limp and attempting to protect himself with his hands.

At that point, Sather stood up, because, “the inmate wasn’t doing anything.”

But Brunsting reportedly indicated that things weren’t finished.

Sather then said he saw Brunsting spread the inmate’s legs. “And then he kicked him hard in his privates.”

Jones cried out, according to Sather, and curled sow-bug-like into a fetal position in reaction to the pain of the kick.

“He was crying like a little kid who’s hurting but is also scared.”

Sather remembers more blows being directed toward the still unresisting Jones.

Sometime after that, according to Sather, deputy Branum pepper-sprayed Jones directly into his face.

As much of this activity went on, Sather said, he heard the other deputies say, “Stop resisting, stop resisting.”

Eventually the “lesson” was over, Brunsting radioed and more deputies arrived. As they came, Sather helped to handcuff Jones.

Then the inmate was escorted to the infirmary by yet another deputy, and was treated for injuries.


REPORTS, REVISIONS & RESIGNATIONS

Next, according to Sather, Brunsting ordered the beating participants to convene in the observation booth. Once there, custody assistant Singh was asked to leave, so the rest could sort out what should appear in the various incident reports that were required after any use of force. Brunsting told Sather he was to write the primary report, so he could learn how it was done, with Brunsting and Branum writing the “supplementary reports.”

According to Sather, Brunsting gave him his own report to use as a model. After writing several rejected drafts, Sather said, he eventually wrote a report that matched Brunsting’s almost word-for-word.

The jury was able to see both reports—Brunsting’s and Sather’s—which each described a violently uncooperative Jones who verbally and physically assaulted two of the deputies and was restrained only with great difficulty and a 3-5 second blast of oleoresin capsicum spray, also known as OC spray or pepper spray.

“Was what you wrote true?” prosecutor Fox asked Sather after the deputy read multiple passages from the matching reports in front of the jury.

“No, sir,” said Sather.

“So why did you write it?”

“I was told to do it.”

Eventually, the reports were approved by Brunsting and turned in to the proper higher-ups. Yet when Sather got home, he said his involvement with the beatdown of inmate Jones and the reports that followed, “began to bother me.”

In a state of upset he called his uncle and told him what had happened.

The next day, Sather resigned. When asked to explain his reason for leaving, he said he told the jail’s then watch commander, Lt. Elisabeth Sachs, that he needed to go back to Colorado because of a family matter involving his brother, none of which was true.

So, why didn’t he tell Lt. Sachs about the beating? asked Fox.

“I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be a snitch.”

The lieutenant told Sather to take his upcoming weekend days and think matters over, that she would hold on to the resignation paperwork until he returned on March 28, at which time he could make a final decision.

Sather’s uncle and his dad took the unhappy deputy to Las Vegas for the weekend to talk things through. (The dad lives in Colorado, so Las Vegas was considered a sort of midpoint, Sather explained.)

But, despite all the talking, after they all came home, on March 28, Sather called Lt. Sachs and asked her to put through the paperwork for his resignation.

A week later, according to Sather, his uncle persuaded him that, if he was leaving, he owed it to himself and to the department to tell some LASD higher up the truth about why he was leaving.

So on April 6, Sather gave an accounting of the events of March 22, including the beating of inmate Jones and the subsequent allegedly false reports, to Captain Anthony Ward.

A few months later, he was interviewed by internal affairs, to whom Sather said he was far less truthful.

A few months later still, the FBI contacted Sather in the course of their ongoing investigation into brutality in the jails, and interviewed him where he was, by then, living back in Colorado.


“TRUTH” VERSUS “TRUTH”

As with Singh, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re energetically fished out any inconsistencies between the various accounts Sather gave to the LASD Captain, to the grand jury, and to internal affairs.

In closing arguments that will take place Monday morning, the defense is expect to tell the jury that Sather—perhaps together with his detective uncle—completely fabricated the account of a non-resisting Jones being viciously and unnecessarily beaten, for his own purposes.

(Uncle Michael Sather was one of the prosecution’s additional witnesses. Lt. Sachs was the defense team’s sole witness.)

The defense is also expected to argue that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity. 


During closing, the prosecution will counter with its own narrative of the beating of mentally ill inmate Philip Jones.

And then, likely around noon on Monday, the case will go to the jury who will, in turn, decide whose story to believe.


POST SCRIPT:

One thing that the jury will not hear is the fact that the feds have a second case of jail brutality filed against Brunsting. The alleged incident occurred on August 20, 2009 and, it too, involved a deputy trainee who was allegedly asked to falsify incident reports, accusing the inmate of assaulting deputies, rather than the other way around. The charges are mentioned, in brief, in the original indictment, but then were severed into a separate case by the judge. One assumes that the question of whether or not the prosecutors will actually bring this additional case to trial will likely depend on the outcome of the trial that ends on Monday.

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

The Twin Towers Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Continues With More Courtroom Drama to Come

May 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



The latest federal trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department
accused of brutalizing jail inmates has been unfolding since Tuesday (with one day off due to an attorney’s sudden illness), and is expected to wrap up closing arguments on Monday.

As you may remember, the defendants in this newest courtroom drama are two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, who are charged with beating, kicking, and pepper spraying a reportedly non-resistant, mentally ill inmate named Phillip Jones in order to ‘teach” Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant in the county’s Twin Towers jail facility.

The government’s star witness is a third deputy named Joshua Sather who had been out of the sheriff’s academy and on the job at the jail for only a week, with Brunting was his training officer. According to Sather, he was told by Brunting to participate in the beating, and then directed afterward to write a false report blaming the inmate as the out-of-control aggressor.

But then the night after the beating, according to prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson, Sather “developed a conscience.”

According to the defense, it wasn’t a conscience that Sather developed, but “a fabrication,” for self-serving reasons of his own.

Another crucial witness is Porscha Singh, the custody assistant who was the object of the inmate’s insult. Singh was compelled to testify by U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, and given immunity by the feds, as long as she testified truthfully. When on the stand, she told the jury the did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

She said she had also been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring charges against her, “…as long as my testimony is truthful.”

Defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re maintained that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity.

Witness testimony continues on Friday, and we’ll have a full report for you on Monday, so….stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 8 Comments »

LASD Deputies Sentenced in Jail Abuse Trial

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Monday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months, respectively, in a federal prison for falsifying incident reports. The two deputies were also charged with (but ultimately, not convicted of) assault for allegedly punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips, on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez reportedly falsified reports after the beating, in order to portray the mentally ill Phillips as the violent, out-of-control aggressor.

Aguiar and Ramirez were convicted only of the latter charge of falsifying the reports. The charges of wrongly beating Phillips resulted in a hung jury, with 10 jurors voting to convict.

Why did two jurors decline to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of unlawfully beating Phillips if they unanimously voted to convict the deputies of falsifying their official reports?

Jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli shared some of the things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict the men of assault.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

The forewoman said the two holdouts were also bothered by perceived inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. Maestez testified that he had seen the beating, and been very disturbed by it, but had not wanted to testify (and received nothing in exchange for his testimony).

Speaking personally, Giampaoli said that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

In handing down the sentences, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the defendants used excessive force. O’Connell also said she bought the accounts of the prosecution’s two main eyewitnesses.

On the other hand, Judge O’Connell noted that Aguiar, who is now 29, was much younger at the time of the Feb. 2009 beating, and had no other criminal record. And, Ramirez, a 40-year old father of two, had overcome a difficult background, and also had no prior criminal record. So, she said she gave the two a break, handing down less than the 2 years called for by sentencing guidelines. (In addition to the prison time, both men must also do 100 hours of community service.)

Still, O’Connell said, “there has to be a penalty.”

When he spoke to the judge, Aguiar said his family feared for his safety if he was to go to prison, because of his background in law enforcement.

“Phillips feared for his safety,” the judge replied, referring to the mentally ill inmate whom Aguiar and Ramirez were accused of beating and unnecessarily pepper spraying, even though his hands were handcuffed to a waist chain. “You put his life in danger.’ And the defendant’s actions resulted in charges against the victim, said O’Connell.

Both the of the defense attorneys—Vicki Podberesky, representing Ramirez, and Evan Janesse, counsel for Aguiar—questioned why the two deputies should get sentences that were so much higher that the 0 to 6-month sentence that is laid out in the plea deal that former Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted.

“It’s troubling,” said Judge O’Connell, looking, well…troubled. But, she noted, Judge Percy Anderson has yet to actually sentence Baca, possibly implying that Anderson could decide to go outside the agreed upon sentencing guidelines. (Both Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to be sentenced on different days in June.)

When O’Connell asked federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins about Baca’s far lower proposed sentence, Williams said the matter was “apples and oranges.” In Baca’s case, Williams said, there was no use of force at issue, and Baca is elderly—73 years old. Moreover, Baca admitted to what he’d done before the deal was made, whereas Aguiar and Ramirez had not admitted to using undue force. And if the charges of excessive force were not true, why did they need to falsify their reports?

Jenness, Aguiar’s defense attorney, broke in to opine that the Baca sentence was not apples and oranges, but “politics.”

When the sentences were announced, there were lots of tears from the family members of Aguiar and Ramirez who filled several rows in the courtroom.

“Our whole system relies on the fact that police officers swear to uphold the law,” O’Connell told Ramirez and the rest of the observers.

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